The UFC is back for a seventh consecutive week, although this time it returns to pay-per-view. There is a bit of disappointment, as this was supposed to be the monumental title fight between Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier. Instead Jones was injured in training camp and we’ll have to wait till January for that bout. Now Chris Cariaso steps up to face Demetrious Johnson for the flyweight championship.
This card still remains spectacular with several major fights that could have future title shot implications for the winners. The returns of Cat Zingano and Dominick Cruz could be the next number one contenders at their respective bantamweight divisions. The UFC debut of Eddie Alvarez has been long overdue. Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier is arguably the most compelling fight on this card with all the heat behind it. Somehow Tim Kennedy vs. Yoel Romero is being forgotten about, which is quietly one of the bigger fights I’ve been anticipating for the latter part of 2014.
I’m joined by Suraj Sukumar to preview the main card. He may still be slightly bitter that UFC 178 isn’t in his hometown of Toronto.
1. Are you concerned that Amanda Nunes strength advantage is going to overwhelm Cat Zingano? She doesn’t cut weight to get 135 and is relatively small for a bantamweight.
Strk: Nunes style in general is going to overwhelm most female fighters. She is wild, but extremely tenacious and confident. You don’t have technically sound to be successful in women’s MMA. Ronda Rousey’s early success was from simply mauling her opponents and using her judo to throw her opponents to the ground. Her striking hasn’t really been showcased until her win over Sara McMann. The fact that Nunes has proven to take down her opponents and finish them is a scary combination. The big challenge for Zingano is overcoming the early rush. She did that to an extent against Miesha Tate, when she was controlled on the ground for the majority of the first two rounds.
We’ve seen how gritty Zingano is and can be relentless when she finds a rhythm. The 17-month layoff has to be taken into consideration though. For her to come back and face someone as aggressive as Nunes, it has the potential to be an implosion. Nunes has far more power than Tate and is a brown belt in BJJ. When she has top position, she doesn’t waste time. Out of all the bantamweights in the division, this is the worst matchup for Zingano to return to besides jumping into a title fight.
Sukumar: If there’s anything a seasoned fan of this sport knows, it’s that strength is far from everything. I think Amanda Nunes has shown tremendous improvement over the course of her career, but we are talking about the “supposed to be” undisputed number one contender. Cat Zingano beat Meisha Tate quite easily but suffered a major injury which set her back quite a ways. Tate went on to live the life Zingano could have had, and I think that will play a major role in her motivation and desire to win this fight.
Zingano’s experience is on a completely different level, and I think this will be Nunes’ toughest fight to date. What Nunes brings to the table in strength, Zingano can back it up with technique, both standing and on the ground. A good ground game could eliminate the strength of your opponent, and I think this will be a major part of Zingano’s gameplan.
2. Do you see Yoel Romero as the next big star out of ATT? Similar to Hector Lombard, he is someone that everyone clamors over due to his freakish build.
Strk: His wrestling credentials are another reference to why people are gushing over him as well. We hear all the time that wrestling is the biggest asset in MMA today. Romero defeated Cael Sanderson on two occasions, which is arguably the most monumental achievement in wrestling. Romero is a special talent that seems to be putting it all together as a mixed martial artist. I’m skeptical if he can be the next major star from that camp.
Romero still seems rather raw as a striker. We’ve seen Derek Brunson take him down on multiple occasions and get the better of him on the feet for two rounds. Tim Kennedy is one of the best wrestlers in MMA today, along with having the best cardio in the middleweight division. You don’t find many battle-tested veterans in the division like Kennedy. I’m waiting to see more from Romero in terms of being more technical with his striking and controlling his rampant pace. He tends to slow down, as his fights go on due to starting off so aggressively.
Sukumar: With the type of talent coming out of ATT, I think it would be unfair to the rest of the camp to give such an accolade to one fighter, especially someone so new to the big stage. While I agree his 4-0 UFC record is very impressive, I just don’t think he’s fought a worthy enough opponent to merit such praise. This will be his first pay-per-view appearance and his biggest test, by far, which makes this a true proving ground for Yoel Romero. Tim Kennedy is a warrior by trade and has beat some of the best fighters the UFC has to offer.
Furthermore, his losses have come against very credible fighters, two of which were championship bouts during his Strikeforce days. We should also remember that Kennedy is currently fixed on a path to a title shot, so a win against Romero could take him right to the top five of the middleweight division. With that said, if Romero can come out of this fight with a decisive victory, then only should we start talking about him being the next star out of ATT
3. Does Dustin Poirier being knocked down twice in his past two fights concern you against someone as dangerous as Conor McGregor?
Strk: It does to an extent, but it’s not my biggest concern for Poirier’s chances. Diego Brandao and Akira Corassani are explosive and have heavy hands for featherweights. Poirier was a bit overconfident in those bouts, as you can see him not keeping his hands up as much as he should. Then you look at the end of the fight and realize why he was so confident. I’m more concerned about him letting his emotions get the better of him. This is arguably Poirier’s first major fight that has legitimate heat behind it. His epic battle against Chan Sung Jung was a major fight, but it was purely based on competition. His issues with McGregor have become personal and I’m concerned that he wants to solely look to knock him out.
With McGregor’s questionable ground game and Poirier being so well versed at submitting his opponents, I’d like to see him eventually test McGregor there. It may be his best option because McGregor’s footwork and hand speed is outstanding. He may have trouble landing punches compared to his bouts against Brandao and Corassani who tend to fight flat-footed. He should certainly look to stand-and-trade with McGregor, but his best option will have to eventually put McGregor on his back. That was one of the main reasons why he beat a top-level striker in Erik Koch by punishing him on the ground. Emotions can be tough to control for certain fighters. Poirier needs to control himself in order to climb up towards the top heap of the featherweight division.
Sukumar: Most definitely. When you take into consideration the fighters Dustin Poirier has fought so far, he has not been very successful against top strikers. His loss to Cub Swanson would be a good example, since he is considered one of the best in the division. Even his fight against the Korean Zombie showed how much he can stagger against a heavy-handed striker. On the other hand, he has only ever been finished via submission and has been able to grind it out with almost anyone. Meaning, even though he has fought some very tough opponents, he has yet to be knocked out and has been able to pull off some very impressive victories in the process. With that said, this could be an absolute beauty given Poirier’s skill set and ability to take some damage.
For Conor McGregor, this is by far his biggest fight to date and he should be considered one of the elite featherweight strikers. Similar to Poirier, McGregor has yet to be knocked out and has only ever been finished twice via submission. Even more interesting, McGregor has only ever gone the distance once, in a victory over Max Holloway. In both the experience and quality of opponent categories, Poirier is the clear winner. With that said, if Poirier can withstand the first round barrage of McGregor, we could be looking at a fight of the night candidate for sure.
4. Donald Cerrone vs. Eddie Alvarez is one of the more anticipated fights in 2014. Cerrone has fallen short on several occasions against the cream of the crop. What has hindered him from that and he can break that stigma on Saturday?
Strk: There have been two significant issues that circulated around Cerrone’s high profile losses. The first one is obviously his tendency to start slow. His loss to Rafael Dos Anjos showed that, where he kept circling around and not really throwing much. Then he got caught by a left hook and was staggered for the rest of the round. When he starts out slow, it usually doesn’t end well besides his victory over Edson Barboza. The other issue has been his overall mindset from a game plan and urgency perspective.
Despite being down two rounds, he never truly pushed the pace to try to finish Dos Anjos. Then in his embarrassing loss to Nate Diaz, he was picked apart and couldn’t recover from Diaz’s barrage of volume punches. He didn’t bother looking for a takedown or utilizing more leg kicks. If Cerrone continues to get off to fast starts by getting into a rhythm and staying focused, then a title shot will absolutely come in 2015. It has been quite some time, since he’s faced such a powerful striker like Eddie Alvarez. He’ll need to be unpredictable and utilize his reach to break that stigma.
Sukumar: I think we need to first ask ourselves if Eddie Alvarez is the cream of the crop. Donald Cerrone’s only losses have come against Rafael dos Anjos, Anthony Pettis, Nate Diaz, Jamie Varner and twice to Benson Henderson. Is Alvarez as good as these guys? I really don’t think we have enough evidence to back that claim and I think that’s what gives Cerrone the edge in terms of experience. Alvarez has gotten more popular due to his Bellator-UFC conflict and I think that has helped him build a solid following going into UFC 178. He was also a longstanding Bellator champion, which has helped him garner such a prolific opponent for his first UFC fight.
For Cerrone, there is way more to lose in this fight and that could be a huge motivating factor going into this bout. Furthermore, Cerrone is a very proud fighter, and I think taking on the newcomer will force him to bring his A-game. In the past, he has failed against the top fighters because he simply was not as well-rounded. He can grind through fights but he always loses to the better grinder. He has only ever been finished by champions, which says a lot about his abilities as a fighter. Cerrone should have the reach advantage which will help him use his devastating kicks and Muay Thai skills. If we are to consider Alvarez the cream of the crop, I think this should be the time we see Cerrone break that stigma and come out on top
5. It’s no secret that Chris Cariaso is a heavy underdog against Demetrious Johnson. Does he possess any attributes that can problems to Johnson or is this going to be similar to T.J Dillashaw vs. Joe Soto where will get a decent fight out of nothing?
Strk: Johnson is simply one of the best fighters in the world. How he’s neutralized and decimated the competition at flyweight has been remarkable. Cariaso is a well-rounded veteran that always remains competitive in every fight. He’s proven to be comfortable off his back, which is crucial against Johnson. His tendency to utilize the guillotine is a great move to have against an opposing wrestler as well. The issue is that he gets taken down on a frequent basis. It comes from his opponent dictating the pace and having a strength advantage.
Cariaso does tend to get manhandled and that doesn’t bode well against a world-class fighter like Johnson. While he’s a well-versed Muay Thai striker, it won’t bode well if he can’t keep his distance. Johnson excels at closing the distance, controlling the pace, and dictating where he wants the fight to go. I can’t see how he doesn’t get taken down frequently or land anything significant to win two or three rounds. This should be another convincing win for Johnson, similar to his last fight against Ali Bagautinov.
Sukumar: I think it’s a little bit of both to be honest. When you consider the status of the flyweight division, the UFC has to do their best to keep it exciting, especially when the champion has beaten the absolute best fighters in the weight class more than once. John Lineker would have probably been the guy we talked about had he not lost to Ali Bagautinov. I think anyone who goes on a legit winning streak has a chance to fight for the title. I don’t think we can call it a filler fight exactly, but maybe more so an easier path to a title shot. Unless Chris Cariaso wins, we’ll probably see something similar next time around too.
Cariaso brings that underdog spirit to the fight and has shown some solid skill through his last three bouts. He throws a solid number of strikes and does his best to grind out a victory. The problem with that is there may not be a better grinder in this division than Mighty Mouse. He’s so good at grinding out the fight that you don’t even realize he’s tried to finish it about 10 to 15 times by the fourth round. Unless you’re an elite level fighter, there is just no chance you can go the distance with him. He is simply too fast, too skilled, and too technical, and I don’t think Cariaso has the skills in any department to overthrow such a dominant champion.