The main event of UFC on Fox 18 is a light heavyweight contest between #2 ranked Anthony “Rumble” Johnson and #4 ranked Ryan “Darth” Bader. Johnson has become a must-see attraction since re-signing with the UFC in 2014, while Bader has become a top contender by winning his last five fights. The winner of this fight will have a strong case to face the winner of the eventual Daniel Cormier versus Jon Jones title matchup. Anthony Johnson (20-5 MMA, 11-5 UFC, -325 favorite) Johnson first entered the UFC in 2007 as a welterweight, which is quite astonishing given how big his frame is. While he still managed to have success at welterweight, the majority of his time was spent worrying about his weight and diet instead of improving his skills. Johnson missed weight three times in his first stint in the promotion, including his last fight by a whopping eleven pounds. To make matters worse, he was fighting at middleweight for that fight and he still badly missed weight. That proved to be the final straw for the UFC, as they cut ties with him immediately. It took “Rumble” two years and six wins outside the promotion to get himself back into the UFC. However, once he reemerged he took out his frustrations on the light heavyweight division. Johnson easily dispatched Phil Davis, Antonio Rogerio Nogueiera, and Alexander Gustafsson, which earned him a crack at the light heavyweight title. That title fight was supposed to be against then champion Jon Jones, but Jones was ultimately stripped of his title and Johnson ended up fighting Daniel Cormier for the vacant title. Johnson had some success early against Cormier, but he faded in the second and third round and wound up getting submitted in the third stanza. The 31-year old is likely the most fearsome striker in the light heavyweight division and perhaps all of the UFC. His brutal one-punch knockout power is terrifying for most of his opponents. There may not be a harder hitter at any weight, but that comes at a cost. Johnson is so explosive that he often tires if his opponent is able to survive the first round and make Johnson work hard in the later rounds. That has caused him to get taken down and worked over on the ground a few times. Johnson’s takedown defense is very good early on, however. He has excellent hips, balance, and also has an extensive wrestling background, even though he does not use his offensive wrestling frequently. It should be noted that Johnson did go to his wrestling in his most recent fight and he showcased some solid improvements on the ground. He has been working a lot with Blackzilians Grappling Coach Neil Melanson in recent months, which is something that could improve his submission game, both offensively and defensively. Johnson’s striking is fast, fluid, and powerful. Working with striking coach Henry Hooft at the Blackzilians camp in Boca Raton, Florida has done wonders for his striking. He works a crisp jab, a devastating right hand, and left head kicks that seem to come from nowhere. Johnson is also defensively sound and utilizes solid head movement and footwork. Johnson’s achilles heel has always been his conditioning. His tendency to tire if he is unable to find a finish has cost him several fights, especially when he is forced to face high-level grapplers. Ryan Bader (20-4 MMA, 13-4 UFC, +265 underdog) Bader burst onto the UFC scene as a competitor on season eight of The Ultimate Fighter, which he ultimately won in impressive fashion. During the show he showcased solid wrestling and big power in his right hand. Since winning The Ultimate Fighter he has racked up thirteen wins inside the UFC’s light heavyweight division, including wins over former champions Rashad Evans and Quentin Jackson. The Power MMA fighter comes from a strong collegiate wrestling background, as he was a two-time NCAA Division 1 All-American at Arizona State University. His blast double-leg is exceptionally good, though he also runs the pipe nicely on a single-leg. From top position Bader focuses on maintaining his position and landing steady ground and pound. While he is not overly devastating, he operates at a decent pace and excels at grinding out his opponents. His jiu jitsu is improving but he is not a big threat against most opponents. Further, Bader’s submission defense has been somewhat questionable in the past. Bader’s striking is the area where he has improved the most in recent years. He utilizes a decent jab and left hook, which sets up his powerful right hand. Bader throws his right hand in a variety of forms, including an overhand, shovel punch, uppercut, and straight. The Arizona native’s improved footwork has allowed him to set up and ultimately land his strikes at a better rate. However, Bader is still quite rigid and stiff inside the Octagon. He lacks the fluidity that you often see from elite fighters. Further, he tends to allow himself to get trapped against the fence too much, where his opponent can tee off on him with hard strikes. Additionally, Bader’s chin is shaky, as he has been dropped several times. Thoughts This is an intriguing fight that will likely produce a future title challenger in the light heavyweight division. Johnson has compiled four dominant wins since resigning with the UFC in 2014, while his sole loss was a highly competitive fight against current champion Daniel Cormier. Johnson actually had Cormier in big trouble in the first round of their fight, but the durable Cormier was able to survive and eventually wear out Johnson with his grappling. Bader will definitely look to employ a similar game plan against Johnson, but that is going to be extremely difficult. Foremost, Bader’s grappling and durability are not on the same level of Cormier. Bader’s shaky chin and hittable nature are also problematic when facing someone like Johnson, who only needs to connect slightly to score a knockout. While Bader may have success if he is able to survive the first two rounds and make Johnson work, the more likely scenario involves Johnson landing something devastating early and shutting Bader’s lights out. Final Prediction: Anthony Johnson defeats Ryan Bader by knockout (round 1)
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