The UFC lost their major fight in Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier, but the rest of the event they built lives on as UFC 178 takes place Saturday. The card is filled with top fighters, UFC debuts, UFC returns and a flyweight title fight.
Will Demetrious Johnson steam roll Chris Cariaso as he's expected to do? Is this the opportunity Eddie Alvarez has been waiting for? What are we to make of the returns of Dominick Cruz and Cat Zingano? I answer these questions and more with my predictions for Saturday's fights.
What: UFC 178: Johnson vs. Cariaso
Where: MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada
When: Saturday, the two-fight Fight Pass card starts at 7 p.m. ET, the Fox Sports 1 main card starts at 8 p.m. and the five-fight pay-per-view card kicks off 10 p.m.
I'll say this for Cariaso. He's scrappy as hell. Whatever he lacks in skills (relative to Johnson), he makes up for in his 'fight' during scrambles and willingness to be proactive on offense. I don't think that's ultimately going to matter as Johnson is better than him in literally every facet of the game, but he'll demonstrate some grit on his way out. That's worth something in the end.
Donald Cerrone vs. Eddie Alvarez
Cerrone's had trouble with rangier, jab-pumping, active fighters in the stand-up, which is not exactly what Alvarez is. He can strike from the outside, but more so with his boxing and in limited bursts. He can't sustain a round there, at least not without giving up the competitive advantage to Cerrone in that space. If he can get Cerrone backing up against the cage in long punching range, that'd be better, but I have a hard time seeing that. I'd also note Cerrone has the clear grappling advantage, either from his guard or in scrambles as he establishes top position. Cerrone isn't about getting waxed by Alvarez's formidable punching power, but all things being equal, isn't the likeliest of outcomes.
Dustin Poirier vs. Conor McGregor
I've gone back and forth on this one more times than I can even recall now. In the end, I'm going to side with McGregor. Two factors figure into that. One, Poirier's a hell of a talent, but if he has a weakness, it's round and fight management. He'd be wise to push this into later rounds where McGregor doesn't exactly fade, but isn't red hot either. Unfortunately, I think he'll try to push too hard too early, which is the sort of first-round circumstance where McGregor is superb. Combine that with Poirier's tendency to get touched up early and it's not the best recipe for success. Two, UFC matchmakers are giving McGregor the sort of fights that are tough, but winnable all while allowing him to develop his skill set. That's precisely what this fight is. It plays to McGregor's existing strengths without over exploiting his weakness. I'd by no means call this a walk in the park for either fighter, but the wind appears to be at McGregor's back.
Romero should be able to body Kennedy. His footwork to avoid punches standing is rudimentary, but quick. That should be enough since the advantage he's going to have in the clinch or with his level changes is significant. I will say Kennedy might be underrated as a 'grappler' here, especially if he can arm drag his way to the back, but Romero is good at keeping the fight on the terms where he succeeds. The only issue to look out for is Romero getting caught with a takedown flat footed. Derek Brunson isn't the wrestler Romero is, but was still able to put him on his back. If Kennedy can do that and pass, this is anyone's fight.
Cat Zingano vs. Amanda Nunes
We have to make huge assumptions here given how little we know about how well Zingano is doing. If we simply go off of what we know from her last few outings, indications are this is her fight to lose. Nunes is aggressive, but Zingano is resilient. Moreover, Nunes is a bit of a bully and doesn't respond well to those who fight her fire with fire of their own. She'll be able to match Nunes' strength in the clinch and even if things don't get well early, Nunes fades. That's when the perseverant Zingano will take over.
From the preliminary card: