Bader teeters toward obscurity; Johnson rumbles toward title

Anthony Johnson made light work of Ryan Bader in weekend’s UFC on FOX headliner. We reflect on the bout and its consequences…

I would expect that the result of the main event surprised very few people, and absolutely no bookies. The length of the fight (86 seconds), and Johnson’s total dominance wasn’t particularly surprising as it actually unfolded, although any armchair pundit could be forgiven for having thought before the fight that Bader’s wrestling was going to give Anthony Johnson more trouble than it did.

Bader once again showed his limitations. More in his mental game than in his actual fight game. Having recently gone on a solid five-fight tear in what has been overall a rather mixed career, with this setback Bader is headed dangerously close toward gatekeeper status. His wrestling pedigree guarantees he’ll beat the uninitiated, but he has consistently failed when faced with the best. I think this could well be lacklustre coaching, but it could simply be his own mental shortcomings. Either it hasn’t ever been explained to him that at the highest level he must become more diverse an athlete than just a wrestler, or he doesn’t have the fortitude to leave his comfort zone. Either way, to shoot on Anthony Johnson without setting it up with strikes first, especially after he had been given the blueprint to beating ‘Rumble’ by Daniel Cormier, was frankly nothing short of amateurish.

Johnson, on the other hand, showed he’s been working hard on what was considered the hole in his game- his ground game. He looked genuinely chuffed when talking with Joe Rogan immediately after the fight about how he’s been working hard, and it looks like he knows that that work is paying off. Of course, this grappling improvement is not in of itself a weapon for Johnson in the cage, as we saw last night. Instead it is a means to an end- a way to set up his strikes.

Still, chuffed as he might be, he has a loss to current champion Daniel ‘DC’ Cormier, and he knows that he has to wait until the DC vs Jon Jones feud is settled at a UFC event in the near future. But it would appear that Johnson is sitting in an enviable situation, while he waits. First, because he has oodles of time to improve. And second, because Jon Jones is the solid favourite in his fight against DC, and that’s whom Rumble should be more excited to face.

Against ‘Bones’ Jones he’ll have more time to land power shots on the feet than against the wrestle-heavy game of Cormier, whom we saw tire out Johnson’s arms and lungs when on his way to imposing his will on the ground. Like a father subduing an upstart teen. I’m not suggesting of course that fighting Jones, whom some argue is already the greatest MMA fighter of all time (at a ripe 28 years old), is some kind of easy KO win for Johnson. Jones’ stand-up is so spectacularly varied, measured and difficult to predict, that I would expect the ex-champ to negate Johnson’s power just as he did in his fight against power hitter Glover Teixeira. I remember genuinely fearing for Ryan Bader’s health when Teixeira clobbered him into the mat back on 2013, but Jones, about as different a fighter to Bader as one could be, deflected and parried Teixeira’s raw power with such viscous grace, with such confident ease.

So I suppose the conclusion I’ve reached is that Johnson will surely go in the underdog against either man, and I’m certain he knows this. His fans call this 6’2 muscle-clad KO-machine ‘Humble Rumble’, and when they do so more so because it is wholly accurate. He has no ‘tough guy’ facade’. He’s open, he’s fan-friendly, and he’s a hard working guy. When he foolishly posted an emotional outburst on social media last year, he even apologised unreservedly. Imagine that- a male sportsperson climbing down and admitting fault. Inconceivable!

I’ll be cheering him on if (barring the often unavoidable UFC injury plague) his title fight does come to fruition down the line, purely because his game planning and his key to success is so delightfully simple: hit (much) harder than the other guy does.

Laurie Williams