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UFC 178 fight card: What's at stake?

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

When a card is properly stacked with enough important fights by name fighters, blemishes disappear. They're still there, of course, but they take on a much more favorable complexion.

The main event is a perfect example. This is the replacement to Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier (and Alexander Gustafsson before that), which is to say it's no replacement at all (in fairness, not much is). But with the people's man event being Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier and the rest of the card offering every kind of fight fan something to whet their appetite, the main event transforms from an underwhelming anchor to non-offending bonus offering.

This card is built from the ground up, not carried by the main event. This is not 'on' Demetrious Johnson to push and support. That responsibility is given to the rest of the card, offering Johnson the space to look good in what should be an easy bout against a semi-deserving contender. His fight becomes far more appealing because it's in support of the rest of the card, not out in front or representative of the event as a whole.

That isn't to say a flyweight title fight is going to do the same pay-per-view business as a light heavyweight title contest. There should be no delusions about that. Still, there also shouldn't be many groans either. By the time the main event rolls around, most fans will have already had their fill. If Johnson does what he's widely expected to do, namely, win dominantly and quickly, he'll be doing in actuality what he's already done promotionally: quietly supplement the rest of the card.

UFC 178 is proof that injuries, even devastating ones that go all the way to the top of the card, aren't excuses for events looking lackluster on paper. Properly-built events are sturdy enough to withstand most misfortune.


Demetrious Johnson vs. Chris Cariaso

At stake: everything and nothing. Johnson is risking a lot and a little. Should he lose, it'd be utterly calamitous. He'd surrender his title and lower his place in pound-for-pound rankings. Worse, he's not a fighter who competes to great fan fare, but has amassed an identity as a talented competitor worthy of respect if not fan adoration. Being defeated by Cariaso would compromise even that. On the other hand, winning, despite doing so against a badly outmatched opponent, could somewhat strengthen the view of Johnson as one of the world's best if he's able to put on a spectacular beating.

For Cariaso, it's all too obvious. This is the best career opportunity he's ever had and likely to ever have. Winning this would be, by any estimation, the most dramatic and climactic moment of his career. Losing, by contrast, would mean little given how widely that's anticipated.

Donald Cerrone vs. Eddie Alvarez

At stake: proving one's worth. We know both fighters are good, even elite. That's not the question. The issue is just how far and how good. For a fighter who has been competing for more than a decade, we simply don't know how good Alvarez is. This fight, almost more than any other, will help tell us that. Cerrone has had his share of highs and lows in the UFC, but now serves as something of a litmus test for Alvarez, yet the bout has the effect of setting up Alvarez as a test for Cerrone. This bout will serve to let the real McCoy reveal himself. It's a reputational fight more than one with title implications.

Dustin Poirier vs. Conor McGregor

At stake: the whole shebang. What really needs to be said about this? A win would be the most important of either fighter's career. For McGregor, it would solidify him not merely as a bonafide star, but one who can compete with the division's best. Title shot discussion would also not be idle. A loss would not only boost Poirier's profile, but bring McGregor's rising star back to earth. This one is what the fight game is all about, truthfully. It's rankings, it's proof of ability, it's rivalry, it's bragging rights, it's styles making fights. It's everything coming together from the sporting and entertainment side of things. Huge intrigue, hype and critically significant.

Tim Kennedy vs. Yoel Romero

At stake: rankings and a bit of fact finding. Neither winner of this gets a title shot. There are too many contenders in front of them, but they can solidify their place in the division. Specfically, they can jump into the top 5, where currently neither fighter resides. Moreover, there's a sense that we don't know the upper limits of Romero's ability. He's a considerable talent, yes, but how much more is there to learn about him? This bout could tell us. I'd also argue while Kennedy is a known commodity in terms of his skills and abilities, beating Romero - which will likely require some measure of anti-wrestling on his part - gives us a better sense of how far those skills can take him.

Cat Zingano vs. Amanda Nunes

At stake: moving to the front of the queue. Unlike Dominick Cruz's layoff, there aren't questions surrounding Zingano's ability to compete (understandably, the layoff wasn't as long and the injuries not as severe). There is a presumption she's likely to pick up where she left without much fuss. In a division that's centered around one fighter, it's not terribly difficult to reach a point where you're able to challenge her. Win this and Zingano will do exactly that. Nunes likely will not, but will certainly move very close to that position.

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