For reasons beyond my control (a wedding, honeymoon and a constant array of UFC cancellations and rescheduling) this will be the first MMA update I provide in quite sometime.
You can credit my wife. You can credit my lack of winning. Whatever the case, I'm back and just in time for one of the biggest fight cards of the year with UFC 178 this weekend. It won’t feature many notable names to the casual MMA fan, but it does have the significance of being the first modern day UFC Fight Card to feature all Top 15 ranked fighters on the main card. Not only a championship headliner, but at least three and maybe all of the other remaining fights could make a case for a No. 1 contender status fight.
Basically, you’ll need to figure out what you’re doing on Saturday night to make sure you’re in front of the TV.
Now to the fights:
Demetrious Johnson (20-2-1) vs No. 8 Chris Cariaso (17-5)
The smallest yet potentially most dominating champion in the UFC puts his title on the line as “Mighty Mouse” Johnson looks to make it five title defenses in a row as the inaugural UFC Flyweight Champion when he welcomes the relatively unknown Cariaso to the main event and pay per view main card (More on that later).
Johnson has been unbeatable and virtually untouchable as the flyweight champion. Since winning the title with a unanimous decision over Joseph Benavidez back in September of 2012, he’s outpointed and finished a variety of different opponents at 125 pounds, consistently showing his speed and variety in his evolution as a fighter.
Primarily known as a wrestler when he was competing as a bantamweight in the days of the W.E.C., Johnson is now full-fledged MMA Fighter that can dictate where his fights go and at what pace they go.
He’s not an elite level in any MMA discipline yet, but his speed and cardio is so difficult to deal with, it’s hard to envision him losing the title anytime soon.
Cariaso was a surprising candidate to earn a title shot, ranked currently as the No. 8 fighter in the flyweight division and with a current 8-4 record in the WEC/UFC it raised plenty of eyebrows when he was announced as the next challenger. Like Johnson, he too is a former bantamweight. A former golden gloves champion, Cariaso is also well versed in Muay-Thai and is a strong striker. He (like many before him) will try and keep this on the feet (and catch Johnson off guard).
Despite the height, that’s too tall a task.
My prediction, Johnson via submission (Rd 3)
No. 5 Donald Cerrone (24-6) vs No. 14 Eddie Alvarez (25-3)
Storylines galore dot the co-main event as “Cowboy” Cerrone once again tries to solidify is status as a lightweight title challenger as he welcomes Alvarez, the former Bellator Lightweight Champion and most sought after free-agent in UFC History, to the Octagon.
Cerrone is always knocking on the door of a title shot and is one of the most active fighters in UFC history. This fight will be the 15th fight in four years for the Cowboy and the second time in the last three he’s fought at least four times during a calendar year; the likelihood is that Cerrone will look for a fifth fight come December.
He’s an outstanding striker and prefers to walk down his opponents, showing little or no respect for their striking skills. He’s well versed in all areas, greatly improving both his striking and submission ability throughout his career. The issue is that whenever he’s gotten to or close to the mountaintop, he’s been dominated as seen his fights with top lightweights Benson Henderson, Anthony Pettis and Rafael dos Anjos.
So who is Eddie Alvarez?
Making his debut in the UFC as the 14th ranked fighter in the lightweight division, Alvarez becomes the latest prominent fighter to make his debut in the UFC, having won titles in other organizations prior to his stint in the Octagon.
He was widely considered the best fighter not under the UFC Banner and is an outstanding wrestler and volume puncher, showcasing a tremendous pace to his fights and ability to withstand punishment throughout. He possesses good takedowns and is a finisher; 21 of his 25 victories have come inside the distance.
Against Cerrone, he’ll look to get inside “Cowboy’s” pocket, but keep the fight standing; Cerrone should have a decisive advantage from both his back and the mount. The reach and variety of striking should be enough for the Cerrone to be the unfortunate welcome mat in Alvarez’s UFC debut.
My prediction, Cerrone via decision
No. 5 Dustin Poirier (16-3) vs No. 9 Conor McGregor (15-2)
The most hyped and anticipated fight on the card is a critical one for the UFC when potential future title challengers in Poirier and McGregor meet on the main card. Poirier is a consensus top contender and has been for years. He’s as well rounded as they come and is a finisher, 13 of his 16 career wins are by stoppage with nine coming in the first round.
He’s a precision striker that fights at a ferocious pace and is well versed on the ground. Plus, he’s been to this spot before; featured in a critical fight with a win putting him in the crosshairs of a title shot.
His issue is that both times he’s lost in that spot to Chang Sung Jung and Cub Swanson.
Enter McGregor, probably the most hyped fighter to ever enter the UFC. He’s a trash talker, a brash dresser and is not ashamed to tell you about it. The UFC brass loves him because unlike nearly 90 percent of the UFC roster, he’s a needle mover. Fans want to see him fight and pay to do it too.
And it’s not just his ability to promote a fight. McGregor is a powerful striker that uses an orthodox stance and approach to his standup game, very similar to longtime middleweight champion Anderson Silva. He’s also well versed on the ground and should not be afraid if the fight goes there.
When analyzing this fight you have to ask if McGregor is worth the hype. The UFC certainly thinks he is. But this will be the first Top Ten opponent McGregor has faced. They also have two common opponents, Diego Brando and Max Halloway.
Both finished Brandao in the first round. Poirier needed one round to put away Halloway, McGregor went the distance, apparently fighting with a torn ACL.
My prediction, Poirier via submission (Rd 2)
No. 6 Tim Kennedy (18-4) vs No. 10 Yoel Romero (8-1)
Another fight that has extremely important title implications this time in the middleweight division is when grappling wizards Kennedy and Romero throw down. Like him or not, Kennedy has been on a roll since making the transition from the Strikeforce promotion to the UFC.
A former army ranger, the undersized Kennedy has greatly improved each time in the Octagon. He’s an outstanding grappler especially in transitions and working from the top. It will be extremely impressive if he can work that side of his game in this fight against Romero, so he’ll be better to keep this fight standing. He’ll have the advantage there, not with power, but volume and accuracy.
Romero is a world glass grappler, a former Olympian in free style wrestling that is extremely powerful. He’s striking is more solitary, each time looking for a one-shot knockout. He certainly can do it and his KO of the night against Clifford Starks is evident of that.
Kennedy is a workhorse and I certainly see him grinding out a later round win over the powerful Cuban.
My prediction, Kennedy via decision
No. 1 Cat Zingano (8-0) vs No. 8 Amanda Nunes (9-3)
The Main card opens up with the top contender in the women’s bantamweight division Cat Zingano, returning from a torn ACL (and the death of her husband) to take on the always-dangerous Amanda Nunes.
Over a year ago Zingano was on top of the world. She had just dominated MIesha Tate, earned a spot coaching on the Ultimate Fighter and was going to challenge Ronda Rousey for the women’s bantamweight championship. Then she tore her knee, had to work through the suicide of her late husband all to return to this spot, against a tough top ten fighter in Nunes.
Zingano is huge for the bantamweight division and is an extremely powerful striker and wrestler. She’s also extremely aggressive, a trademark of her opponent as well.
The only suspect here is the layoff, but I don’t think it’s a problem.
My prediction, Zingano via KO (Rd 1)
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There are no games scheduled for today.