Surprise submissions, planking punches, and going the distance; that pretty much sums up the UFC’s latest trip to New Jersey.  

In the light-heavyweight main event, Anthony “Rumble” Johnson made short work of Ryan “Darth” Bader, KO-ing the Arizona native at just over a minute into their UFC on FOX 18 headliner. The co-main event saw “Big” Ben Rothwell surprise many by sinking in a choke on Josh Barnett, forcing him to tap in the 2nd round.  Earlier in the night, Jimmie “El Terror” Rivera earned a gritty unanimous decision win over the always tough Iuri Alcantara.  Additionally, short notice replacement Bryan Barberena temporarily derailed the “Super” Sage Northcutt hype train with a second round arm triangle.

Now that the octagon has been disassembled and stored securely in the overhead compartment of Dana White’s private jet, let’s see what’s on the horizon for the main card winners.

Anthony “Rumble” Johnson
Possible Fights: Winner of Daniel Cormier vs Jon Jones, Glover Teixeira

Outside the octagon, Anthony “Rumble”Johnson is just about the most chill guy in the world.  Inside the octagon, however, Rumble has zero chill. After stuffing Ryan Bader’s early takedown attempt, Rumble patiently worked his way to back control, defended Bader’s ill-advised kimura, and transitioned to mount. From there, he quickly separated “Darth” from his consciousness with brutal punches, leaving Bader facedown and motionless on the mat, less than 90 seconds into their fight.

The first round KO puts Rumble in line to fight the winner of the soon-to-be-scheduled title fight between Daniel Cormier and Jon “Bones” Jones. Although Rumble famously tapped to “DC” at UFC 187 in May 2015, he’s since won two-straight – both by vicious KO. Given that he also has a KO win over two-time LHW title challenger Alexander Gustafsson, the Bader win definitively separates Rumble from the rest of the herd.

Timing, however, can be a tricky thing. At the UFC on FOX 18 post-fight press conference, UFC VP of Public Relations Dave Sholler announced that details of the upcoming Jones-Cormier fight will be released soon.  Some are speculating that the fight will be booked for the UFC 197, currently scheduled for April 2016.  There’s no guarantee that the winner of Jones-Cormier will come out healthy, and then there’s the ever-looming possibility of an immediate rematch – especially if Cormier wins.

At the post-fight presser, Rumble admitted that he’d be willing to wait as long as necessary for “the biggest fight of [his] life,” but also hinted that he said he’d consider taking another fight in the interim simply because “that’s a paycheck.” Luckily, there’s a former-LHW title contender on a two-fight win streak also in need of a dance partner. Enter Glover Teixeira, another top 5 light heavyweight with dangerous hands and solid wrestling defense. Depending on the timing of Jones-Cormier II, a clash between Johnson and Teixeira has the potential to be an all-out striking war and will keep the division moving while Cormier and Jones sort out who is the true top dog at 205.

“Big” Ben Rothwell
Possible Fights: Stipe Miocic

You want to make a statement in your division? Follow Ben Rothwell’s lead. After alternating wins and losses over the first five fights of his UFC career, “Big” Ben is on a four-fight winning streak, including TKO stoppages over Brandon Vera and Alistair Overeem, and a submission win over Matt Mitrione. Oh, and most recently, there’s the matter of him becoming the first UFC fighter to ever beat Josh Barnett by submission, a nauseating and painful “go go choke”, as Rothwell called it, that wreaks havoc on your adam’s apple.

The past couple of months have been a particularly busy time for the UFC heavyweight division. Generally, this activity would help clear up the rankings and title outlook; however, both champion Fabricio Werdum and number 1 contender, Cain Velasquez, recently dropped out of their scheduled UFC 196 title fight due to injury.  Details of the extent of their injuries and timelines for their return to action are still unclear, meaning that the top of the division will most likely begin to bottleneck in their absence.

Despite his impressive run, Rothwell will have to stay active in order to maintain relevance in the division.  One way to stay relevant is to take on potential title challenger, Stipe Miocic. Rothwell and Miocic already have history.  The two were scheduled to fight at UFC Dublin in October 2015, but Miocic backed out due to injury. The UFC then famously booked Miocic to fight Andrei Arlovski at UFC 195 this past January, which Miocic promptly won by ferocious knock out. A fight between Rothwell and Miocic will keep both fighters in the spotlight and allow the winner to stake their claim as next in line after Werdum-Velasquez II – if that’s the direction the UFC follows.

Jimmie Rivera
Possible Fights: Winner of Cody Garbrandt vs John Lineker, Rob Font

Jimmie Rivera has certainly made the most of his short time in the UFC. After KO-ing Marcus Brimage at Fight Night 72 in July 2015, Rivera was booked against Pedro Munhoz at Fight Night 77 in November. He won a unanimous decision over Munhoz, and the UFC rewarded him with a main card slot against Iuri Alcantara at UFC on FOX 18.

Rivera earned a gritty unanimous decision win over Alcantara, making it three straight in just six months. While he’s still developing his MMA game, the win against his first true top 15 opponent warrants another step up in competition. If he’s healthy and looking to book a fight soon, he may want to campaign for a fight with fellow up-and-comer Rob Font. The Team Sityodtong fighter has been plagued by injuries as of late, but returned to action at Fight Night 81 to earn a 2nd round TKO stoppage over Joey Gomez. Both fighters are young and hungry, and although Rivera has been much more active in his short UFC stint, Font would provide a good test for his evolving skill set.

If Rivera is looking for a big jump in competition, he might want to tune in for UFC Fight Night 83 on February 21st, where John Lineker will take on Cody Garbrandt. Lineker is taking his second fight at Bantamweight after continually struggling to make the 125lbs Flyweight division limit. Garbrandt is 7-0 in his MMA career, including two straight wins inside the octagon. Matching Rivera up with the winner of Garbrandt vs Lineker would be an intriguing fight with a top 10 opponent in the winner’s future.

Bryan “Bam Bam” Barberena
Possible Fights: James Moontasri, Jon Tuck, Reza Madadi

Bryan Barberena should have walked out to Public Enemy on Saturday, because when it comes to Sage Northcutt, he didn’t believe the hype. “Bam Bam” took the fight against the surging 19-year-old prospect on 8 days notice, opting to move up to 170lbs to avoid what would have certainly been a hellish short-notice weight cut. After losing the first round to “Super” Sage, Barberena took advantage of a Northcutt slip, showed strong top control, pummeled Northcutt on the ground, and sunk in an arm triangle, forcing the tap at the three minute mark of the second round.

The win is Barberena’s most high-profile to date and gives him some much-needed momentum after a loss to Chad Laprise at UFC 186 in April of last year snapped his seven-fight win streak – six of which came in regional promotions outside of the UFC.  Barberena still has a long way to go before he can call out the big dogs of the lightweight division, so his best options are to knock off other prospects on the fringe of a top 15 spot.

There are three potential fighters that would give Barberena a competitive match-up, while maintaining the divisional pecking order.  James “Moonwalker” Moontasri is coming off of an impressive spinning backfist KO at UFC 193, putting him at an even 2-2 in the UFC. Jon “Super Saiyan” Tuck is another exciting lightweight prospect who has alternated wins and losses over the course of his five-fight UFC run, including a first round submission win at Fight Night 66 last April. And, finally, Reza “Mad Dog” Madadi recently returned to action last October after a long lay off due to some personal legal issues. Although he lost a unanimous decision to Norman Parke, he’s 2-2 overall in the UFC and is more than a handful for anyone outside of the division’s top 15. None of these fighters currently have scheduled opponents, so hopefully “Bam Bam” can heal up quickly and get back to action sooner rather than later.

About The Author

Jonny Hodds

Jonny Hodds geeks out over MMA, RPGs, comic books, board games, documentaries, and all things horror/sci-fi/fantasy related. When he was 10 years old, he was shown a karate video of a “master sensei” getting kicked in the junk repeatedly without flinching. To this day, he still believes this is the only true form of mixed martial arts. He also spends far too much time online for his own good.