Everyone was so jazzed for UFC 178. After two previous iterations as Jones/Gustafsson II and Jones/Cormier, the main event has now become Demetrious Johnson vs Chris Cariaso for the flyweight title. What was originally a secondary title fight to bolster UFC 177’s undeniably weak pay per view offering is now the headline fight on what could well be, or at least could have been, the biggest card of the year. However, after a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth from a lot of people, I’ve made my peace with it.
I love watching Demetrious Johnson. He might not be the most flashy and exciting fighter like an Anderson Silva, and he might not get into rock em sock em slugfests like a Mark Hunt or a Roy Nelson, but I think Mighty Mouse has a unique appeal all of his own. He is arguably the most technically proficient fighter in the UFC today, and makes the complex techniques he executes look effortless. Though he does have a history of fights going the distance in a one-sided fashion, he does have two finishes in his last three fights as well as the excellent fight with John Dodson. In that fight Johnson showed that he was not just a robotic technician executing a gameplan, he was able to weather the storm and survive being knocked down by the dangerous Dodson. Unlike a Rory MacDonald, who is also very technically sound and use distance very well, Demetrious Johnson excels at pushing the pressure and not giving his opponent an opening, meaning that fighters not used to five round fights are worn out by the time the championship rounds roll around.
This is, in all likelihood, a showcase fight for Mighty Mouse. Cariaso leans heavily on his combination striking and his clinch work, but as we have seen Johnson’s speed, agility, and ability to dictate the distance in his fights mean that he will probably be able to evade or handle everything that Cariaso has. Cariaso does have good defensive wrestling, so he may give Johnson a fight for the takedowns, but on the feet Johnson will likely pick Cariaso apart from range and by getting in and out of the pocket with speed.
The skills of Johnson stand in contrast to what is offered elsewhere on the card. We have the battle between Donald Cerrone and Eddie Alvarez, the charismatic Conor McGregor in his first clash with a top contender against Dustin Poirier, and the emotional back story heading into Cat Zingano’s attempt to regain her number one contendership status against Amanda Nunes.
While many hardcore fans really enjoy Demetrious Johnson fights, it cannot be denied that he has done very poorly on pay per view – his fight with Ali Bagautinov in Vancouver was one of the lowest drawing UFC pay per views of all time. It is absolutely inevitable that trading Jon Jones for Demetrious Johnson will hurt this card, which is why the UFC have been emphasising the strength of the overall card rather than focusing on the title fight at the top. An opportunity to push above 500,000 pay per view buys has been lost. However while cards like UFC 177 were absolutely not worth their asking price, I don’t think that is an accusation that can be levelled at this card. There are a lot of intriguing fights and all four fights on the undercard have implications for the title pictures in their respective divisions.
Do I wish Jon Jones vs Daniel Cormier was still happening this Saturday? Absolutely. But there is no point in crying over what might have been. As someone who is often relentlessly negative about the UFC, I say this – look for the positives, and enjoy the fights.