Sometimes I really envy Joe Rogan. Not because he's a millionaire comedian who gets to watch UFC fights so close to the action that he gets sprayed with blood and sweat, but because he seems able to get excited about even the shittiest of fights.
Such was my reaction to last night's (Sat., Jan. 30, 2016) UFC on FOX 18 card in Newark, New Jersey, a night mainly filled with forgettable fights or one-sided beatdowns that ruined any semblance of suspense and excitement.
But, them's the breaks. You know the card kind of sucked when they gave "Fight of the Night" to a couple of guys who would be hard-pressed to make it through the "you must be this tall to ride" signs at Disneyland.
There was some entertainment to be found, however, if you know where to look. Let's delve deeper, shall we? Who got top marks and who failed to pass in this week's "Report Card"? Find out below:
There are moments of regret in your life when you fail so spectacularly that no passage of time or subsequent events can overshadow your awful performance. These memories can sometimes be dulled with alcohol or deliberate repression, but they never really go away. Ryan Bader is now the proud owner of one such moment.
Whatever the gameplan was coming into this main event it surely couldn't have been what Bader tried. After spending the past three years working his ass off to put together a five fight win streak and the strongest claim to a shot at UFC gold, Bader threw it all away with perhaps the most inept takedown attempt I've ever seen.
After shooting from far enough away that Anthony Johnson received a postcard about it, then failing to threaten even the slightest hint of a single leg, Bader assumed a turtled position on the mat. The futility of then fishing for a kimura without having any control over Johnson's body was soon demonstrated when the bigger man escaped and pounded Bader's title shot into dreamland.
Frankly, I'm amazed Bader even took this fight. Johnson had recently competed for the title and had no winning streak to lay claim to the right to fight him for a number one contender ranking. And Bader had nothing to gain and everything to lose, since winning would keep him where he already was and losing would send his ass back to the bottom of the heap he'd spent three years climbing over.
It's one thing to take a fight against another top-ranked light heavyweight who could give Bader trouble, but to accept the most dangerous power hitter in the UFC? That's just a bad career move. And frankly, other than being trolled on Twitter by Johnson I'm not sure why he felt he needed to accept this fight.
I believed the proper matchmaking to make was Anthony Johnson vs. Jon Jones with the winner facing Daniel Cormier vs. Ryan Bader. But UFC had other ideas. Namely, screwing Bader out of a well-deserved title shot while rewarding a man who disgraced the organization by taking illegal substances and then performing a hit and run on a pregnant woman.
Surely Ben Rothwell is the 2016 version of the Mark Hunt comeback story. At one time just a 2-3 fighter in UFC who lost every other fight in which he was scheduled, the 34-year-old is now on a four fight winning streak with finishes in each one.
What's more amazing about Rothwell's career resurgence is that his streak has come against some top notch fighters, including a knockout win over Alistair Overeem and last night becoming the first man to submit Josh Barnett. The latter feat cannot be overstated as a great accomplishment, given Barnett's pedigree as a heavyweight grappler in Metamoris with a successful title defense against Ryron Gracie.
It's important to note that Barnett wasn't completely outclassed. The fighter was actually winning most of the exchanges prior to the finish and one could easily chalk up the loss to a mental lapse. "Warmaster" looked to be in control in the first round, keeping a high right elbow to both block incoming punches and land the quick right hook.
But then Barnett inexplicably sought the takedown against the fence, giving up his neck and getting squeezed by Rothwell's new go-to "gogo" choke that also saw Matt Mitrione gasping for air seconds into their fight. The consecutive submissions shows Rothwell has become a well-rounded fighter who is dangerous everywhere the fight goes, something that would make any potential rematch with former opponents (like Cain Velasquez and Andrei Arlovski) very interesting.
What makes Rothwell's run so very Mark Hunt-like is that UFC has obviously not been keen on giving him any easy opportunities to claw to the top of the 265-pound division. Sadly, with both Fabricio Werdum and Cain Velasquez clogging the top of the division with injuries it may be a long time before we get to see how well he performs against either one.
This was officially designated Fight of the Night for the fast-paced action and back-and-forth momentum. But if I'm being honest I'll probably forget about it by tomorrow. Why? Because although it was a decent scrap, nothing really significant happened.
Jimmie Rivera stalked and chased Iuri Alcantara, who spent most of the time on the defensive. And whenever you're talking about one of the Alcantara brothers you may as well accept the fight is going to a decision. Especially when it's Iuri and he's playing keepaway pattycake.
I was pretty impressed with Rivera, who showed no concerns about standing and banging with one of the better strikers at 135 pounds. But that's actually been the key in defeating Alcantara, who always wilts under pressure when he's denied the opportunity to set up his strikes. In fact, if the fight felt a bit like a repeat it's because Frankie Saenz more or less employed the same strategy last February.
When you look at Alcantara's impressive record (33-7) and his UFC ranking (14th) it's easy to overlook that his wins come mainly against flyweights (Iliarde Santos, Vaughn Lee, Wilson Reis) or fighters no longer in the UFC. Every single time he's taken on a pressure fighter of any repute (Urijah Faber, Hacran Dias) he's faded like a newspaper in the sun.
Still, I don't want to take anything away from Rivera. The 19-1 bantamweight is a fun addition to the 135-pound division, which needs fresh blood now that Dominick Cruz is back and in control. Sure, a rematch with T.J. Dillashaw might happen but eventually we're going to need some new contenders and Rivera looks every bit capable of filling those shoes.
If you're looking to me for surprise I'm going to sorely disappoint you. Don't get me wrong, I did pick Sage Northcutt to crush what looked to be yet another hand fed tomato can with little experience and no abdominal muscles, but I never for one moment believed Northcutt was a good fighter.
Not only did Northcutt benefit from the classic Herb Dean early stoppage in his debut fight (and now that you've seen Northcutt crushed perhaps people will go back and objectively judge whether that fight was stopped early like I claimed), he was exposed on the ground in his sophomore fight against Cody Pfister. It was only a matter of time before somebody came along to finish him off there.
The fact he was submitted by a guy who is unlikely to be ranked in the top 50 of the lightweight contenders in UFC does not bode well for Northcutt's immediate chances of rebounding from this loss. The only good news in this one is that he's still young, strong and has a base karate talent that may help him in future. Sadly, he was exposed as lacking something that you truly can never build up: heart.
Northcutt tapped out to a choke that wasn't secured or in danger of cutting off his oxygen, which means he mentally quit. He opted out of the fight because he'd had enough. In schoolyard parlance, he pussed the fuck out. He quit. He's weak. Sorry, that's just how it is. Ask Jimmy Quinlan.
The thing about the Diaz brothers (Nate and Nick) is that although there are fighters who are bigger, stronger, have better striking, grappling or speed, they are always dangerous because they never give up. They are among the most mentally strong fighters in UFC, which allows them to not only win fights they're losing but overcome people who have superior skillsets.
Northcutt has the opposite problem. He had a physical advantage over Barberena, a clear speed advantage, and a lifetime of karate training. All Barberena was bringing to the table was toughness. Turns out it was more than enough against a quitter.
So even though he's only 19 years old, Northcutt showed that when the going gets tough, he'd rather quit than persevere. I think that's what really distinguishes him from two other so-called hype trains who were derailed in the past year. Both Paige VanZant and Ronda Rousey were crushed by Rose Namajunas and Holly Holm, respectively, but neither showed any mental weakness whatsoever in their fights (Rousey only showed it after getting knocked out).
VanZant, in particular, showed tremendous courage and toughness in defeat, sustaining multiple 10-8 round losses but continued to answer the bell. Despite losing badly, she proved she belongs in UFC and can grow and overcome her setbacks. Northcutt showed nothing of the sort.
One last note. People were whining on social media about how badly Northcutt was being treated after the loss, completely misdirecting their anger at people they thought were tormenting a teenager. Fans (including me) weren't happy with Northcutt's loss because we dislike a 19-year-old kid. We were happy because it was proved once again that UFC can't manufacture talent through undeserved hype. You have to earn respect from fans, as Conor McGregor did. It isn't given freely.
Quick Hits From The Undercard
- Jake Ellenberger (D) may only be 30 but looks like he hasn't evolved from his one punch technique after six years in UFC. As for Tarec Saffiedine (B), he's the most talented boring technical fighter in the world and couldn't finish a ham sandwich with a blowtorch.
- It's been a really hard go for Canada since the retirement of Georges St-Pierre. Olivier Aubin-Mercier (C) found himself at a loss against Carlos Diego Ferreira (B), who was better wherever the fight went last night. Curiously, Aubin-Mercier was finally beginning to find success on the feet in the third round before trying to take down a third degree Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt and got dominated on the mat for his efforts.
- Rafael Natal (C) pulled a Rafael Natal. He danced around throwing sloppy punches and takedowns until Kevin Casey (F) gassed out and gave up on the mat. Speaking of mentally weak, Casey more than demonstrated how easily he gives up when he was on TUF. I'm not sure why he was still signed after the show. Maybe Northcutt has a chance after all.
- Where was this version of Wilson Reis (A) against Jussier Formiga? He completely dominated Dustin Ortiz (D), who looked slow and outclassed everywhere in this fight.
- Alexander Yakovlev (A+) won all four minutes of this fight, lighting George Sullivan (F) up on the feet, taking him down at will, and then knocking him out with a pretty combination. Frankly speaking, he deserved a performance bonus.
- Alex Cacares (A) looked more like a dancer out there than a fighter, leaping in and out with kicks that flustered and confused Masio Fullen (C-) completely.
- Randy Brown (B) performed admirably in his UFC debut despite the fight hype of being chosen by Dana White in his "Looking for a Fight" reality show. He took on an experienced Matt Dwyer (C+) who gave him a good run for his money, but ultimately fell short in the third round when Brown turned up the pressure.
- Levan Makashvili (F) deserved nothing from this fight after fouling Damon Jackson (B+) twice in the span of a minute. The fact two judges would have scored the fight for him despite doing little but defending takedowns in the first two rounds really speaks to the ineptitude of judging.
- Tony Martin (B) showed quite a bit of heart in taking out Felipe Olivieira (C-), a fighter with 10 knockouts, many in the first round, on his resume. Martin endured the pressure, dragged the fight into deep waters where the Brazilian gassed out, and choked him for the finish. Toughness. Can't be taught.