No one in mixed martial arts punches harder than Anthony "Rumble" Johnson. Ryan Bader found that out first-hand Saturday night at UFC on Fox 18 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
The main event didn't last long. Bader predictably went for the takedown early in the fight. Johnson stuffed the attempt, worked his way to Bader's back and secured the back mount.
From there, he rained down the types of shots that set him apart from other power punchers. Within seconds, Bader was out cold. It took just one minute, 26 seconds.
It was as dominant of a performance as you'll see in a fight at this level of the sport. Fox Sports: UFC stated the obvious:
FOX Sports: UFC @UFCONFOX
WOW. @Anthony_Rumble is a MONSTER. #UFCNewJersey https://t.co/CYMn9oX5WU1/31/2016, 2:54:14 AM
UFC lightweight contender Eddie Alvarez talked about Johnson's improved ground game and the impending doom that development could mean for the light heavyweight division:
Eddie Alvarez @Ealvarezfight
@Anthony_Rumble with a ground game is easily the most dangerous fighter in the UFC period . Beware !!!!1/31/2016, 2:55:02 AM
Bader attempted a kimura as Johnson moved toward a mount, but he didn't have good position. The poor strategy momentarily cost him his consciousness.
With the win, Johnson put himself in position to take on the winner of the UFC light heavyweight title bout between former champion Jon "Bones" Jones and titleholder Daniel Cormier. That fight could take place at UFC 200 in July, or even earlier.
If Cormier successfully defends his title, he and Jones could theoretically have a third fight immediately. Jones won their first meeting at UFC 182 in January 2015.
If Jones wins, it should open the door for Johnson to get a shot at the belt. The two were supposed to fight at UFC 187, but Jones' legal issues and subsequent suspension took him out of the fight and stripped him of the title. Cormier went on to defeat Johnson for the vacant title that he still holds.
A Johnson vs. Jones battle would undoubtedly be one of the biggest fights in the UFC this year, and it would be cooler to see than a third bout between Jones and Cormier—no matter who wins the rematch.
Rothwell Submits Barnett
It's time to take Big Ben Rothwell seriously. In the co-main event, Rothwell submitted former UFC heavyweight champion Josh Barnett in the second round. After eating some steady jabs from Barnett in the first round and suffering a nasty gash across the bridge of his nose, Rothwell started closing the distance and landing shots.
Rothwell locked in what he later called a go-go choke. It didn't take long for Barnett to tap.
Barnett had never tapped out via submission in his professional career. That's part of what made the win special. Per Fox Sports, Rothwell also pointed to his immense respect for Barnett as another factor:
FOX Sports: UFC @UFCONFOX
Rothwell: Even after I win the world title, this will still be one of the best wins of my career. Barnett made me better #UFCNewJersey1/31/2016, 2:31:30 AM
Rothwell has now won four straight fights. He came into the fight ranked seventh in the UFC's heavyweight division. The impressive victory might vault him into the top five.
Sage Fails 170-Pound Test
Nineteen-year-old sensation Sage Northcutt had been on a roll heading into his fight with Bryan Barberena on Saturday. Barberena put an end to the roll.
After a first round that saw Barberena hold his own against Northcutt's hard-charging style, the former took control in the second frame. Northcutt swung and missed wildly with his right hand and tried an unorthodox kick as he was losing his balance.
He wouldn't stand again during the bout.
Barberena took top position and pounded Northcutt, opening up a gash over his right eye. While working from half-guard, Barberena sunk in an arm triangle choke. He was trying to work his way out of guard and to the same side as the choke, but it turned out to be unnecessary.
Northcutt inexplicably tapped out. Twitter exploded with reactions. Bleacher Report's Jonathan Snowden and Fox Sports' Ariel Helwani and Damon Martin were three from the MMA community to chime in:
Damon Martin @DamonMartin
The hype train derailed #UFCNewJersey1/31/2016, 1:26:18 AM
Ariel Helwani @arielhelwani
Bryan Barberena wins via 2nd round triangle. Looked like Northcutt tapped while Barberena was still in half guard. Didn't seem sunken in.1/31/2016, 1:26:23 AM
Renowned MMA aficionado Caposa offered a sensible defense for Northcutt:
Northcutt will probably be at his best at 155 pounds—especially this early in his career. He's fought seven times in nine months, and this was his first bout at 170 pounds. He's still 7-1 and more than a year away from his 21st birthday.
He needs some immediate coaching to keep his confidence from taking a hit.
Barberena moved to 2-1 in the UFC. He'd lost a unanimous decision to Chad Laprise in his last fight at UFC 186 on April 25. This was a high-profile victory that he'll try to build on moving forward.
UFC on Fox 18 Main Card
- Anthony Johnson def. Ryan Bader, knockout (Round 1, 1:26)
- Ben Rothwell def. Josh Barnett, submission (Round 2, 3:48)
- Jimmie Rivera def. Iuri Alcantara, unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
- Bryan Barberena def. Sage Northcutt, submission (Round 2, 3:06)
Prelims on Fox Sports 1
- Tarec Saffiedine def. Jake Ellenberger, unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
- Carlos Diego Ferreira def. Olivier Aubin-Mercier, unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
- Rafael Natal def. Kevin Casey, TKO (Round 3, 3:37)
- Wilson Reis def. Dustin Ortiz, unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
- Alexander Yakovlev def. George Sullivan, knockout (Round 1, 3:59)
- Alex Caceres def. Masio Fullen, unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Prelims on UFC Fight Pass
- Randy Brown def. Matt Dwyer, unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
- Damon Jackson vs. Levan Makashvili —Majority draw (29-27, 28-28, 28-28)
- Tony Martin def. Felipe Olivieri, submission (Round 3, 3:02)
Martin Chokes Out Olivieri
During the Fight Pass prelims, American Tony Martin secured a much-needed win via submission over Felipe Olivieri. The 26-year-old from Palos Heights, Illinois, had lost three of his last four fights.
Most recently, he submitted via rear-naked choke by Leonardo Santos at UFC Fight Night 62 in March 2015. On Saturday night, Martin used the rear-naked choke to obtain a victory. Per UFC.com, Olivieri landed 87 significant strikes, compared to just 60 for Martin.
Many of those shots landed in the first round, when it seemed as though the Brazilian was in control. However, in the third round, Martin was able to take the fight to the ground.
He took Olivieri's back, locked in both hooks and left his opponent unconscious. It was Olivieri's UFC debut and didn't go the way he'd hoped. The 30-year-old will almost certainly get another chance to prove himself, though.
Yakovlev Sends Sullivan Night-Night
While it lasted, Alexander Yakovlev was all over George Sullivan. The 31-year-old Russian made sure the fight didn't last long. In the first round, Yakovlev landed a brutal combination that knocked Sullivan out cold and gave the former the knockout victory.
Fox Sports shared the finish:
FOX Sports: UFC @UFCONFOX
BOOM! Alexander Yakovlev KO's George Sullivan with a nasty combo! #UFCNewJersey https://t.co/JDoo3SvZe51/30/2016, 10:48:35 PM
MMA Fighting had nothing but praise for Yakovlev after the win:
Sullivan is a tough, durable dude. Yakovlev slept him. That was impressive.1/30/2016, 10:47:55 PM
Per the MMA Corner, Sullivan couldn't give much insight into the shots that ended his night:
The MMA Corner @TheMMACorner
Sullivan: “I don’t even know what caught me. I don’t even remember. I’ve never even been knocked down before. #UFCNewJersey1/30/2016, 11:12:51 PM
After losing his first two UFC fights, Yakovlev has won two in a row. It's too early to look at him as a legitimate contender in the ultra-competitive welterweight division, but he's moving in the right direction.
Natal Dominates Casey
Physically, Kevin Casey looks like a threat in the Octagon. He's a product of the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy and has proven knockout power. Even with all of those positives, Casey has yet to accomplish anything of note.
On Saturday, Rafael Natal made Casey look like an amateur. He dropped Casey at the end of the first round with a hard right hand. Had the shot landed 15 to 20 seconds earlier, Natal would have gotten the finish in the first frame.
Casey was unable to regain his spark, and it was all downhill from there. Natal dominated the remainder of the fight and earned a technical-knockout finish in the third round via ground-and-pound. Natal once looked like an overrated underachiever, but he's now won four fights in a row. He came into Saturday's fight ranked 15th at 185 pounds.
Women's bantamweight contender Sara McMann complimented Natal's performance:
Sara McMann @Sara_McMann
Awesome finish by @rafaelsaponatal !! Such a grinder, he comes to fight the entire time! @ufc1/30/2016, 11:56:14 PM
At 33, Natal may have one more strong run at a spot in the top 10 of the UFC's middleweight rankings.
On Saturday, Feb. 6, the UFC will travel back to Las Vegas for a card headlined by former welterweight champion Johny Hendricks and exciting striker Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson. Few have the dynamic striking arsenal that Thompson possesses. He can put his opponents to sleep in a variety of ways.
Hendricks has thudding power and excellent resolve. He's also a world-class wrestler. This matchup could produce fireworks. The co-main event is a heavyweight tilt between Roy Nelson and Jared Rosholt. Both men have big bodies and tons of power.
Let's say this: Conditioning could be a factor. You can see the entire card on UFC.com. Be on the lookout for coverage on Bleacher Report.
Follow Brian Mazique on Twitter.