So close to New York but yet so far.
The Octagon sets up shop on the banks of Charles River for its third event of the calendar year.
In the main events of the last two 2016 cards, we’ve seen one title defended and another change hands and while there may not be a belt on the line on Saturday night, the next challenger at 205 lbs will likely decided by the end of the weekend.
Consciousness-robber Anthony Johnson takes on hard-nosed wrestler Ryan Bader in the main event of Saturday night’s card and it would be tough to deny the winner of this fight a shot at the winner of the Cormier/Jones rematch.
Not only that but an impressive performance by the victor of Josh Barnett vs. Ben Rothwell could well see the next heavyweight contender emerge from a packed, if underpopulated, bunch.
We’ll get the chance to see local bantamweight Jimmie Rivera take on Brazilian veteran Iuri Alcantara as well as the return of the enigmatic Sage Northcutt who, despite a jump to welterweight, is heavy favourite over Bryan Barberena.
Here’s what our MMA writers’ records for the year look like thus far.
Darragh The Quizmaster Murphy: 6-4
Bourbon Ben Kiely: 5-5
Anthony Johnson (20-5) vs. Ryan Bader (20-4)
DM: This is, unusually, one of those “gut feeling” fights for me. On paper, of course Bader is a justified underdog because he’s a far less dangerous man in terms of fight-finishing prowess.
All it takes is a glancing ‘Rumble’ blow to fold an opponent up but Daniel Cormier set the blueprint for how Johnson can be beaten.
Bader’s been five rounds and looked impressive in doing so while a second round Johnson makes me sad.
If Johnson connects then it’s over but I can envisage Bader tying ‘Rumble’ up and exploiting Johnson’s lack of cardio on the way to a relatively uninspiring decision victory.
Bader by decision
BK: In my opinion, Anthony Johnson is the hardest hitter in the UFC. Bader may very well have signed his own death warrant when he signed up for this fight.
That being said, Bader is a deceptively intelligent fighter and his wrestling acumen could frustrate Rumble. However, Daniel Cormier’s fight IQ is through the roof, and I get the feeling that if Johnson lands a shot that even comes close to the one that rocked DC in their fight, Bader won’t be getting back up.
Rumble via KO (round one)
Josh Barnett (34-7) vs. Ben Rothwell (35-9)
DM: *See Johnson vs. Bader.
Rothwell has knockout power but Barnett is far too savvy a veteran to get embroiled in a slugfest with ‘Big Ben’.
Barnett will likely shoot on a takedown in the first minute, pass to side control and pound away with hammer fists until the referee steps in.
Barnett via first round TKO
BK: God damn it, UFC matchmakers. Why must you make me choose between two of my favourite heavyweights?
People tend to underestimate Rothwell. He is far from a one-trick pony and possesses the fight IQ you’d expect from a seasoned veteran of the sport. However, Barnett just has more weapons and is more crafty.
I’m going with the Warmaster to get a good win which should propel him further into the increasingly messy-looking title picture.
Barnett via decision
Jimmie Rivera (18-1) vs. Iuri Alcantara (32-6, 1 NC)
DM: Easy, Rivera hasn’t lost in seven years. He’s gone 17-0 in that time and he’s finished three of his last four via TKO.
Alcantara, on the other hand, has looked past his best in recent years and a 35 year old bantamweight can’t perform in the same way that a 35 year old heavyweight can.
It’s a big step-up in competition for Rivera but I’m backing him to take the win here.
Rivera via TKO (round two)
BK: I’ve been humming and hawing about coming down on one side of the fence, but there are just too many unknowns and variables at play.
Alcantara has only lost to top-level guys in recent years, Faber, Saenz and Hacran Dias way, way back when he was a featherweight. Meanwhile, Rivera has been on an immaculate win-streak, albeit against decidedly weaker opponents.
If in doubt, back the favourite.
Rivera via TKO (round two)
Sage Northcutt (7-0) vs. Brian Barberena (10-3)
DM: Is there anything ‘Super’ Sage can’t do? Well, yes. Yes there is.
Northcutt didn’t look so super in the first round against Cody Pfister and his defensive wrestling didn’t look up to scratch which is the big worry to take away from his move up to welterweight.
Luckily for Northcutt, he actually won’t be giving up all that much in size and I’m looking forward to seeing him in a division for which he doesn’t have to cut weight.
Cracks were apparent in his last outing but, knowing him, he’s probably patched them up with a concoction of hair gel and protein powder. The hype train continues.
Sage Northcutt via hurricanrana (round one)
BK: Short-term replacement equals a short night’s work for the UFC’s most marketable young phenom.
Sage ManZant via super enthusiastic, super grateful, super knockout (round one… thanks Dana, sir!)