The UFC’s return to the Garden State will showcase multiple up and coming prospects in addition to two title eliminator bouts in the Heavyweight and Light Heavyweight divison. Headlined by Anthony “Rumble” Johnson vs Ryan Bader a bout that will almost certainly give us the next title challenger at 205. Josh Barnett will take on the very heavy handed “Big” Ben Rothwell in a top five showdown in a Heavyweight division that is hurting for contenders. The rest of the card is filled with compelling match ups including a prelim headliner fight between crafty vets Tarec Saffiedine and Jake Ellenberger at Welterweight.
Jake Ellenberger (30-10) vs #11 Tarec Saffiedine (15-4)
Tarec Saffiedine – It has been a long road to recovery for Saffiediene who has not fought since his October 2014 loss to Rory MacDonald. A groin injury forced him out of a scheduled fight with Matt Brown and he has been on the sideline healing up ever since. Prior to his TKO loss to Rory, Saffiedine put together quite an impressive winning streak between Strikeforce and UFC with victories over Hyun Gyu Lim, Scott Smith and Nate Marquardt. Currently ranked number 11 in the Welterweight division, Saffiedine can break back in to the top 10 with a win over the once top 5 ranked Ellenberger.
Jake Ellenberger – Not too long ago Ellenberger was a fight or two away from fighting for the title, however he has dropped 4 of his last 5 fights and has fell from the rankings at welterweight. “The Juggarnaut” needs this one desperately, not too many fighters have lost 5 out of 6 fights and kept their job in the UFC. However Ellenberger is such an exciting fighter that a win over a ranked opponent like Saffiedine could put him right back in the mix at 170.
The Fight – Both Saffiedine and Ellenberger have solid wrestling and I see this fight remaining on the feet. Saffiedine owns the more technical standup of the two, but has not displayed much power with only one KO in his 19 professional fights. Ellenberger is more of a wildcard, he has world class power but fades in the later rounds. If this one goes pass the first Saffiedine will probably win decision, but that will not happen. Ellenberger will get an early KO keeping his job and chance at the title.
Ellenberger KO round 1
Sage Northcutt (7-0) vs Bryan Barberena (10-3)
Sage Northcutt – “Super” Sage has burst onto the scene with two stoppage wins in his first three months in the UFC. Northcutt will go for his third win in four months. At this pace Northcutt will be inducted into the UFC’s hall of fame before his 21st birthday. Sage has dominated all of his competitors so far and shown to be a very well rounded fighter, but has yet to face an opponent of Barbarena’s caliber.
Bryan Barbarena – The “MMA Lab” product debuted with a TKO finish of Joe Ellenberger but stumbled in his second outing against TUF Nations Champ Chad Laprise. In his two fights he has shown a great chin and some crafty southpaw striking. Barbarena is a big underdog in this one but if he can pull it off he will steal the spotlight that Northcutt has built up in the last couple months.
The Fight – Northcutt is the big favorite and appears to be better at all aspects of the game then Barbarena. However he is 19 and I think Barbarena will bring a mental toughness and durability to this fight that will make it interesting. Barbarena will survive the early onslaught and use his experience and cardio to take rounds two and three.
Barbarena Unanimous Decision
#8 Josh Barnett (34-7) vs #7 Ben Rothwell (35-9)
Josh Barnett – Now is the time for the “Warmaster” to put together a run for the title. The former champ has gone 2-1 since his return to the UFC and can move into the top 5 with a win over the 7th ranked Rothwell. Barnett has a deadly submission game and the kind of eccentric showmanship that could bring fans back to a heavyweight division that has suffered from monotone and non english speaking champs.
Ben Rothwell – Big Ben is well known for his one punch KO power, but has also proved to be well versed in wrestling and submission defense. He’s on a 3 fight wining streak including a win over #3 ranked Alistair Overeem, if he can avoid the chokes and painful holds of Barnet he will put himself in great position for 2016.
The Fight – I can not imagine Barnett wanting to stand and trade with Rothwell, but taking down the 265 pound behemoth will not be a simple task either. This fight will eventually go to the ground and when it does Barnett’s killer submission grappling will help him put this one away late.
Barnett Third round Arm-Triangle
#2 Anthony Johnson (20-5) vs #4 Ryan Bader (20-4)
Anthony Johnson – “Rumble” has found his home at 205 and blasted everyone he has encountered not named Daniel Cormier. He has the fan friendly style that would help his case for another title shot if he can get by Bader. Just when that title shot might take place however would be in question. With talks of Jon Jones returning it would make sense for him to fight “DC” with the winner of this fight receiving the next shot.
Ryan Bader – Bader has really taken his game to the next level, in his most recent victories he has mixed up his striking and wrestling to perfection all the while taking very minimal damage. Bader will defiantly have a title shot in his future if he can get by “Rumble”. If “DC” can hold the belt for the next couple months a Bader vs Cormier match up might sell a few more tickets than a Rumble vs Cormier rematch.
The Fight – Bader has shown great head movement and feints in his last few fights and will need to be on his toes all night, because if he slips up once Rumble will be happy to send Bader to lala land. Bader will do what it takes here and avoid the major shots and put together a sold performance to get the W.
Bader Unanimous Decision