UFC light heavyweight Ryan Bader has rattled off five wins in a row and stands just one victory away from securing the first title shot of his eight-year professional career. What an opponent standing in the way, though. Anthony Johnson, owner of 14 career knockouts, also looks to stamp his ticket back to the 205-pound UFC championship. He came up short in a title bid last year to Daniel Cormier.
Anthony Johnson (20-5) vs. Ryan Bader (20-4)
Odds: Johnson -325; Bader +265
Believe it or not, Bader can win this fight. He just has to weather the mother of all storms first.
Johnson is a home run hitter. Physically, he's a monster in the division. He swings big, misses big and lands big. Just about every applicable cliche holds up on Johnson. He's as dangerous as they come, but all those muscles and haymakers wear on his gas tank and makes life hard in later rounds. By the way, this is a five-round fight.
It's important to note that simply extending a fight against Johnson isn't enough to tire him. Yes, his cardio is a potential weak point, but you have to attack it. Daniel Cormier did that in a win over Johnson. I believe Jon Jones would, too. Effectively work into clinches, take him down, force him to carry your weight -- Johnson will gas. But without those grappling exchanges, he won't. Ask Phil Davis.
Herein lies Bader's disadvantage. He's not really a straight-forward, high-pressure fighter. In fact, ever since his knockout loss to Glover Teixeira in 2013, he's relatively conservative. He moves a lot and can wear an opponent down in that regard, but against Johnson, I believe a far better strategy is to take it to him. Trying to circle away from the speed and explosiveness of Johnson's offense? Man. Godspeed.
That basically has to be Bader's strategy, though. That's who he is. Perhaps he switches up the game plan and tries a more Cormier-like approach, but I doubt it. He's on a five-fight win streak and is one "W" away from a title shot. You don't reinvent your game in that situation. You focus on execution. And if Bader can land his counter jab, circle to his right away from Johnson's power, blast through a double-leg takedown here and there ... he'll get his chance to take advantage of Johnson's suspect gas tank. Survive the storm, and if you can, for God's sake, wrestle it to the ground.
You can say this about Bader: It's not as if he hasn't dealt with knockout power before. He has shared the Octagon with Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Teixeira, Rafael Cavalcante, Ovince Saint Preux and Rashad Evans. Those guys have been known to load up on a shot here and there. And Bader, although his standup defense isn't great, does a decent job of anticipating the big, single shot. Johnson is a guy who doesn't necessarily string together long, technical combinations. But even when he's throwing a loaded right hand, it comes with such speed that it's a nightmare to defend.
PREDICTION: Johnson's speed and takedown defense (when he's fresh) will be too much. Johnson via TKO, first or second round.
Rest of Main Card
This, like many heavyweight bouts before it, looks like a good ole fashioned coin toss. My coin turned up Barnett.
Prediction: Barnett by decision
Rivera is trending up. Alcantara, despite wins in four of his past five, is trending down. We'll go with the hometown kid.
Prediction: Rivera by decision.
A loss will inevitably come at some point for the 19-year-old Northcutt. Not quite willing to say it's this time out -- but it's certainly possible in this matchup.
Prediction: Northcutt by submission.