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The UFC returns to New Jersey this weekend, sadly this looks like being the closest they’ll be getting to New York in 2016.

Last week’s event was a real barnburner so there is an element of anti-climax with this one. Those are the best events though as everyone knows they need to put on a show. As always, 5Dimes has the odds and I have the picks.

Northcutt v Barberena:

There is little that can be said about Sage Northcutt that hasn’t already been said. The Abercrombie model is a genetic freak and he certainly has the eye of the matchmakers, even I the fans are a little way behind. With an injury to Andrew Holbrook causing a late shift in plans he is pushed up to Welterweight for his debut in the division. It’s something that seems to be in vogue at the moment as Northcutt joins the company of Cerrone and Henderson at 170lbs.

Bryan Barberena is holding the keys to the kingdom in this fight. Plucked from obscurity into the biggest fight of his career, and the first appearance on the main card no less, he faces the next big thing in MMA. Bam Bam lost for the first time in 5 years when falling short to Chad Laprise in April and a win here would see a huge upset, to the point where he could almost be a household name (in MMA circles at least).

Northcutt seems to be getting a slow build, certainly padding his record before getting a major name to face; the UFC learned their lesson when they threw VanZant to Namajunas last year. As a result there should be little in Barberena to trouble Sage, not on such short notice. He can’t be backed at -450 but he has a 100% record inside the distance, despite the odds representing only a 59% chance of success.

Recommendation: Northcutt wins inside distance – 2 units at -140 (7/10) @ 5Dimes

Alcantara v Rivera:

Iuri Alcantara is one of the most experienced Brazilians in all of MMA, and yet has never really been in any positon to challenge for, or hold a major title. At the age of 34 his title running days are over and his position now is that of gatekeeper for a burgeoning division. He has done a pretty decent job so far, losing just three times, the last of which to Frankie Saenz occurred on the night that 10 of 11 underdogs emerged victorious.

Jimmie Rivera continues his whirlwind right in the UFC. After originally falling short on the Ultimate Fighter he stepped up as a short notice replacement against Marcus Brimage in Glasgow, Scotland in July. A further win followed against Pedro Munhoz in November and after just two appearances in the promotion he is elevated to main card status. Amongst all this it is easy to forget that Rivera is a two-run Bellator fighter and has competed in the World Series of Fighting, therefore a relative newcomer he may appear to be, but he is not.

Rivera’s game is built on pressure and he looks to grind a result, although as we saw against Brimage he is very capable of securing a finish. Against a higher grade fighter this will be difficult and Alcantara certainly fits that mould. Alcantara hasn’t been stopped in nearly 6 years; similarly his time in the UFC has only seen him stop two fighters in 11 fights. All signs point to this going the distance, but I’ll happily be proven wrong on this.

Recommendation: Rivera / Alcantara goes 3 round distance – 2 units at -155 (4/6) @ 5Dimes

Barnett v Rothwell:

With the events of this past week affecting the main event at UFC 196 Josh Barnett finds himself once again in a position of relevance, almost. With a Heavyweight roster desperately thin on the ground the Warmaster could elevate his stock beyond reasonable growth with a win over Ben Rothwell. You see as a former UFC champion he is one of the bigger draws outside of Werdum, Velasquez, Overeem and JDS meaning that a win over Rothwell and we could yet see him challenge for a final time.

Despite opening his tenure in the UFC by going 3-3, Ben Rothwell has broken a win-loss streak that lasted four years to go 3-0 in his last three. All were stoppages that saw an improvement in each subsequent performance. By finally overcoming Brandon Vera late on he embarked on a frenzy that saw him finish both Alistair Overeem and Matt Mitrione inside a round. A matchup against Stipe Miocic was postponed due to injury, something that must irk Rothwell when he sees Miocic given the title shot he arguably believes should be his.

With behemoths colliding this co-main event is extremely unlikely to win any Fight of the Night awards, although a performance bonus isn’t out of the question. It’s legitimately a fight that could go either way, with Rothwell taking the advantage if it stays on the feet but Barnett taking over if it gets to the ground. Either way, Heavyweight fights rarely go the distance and I don’t see this ending differently.

Recommendation: Fight won’t go 3 round distance – 2 units at -225 (4/9) @ 5Dimes

Johnson v Bader:

Anthony Johnson has endured a topsy-turvy time over two spells with the UFC. Firstly, he experienced countless weight problems, once missing weight by around 12lbs when competing at Welterweight. Spells in other promotions saw him fight as high as Heavyweight before returning to the UFC at 205lbs. It is here that he found his niche and his range as he battered his way to a title fight. That came against Daniel Cormier who, after an explosive opening round for AJ, dominated until finally submitting the Blackzilian. AJ gassed badly after the first and it was only a matter of time before the end came.

Ryan Bader is probably the most underrated top 10 fighter in the UFC Light Heavyweight division, particularly with the bookmakers. Five consecutive wins and he still doesn’t get a title shot. Facing Rashad Evans, who had spent two years on the shelf, he was a betting underdog and yet he defies the odds time and time again. He has a wrestling background not too dissimilar to DC and that blueprint has already been laid out as a way to beat the heavy handed Johnson.

In order to win this fight AJ needs to land some early bombs and rock Bader so that he can go in for the kill. In order for Bader to win this fight he needs to avoid the early bombs and look for AJ to tire from rounds 3-5 before going for the kill himself. That really is how I see the fight panning out and those are the only two outcomes available to me. I just get the feeling that this is Bader’s time, I bet him over Evans and I’m going to have a small play on him again inside the distance.

Recommendation: Bader wins inside distance – 1 unit at +425 (17/4) @ 5Dimes

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