Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Light Heavyweight elites Anthony Johnson and Ryan Bader will clash TONIGHT (Jan. 30, 2016) at UFC on FOX 18 inside Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
Since rejoining UFC as a 205-pound combatant, Johnson has terrorized four of his five opponents, coming up short to the current champion, Daniel Cormier, in that lone loss. With this match up, Johnson has a chance to earn a rematch, or at least a potential battle with Jon Jones.
Meanwhile, Bader is on the biggest win streak of his career and has never looked better. He's arguably earned a title shot already, but a victory here leaves no doubt.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for both men:
Key Wins: Alexander Gustafsson (UFC on FOX 14), Phil Davis (UFC 172), Andrei Arlovski (WSOF 2)
Key Losses: Daniel Cormier (UFC 187), Vitor Belfort (UFC 142)
Keys to Victory: Johnson is a ridiculously powerful kickboxer capable of melting most fighters with a single punch. He's also improved his wrestling defense and conditioning significantly in the last few years, which has helped turn him into one of the best Light Heavyweights in the world.
In this bout, Johnson needs to intelligently pressure Bader. He's very skilled at stalking his opponents without giving up an easy takedown, and that's precisely what he needs to do here.
On the whole, Bader looked excellent in his last fight. However, Rashad Evans did manage to walk him into the fence repeatedly, and Bader nearly circled into the right hand numerous times.
If "Rumble" puts him in a similar spot, he only needs to connect once.
That said, Johnson needs to stay smart. It's definitely in his best interest to finish Bader early, but he cannot attempt to rush the finish. Bader has gotten far more crafty and comfortable inside the Octagon, so he's primed to take advantage if Johnson gets sloppy chasing the knockout.
Key Wins: Phil Davis (UFC on FOX 14), Rashad Evans (UFC 192), Ovince St. Preux (UFC Fight Night 47), Quinton Jackson (UFC 144)
Key Losses: Glover Teixeira (UFC Fight Night 28), Lyoto Machida (UFC on FOX 4)
Keys to Victory: Bader has always been a very technical and powerful wrestler, but he's grown into a well-rounded fighter. In the last couple years particularly, Bader has made significant strides and really turned a corner.
But, none of that matters if Johnson's right hand crashes into his jaw in the first two minutes.
Johnson is a fast starter with lots of early knockouts, but he does fade over time. This is a five-round fight, so Bader has 10 minutes that he doesn't necessarily have to win. So long as Bader ensures that Johnson is expending some energy without being on the receiving end of those blows, Bader sets himself up to rally later on in the fight.
To safely wear down Johnson, Bader needs to be working with his kicks and jabs, circling away from Johnson's right, and looking to duck under and initiate grappling exchanges whenever his opponent swings wide.
Even if his early takedowns are unsuccessful and his punches do not do a ton of damage, Bader is making his opponent work and creating opportunities for himself. As Johnson slows down, Bader can begin to commit more heavily to his strikes and takedown attempts.
Should Bader successful take down a tired Johnson, history may just repeat itself for Johnson's fifth rear naked choke loss.
Bottom Line: This is a title eliminator bout between two very different fighter.
The reward for victory is the same for either man. Daniel Cormier vs Jon Jones will happen at some point in the coming months, and there's no one with an argument to face the winner other than tonight's victor. To put it simply, this is a five round opportunity to prove who is a championship caliber fighter.
On the other hand, the consequences of losing is a bit different for the two fights. This is a massively important bout for Bader, as it's a real chance to prove himself as an elite contender. If he comes up short here, he loses a fair bit of the momentum he's built and will have to create a new win streak.
Meanwhile, Johnson has violently proven his position near the top a few times now. However, both a potential rematch with "DC" and a showdown with "Bones" are the best available match ups for "Rumble." He may eventually earn those fights down the line even with a loss, but defeat would take away some of their luster.
TONIGHT at UFC on FOX 18, Anthony Johnson and Ryan Bader will collide in the main event. Which fighter will have his hand raised?