The UFC’s biggest card to date in 2014 took a major setback when the planned title fight rematch between Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson fell apart after an injury to Gustafsson. It took an even bigger setback when the replacement fight, Jones vs. Daniel Cormier, fell apart as well after an injury to Jones. Cormier will now fight Jones on January 2 2015, and Demitrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson vs. Chris Cariaso, the ninth ranked flyweight in the UFC when the bout was announced, was moved from the co-main event slot of UFC 177 to the headlining spot on UFC 178.
That’s a pretty big risk for Dana White and Zuffa. The last card headlined by Johnson, UFC 174, was the UFC’s worst showing in years, barely breaking the 100,000 buy mark. That card had the return of Andrei Arlovski, and Ryan Bader. UFC 178 has a slightly stronger undercard, with appearances by newly signed Bellator champion Eddie Alvarez, taking on Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in the co-main event of the evening, a fight that has sleeper fight of the night, a Derek Ferreira be a man fight, and title eliminator written all over it with Irish megastar Conor McGregor, who has been getting the Dean Ambrose treatment since landing in Las Vegas earlier this month (I call him the Dean Ambrose of UFC as this guy is ready for a fight).
There’s also a key bout between Cat Zingano and Amanda Nunes that was revealed tonight. Cat Zingano wins this fight, she is the number one contender for Ronda Rousey Championship belt, and an intriguing fight between ranked middleweights Yoel Romero and Tim Kennedy.
Cat Zingano vs. Amanda Nunes (Women’s Bantamweight)
With the year and a half out of action (torn ACL, and the death of her husband), and the fact that she was getting beat for two rounds before her comeback over Miesha Tate, Zingano could get in trouble here. Nunes is very good with her ground and pound, and if she puts Zingano on her back, she absolutely can stop her there.
That said, Zingano’s very good at stopping opponents, with eight finishes in nine career wins, and Nunes has been stopped before. Zingano has power on her feet and submissions on the ground, so if Nunes can’t control her and deliver the punishment she’s delivered to others, she’ll wind up on the wrong end of things.
PREDICTION: Zingano via TKO in the second round
Tim Kennedy vs. Yoel Romero (Middleweight)
This is a real dangerous stylistic matchup for Kennedy, because it’s an opponent he’s absolutely not going to out-wrestle. Romero’s credentials in that area are well documented, and he’s bringing violence in his striking as well.
Kennedy’s a very good grappler who is used to being able to control opponents, and he’s got a solid striking game which is getting better.
Romero’s issues are cardio-related, and if he fails to finish Kennedy earlier, he could find himself in trouble in the second and third rounds. That’s what Kennedy needs to bank on, is being able to impose his will to wear Romero down. I absolutely think Romero can stop Kennedy, but if he fails to do so, it could get rougher for him down the stretch. If he fades as he has in some recent fights, this won’t be his night. That said, he just completely controlled Brad Tavares for three rounds, and could do something similar here.
PREDICTION: Romero via decision
Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier (Featherweight)
There’s so much heat on this fight right now, and the swell of fan reaction to McGregor continues to build. This is his opportunity to prove that the hype is there for a reason.
For Poirier, this fight is about proving that McGregor’s not on that level, and to show that he is the one among the elite in the division.
Poirier’s had a few cardio issues, and has been clipped a few times in his career, but he’s been mostly excellent in his UFC run thus far. McGregor’s shown nothing but potential, but hasn’t faced the level of competition that Poirier has thus far in his career.
As we get into the weekend, this is becoming a bit of a coin-flip, “what are you feeling” pick, and given the way both have been approaching it, I can see Poirier getting himself into trouble. Will that happen? We’ll find out, but let’s see if this hype train continues.
PREDICTION: McGregor via TKO in the second
Donald Cerrone vs. Eddie Alvarez (Lightweight)
It’s incredible that this fight is actually a reality for tomorrow night. Alvarez’s last two fights were each “Fight of the Year” candidates, and though he’s not getting five rounds with which to work here, this promises to be another thrilling fight.
Cerrone and Alvarez are kind of sneakily similar to one another, as far as their skills are concerned. Both have very good ground games, with a lot of submission ability, but also have developed their striking games to be extremely dangerous as well. Cerrone’s got the better chin of the two, though he got destroyed by body shots against Champ Anthony Pettis. Alvarez has some chin issues, but he’s got insane recovery ability.
Both are very slick in their transitions as well. Once they’ve got someone hurt, they have a killer instinct that just isn’t there for everyone in this sport.
It’s just a really good matchup on every level, because both fighters have so many different ways to win this fight. Ultimately, while I don’t necessarily think a stoppage is coming, it’s going to be fantastic to watch for as long as it lasts.
PREDICTION: Alvarez via decision
Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson vs. Chris Cariaso (Flyweight Championship)
Cariaso has stopped one fight under the Zuffa banner, while he’s been submitted on two separate occasions. He’s not an easy out, and has been at least mostly competitive in both the bantamweight and flyweight divisions. However, even in his victories, he’s been less than inspired.
Mighty Mouse, meanwhile, has improved greatly as Champion, becoming a fighter infinitely more dangerous than he was on his path to a title fight.
Through five wins in title fights, he’s gone from edging past Joseph Benavidez to taking over against John Dodson after a rough start, to submitting the aforementioned Moraga, to knocking out Benavidez in a rematch, and then dominating Ali Bagautinov in a one-sided affair. He’s as dangerous now on his feet as he is on the ground, and I’ll be completely shocked if we get anything but a one-sided victory from the Champion.
PREDICTION: Johnson via submission in the third round