Demetrious Johnson is entrenched as one of MMA’s pound-for-pound best. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
What the main event lacks in name value, the rest of UFC 178 more than makes up for in depth. The lineup is stacked with quality fighters, from the beginning of the preliminaries through the pay-per-view portion, with intriguing stylistic matchups and fantastic, entertaining scraps littering the entirety of the card.
Demetrious Johnson will defend his flyweight title for the fifth time against the unheralded and unknown Chris Cariaso in the headliner on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Beyond the main event, things get pretty salty. Action fighter extraordinaire Donald Cerrone takes on new acquisition and former Bellator MMA champion Eddie Alvarez in the co-main event, while machine gun-mouthed Irishman Conor McGregor tries to continue his rise to the top against American Top Team featherweight Dustin Poirier. Further down the card, human highlight reel Yoel Romero attempts to stop Tim Kennedy’s rise at 185 pounds, and former bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz returns to action in the preliminary headliner on Fox Sports 1.
This is one of the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s best efforts over the past year, and it is worth getting excited. Let us take a look at each matchup:
UFC FLYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIPDemetrious Johnson (20-2-1, 8-1-1 UFC) vs. Chris Cariaso (17-5, 7-3 UFC)
THE MATCHUP: No, nobody asked for this fight, and no, there is no real reason to think it will be particularly competitive. With that said, Johnson is one of the UFC’s most compelling artistes in the cage, and watching him style on the skilled but overmatched Cariaso should be entertaining. Johnson enters his fifth title defense as one of the sport’s pound-for-pound best. Cariaso is riding a three-fight winning streak, the most recent victim being Louis Smolka, but it includes no ranked flyweights.
The challenger does everything well, but he lacks an outstanding skill set or the kind of explosiveness and power that would make a well-rounded approach particularly dangerous. A technical muay Thai practitioner, Cariaso throws lovely punching combinations punctuated by snapping kicks at all levels from his southpaw stance. He also excels in the counter game, demonstrating some skill at catching kicks and replying with punches. The clinch is a strong point for Cariaso, as he maintains good control, stuffs most of his opponents’ takedown attempts and delivers the occasional hard knee. While he is not much of an offensive wrestler, his takedown defense is solid and generally allows him to keep the fight standing. Cariaso’s guard is not particularly dangerous, but it is active, and he stays busy from his back with strikes and submission attempts. The best facets of the challenger’s game are his consistent output and smooth technical skill. However, he is almost completely devoid of finishing ability, both on the feet and on the ground, and he is no better than an average athlete relative to the division.
Leaving aside the seeming lack of fan interest in his exploits, Johnson is a special talent. He has plus skills in every phase, from range striking and the clinch to wrestling and grappling, along with some of the best athleticism and speed in all of MMA. We know Johnson is almost impossible to hit cleanly at distance, as he mixes up kicks at all levels with increasingly powerful punches, fantastic command of angles and slick movement. We know his double-leg blast is one of the most technical in the game, and that since he moved to flyweight, his wrestling in general has developed into something truly outstanding. His clinch game, however, does not get enough credit for its diversity or ability to inflict enormous amounts of cumulative damage. Even with his back pressed to the fence, Johnson is the one in control, switching smoothly from over-under to double-unders to the Thai clinch, all while unloading a stream of hard knees to the body and head. If all of that were not enough, Johnson is a slick grappler with great ability in scrambles, a heavy base on top and a developing submission game. The fact that “Mighty Mouse” has incredible cardio and pushes a ridiculous pace makes the rest of his game all the more effective.
BETTING ODDS: Johnson (-1375), Cariaso (+900)
THE PICK: Despite the fact that this is one of the most lopsided betting lines in the history of championship fights, it still might not express the slimness of Cariaso’s chances. If the skill gap were not enough to give you pause, the champion’s edge in athleticism and offensive output would cement that impression. Cariaso has a terrible habit of backing straight into the fence, where Johnson should be able to beat him up in the clinch with impunity. I think the champion will take away Cariaso’s best skill set, his striking, and work the challenger over at close range before landing takedowns, top control and an eventual submission finish in the third round.
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