This weekend features one of the biggest pay per views of the year, arguably the second most hyped pay per view so far in 2014 besides UFC 175. UFC 178 will feature a title fight in the main event for the flyweight title, but it is really the other fights on the card that make this pay per view worth the money and time. After having to cancel UFC 176 when Jose Aldo was forced out of title defense against Chad Mendes due to injury, and after having the main event to UFC 177 change less than 36 hours before the pay per view commenced, this pay per view is a do or die for the UFC’s current model of business. The UFC has been doing more and more shows, and while oversaturation seems to be the hot topic that everyone is commenting on, it is hard to ignore at this point, as UFC 177 featured 2 ranked fighters, and UFC 176 was cancelled after losing solely the main event, as the rest of the card wasn’t strong enough to bolster the price of a pay per view buy.
The main event of UFC 178, although it might not be the most appealing to the average MMA fan, features Demetrious Johnson defending his flyweight title for the fifth time against Chris Cariaso. Johnson has quietly been cleaning out his division while showing that he can last 25 minutes without, find knockouts or submissions, and suffer through adversity on a consistent basis. Johnson doesn’t have the highlight reel or consistent finishing ability that most fans like to see, but Johnson is arguably the best flyweight of all time at the moment, and he is building his legacy with every fight.
The challenger Cariaso is on a 3 fight winning streak coming into this bout, but is not the most exciting or worthy challenger to this belt, as the top fighters who should have had this shot instead, including Ian McCall, John Lienker and John Dodson, are either booked to fight or are injured, respectfully. Cariaso suffered 2 back to back losses to John Moraga and Jussier Formiga before winning his most recent 3 fights, and speaking of those two opponents Moraga lost to Johnson via fifth round armbar and Formiga is 3-2 in the UFC losing to both John Dodson and Joseph Benavidez. Cariaso owning losses to two fighters who can’t hang with the top of the division themselves makes it hard to imagine Cariaso will have anything to offer Johnson, but styles make fights and MMA math is rarely relevant. Even when comparing styles, its hard to picture Cariaso doing anything besides getting dominated, and I see Johnson submitting Cariaso early in the fight, likely before the first bell sounds.
The co-main event features the highly anticipated debut of Eddie Alvarez, facing off against the tough and always exciting Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in the lightweight division. Cerrone has been on a noteworthy 4 fight winning streak, those wins all coming by KO or submission and each of those wins also won Cowboy a performance bonus. Cowboy can hang with almost anyone on the feet or on the ground, has the grit and cardio to withstand punishment and come back to finish fights in a flash. Alvarez is a very intriguing fight for Cowboy, as Alvarez has similar credentials in Bellator, winning every fight he had in the promotion besides 1, displaying prowess striking, wrestling, grappling and cardio. Alvarez was the inaugural Bellator lightweight champion, lost his title to Michael Chandler after holding the belt for 2 years, got on a two fight winning streak after his loss and after setting a bitter contract dispute, reclaimed his title and avenged his only loss under the Bellator banner to Chandler. The two fights between Alvarez and Chandler were both arguable the best fights of 2011 and 2013, and Cowboy will play into the excitement that Alvarez will bring very well. It is always hard to pick a fighter who is making a debut in the UFC, but with a fighter with championship experience over 2 years in the world’s second biggest MMA promotion Bellator, and only 2 losses at lightweight, both of which he avenged in convincing fashion, I will pick Alvarez to beat Cerrone. Cerrone has lost in big, career defining fights before, and I think Alvarez will score a TKO in the third round.
Arguably the most hyped fight on the card will be the featherweight grudge match between rapidly rising star Conor McGregor and the always tough Dustin Poirier. McGregor is coming into the bout with a 3-0 record in the UFC, coming off of a main event win against Diego Brandao in his home country of Ireland, where his star power sold out the O2 arena in Dublin. McGregor has always talked a big game, and it earned him instant popularity after his first win in the UFC as well as the disdain of many of his peers in the featherweight divisions. McGregor has looked almost flawless in his 3 UFC appearances, earning 2 first round TKOs and a unanimous decision after blowing out his ACL early in the fight, punching his ticket into the top 10 of the division. McGregor is taking a major step up in competition in this bout with Poirier, as he has only fought fighters at the bottom or just out of the top 15 divisional rankings. Poirier has been consistently in the top 10 for the past 2 years, only suffering 2 losses in his 10 UFC appearances, and those losses came against Chan Sung Jung in the 2012 fight of the year to determine the next challenger to Jose Aldo’s title, and Cub Swanson who will fight for the title if he wins one more bout. Poirier has always shown excellent striking, but his submission game is what he will likely look to pull out against McGregor, as McGregor’s two losses both came by way of submission. McGregor’s striking is flashy, crisp and effective, and he may have a slight advantage over Poirier in this department.
I think McGregor will stop the takedown, engage in a battle on the feet with an emotional Poirier, who will likely be at a mental disadvantage since McGregor got in his head soon before the fight was even announced, and McGregor will eventually pull ahead in the striking department and earn an upset TKO finish in the second round.
There is a big middleweight fight on the pay per view just before this grudge match, that features Yoel Romero facing Tim Kennedy to see who can keep their winning streak and likely earn a title eliminator fight in their next outing. Romero is a highly touted wrestler, who earned a silver medal at the Olympics in 2000 in the discipline of freestyle wrestling, and holds a 8-1 record in MMA with 7 knockouts and no losses at middleweight. Romero is a scary, explosive fighter, who even after taking punishment can change a fight, and the facial structure of his opponents in an instant. Kennedy challenged for the Strikeforce title twice, and in recent years those losses to Luke Rockhold and Ronaldo Souza are the only blemishes on his record. Kennedy went 4-2 in Strikeforce and is 3-0 in the UFC, with 3 submissions and 1 KO in those 7 wins. Kennedy is a grinder who has fought opponents of a higher caliber than Romero has faced, but wrestling at a high level of mental fortitude that will be tough to break even with a grinding style, and that’s why I see Romero upsetting Kennedy. I think Romero will find an explosive knockout in the second round, after feeling out Kennedy and exchanging some blows in the first.
The opening bout of the pay per view is huge bout for the future of women’s MMA, featuring the return of Cat Zingano from a serious knee injury and personal tragedy, against Amanda Nunes. Zingano is 8-0 in her professional MMA career, and earned a coaching opportunity on the Ultimate Fighter and a title shot against Ronda Rousey after earning a third round TKO over Miesha Tate. At the time Tate was the toughest test that Rousey had passed, and Zingano punished Tate bad in the third round to earn the somewhat controversial TKO finish after spending much of the first 2 round on her back. Zingano’s title shot slipped away from her after a serious knee injury sidelined her for over a year, and during that time Zingano’s husband tragically passed away. Zingano is back now and if she can run through Nunes like she did to Tate, she will get her once promised title shot back. Nunes is coming into this bout on a 2 fight winning streak, both of those wins coming by way of first round TKO in the UFC. Nunes is a dangerous striker with 8 of her 9 wins coming by way of KO or TKO, and with 4 of Zingano’s 8 wins coming by way of KO or TKO as well, this is sure to be a barnburner on the feet. I think with Zingano’s experience against big name fighters in high pressure fights, she will be able to beat Nunes, and she will do so by TKO in the second round to earn her long awaited title shot against Rousey.
There is one fight on the prelims that I have to mention, as it is the main event of the prelims and could easily main event any free card, and maybe even a pay per view in a pinch. Dominic Cruz will be making his long awaited return to MMA, after having to vacate UFC bantamweight championship after 3 years of inactivity due to a slew of knee and leg injuries. Cruz will be facing Takeya Mizugaki, who is on a 5 fight winning streak coming into this fight. Mizugaki has a good overall game and good striking that is complimented by his good movement, but Cruz wrote the book on moving well in fights. Cruz made a career out of moving well, tagging opponents and moving clear out of the way of any retaliation. Cruz has looked relatively unstoppable at bantamweight and has a single loss on his record, to Urijah Faber at featherweight, which he later avenged at bantamweight at UFC 132. Despite Cruz’s leg injuries, I think his movement will not suffer with the level of therapy that he has received, and since he has never finished a fight at bantamweight outside of a single doctor’s stoppage due to a broken hand, I see him lighting up Mizugaki en route to a dominant unanimous decision, earning him a title shot against the current bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw.
What are your thoughts set to air on on Fox Sports 1 and pay per view tonight? Please comment below with any ideas and feedback.