UFC 178 Preview

UFC 178 is the second straight event for the promotion for which I have struggled picking one fight to highlight for my Wednesday One to Watch preview. At UFC 177, the problem was that there simply wasn’t a fight that was good enough to be highlighted, as underwhelming as the card was. This time, I struggled picking one out of the more than half dozen fights that I and other UFC fans are waiting impatiently to see.

I ultimately decided that the co-Main Event between Donald Cerrone and UFC newbie Eddie Alvarez was the most deserving of the bunch, but I easily could have gone in another direction.

The bottom line is that this card is stacked, and should have the Las Vegas crowd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on its feet more than a few times Saturday night. Here’s hoping the tremendously deep card makes up for an underwhelming Main Event, which will likely be a snoozer thanks to the presence of Demetrious Johnson, one of the most monotonous fighters in the organization.

Fight with the best KO/TKO potential

Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirer

It seems very likely that the Cerrone-Alvarez fight will be ending before the full five rounds, as well but I already discussed that fight in detail, so we’re going with this matchup of two rising featherweights. Both fighters are shy of their 27th birthdays, but have already moved into the top 10 in the division rankings. Poirer seems to be a slight favorite here in the minds of many experts. It makes sense, as he’s coming off of two straight knockout victories, including a terrific KO of Diego Brandao in the first round.

McGregor presents a great challenge for ‘The Diamond” as Poirer tries to continue his ascension to the top of the featherweight contender list. The Dublin native has won 11 consecutive professional fights, including all three of his bouts since he joined the UFC. At 25, he’s considered one of the organization’s top prospects and has justified all the hype recently.  The bearded McGregor likes to start fast and he’s knocked out 13 of the 17 fighters he’s faced in his pro career. Poirer likes to be very aggressive early, as well, so don’t be surprised if the action turns into a slugfest minutes after the two touch gloves (or refuse to).

Key Quote: “He is a loudmouth punk.” –Dustin Poirer, on Conor McGregor

Most Underrated Fight

Dominick Cruz vs. Takeya Mizugaki

This was an obvious decision. The whole fighting world has been waiting for Cruz to return to the sport for an interminably long time. On Saturday, it will be just four days short of three years since the last time the former bantamweight champion stepped into the Octagon. It’s also been nearly nine months since Dana White announced on SportsCenter that Cruz had vacated his bantamweight belt due to prolonged time away from the sport.

The former WEC kingpin suffered through two ACL surgeries and a torn groin during his journey back to competitive fighting and his wait is finally over Saturday night when he faces No. 5 Mizugaki. Many predict that this will simply be a tune up for Cruz before he gets a shot at reclaiming his title against TJ Dillashaw next year.

Still, the 29-year old Cruz has spent so much time away from fighting that it’s not difficult to imagine him having some rust or being slightly timid to start. A seasoned fighter like Mizugaki, who is on a five-fight win streak, can take advantage of that easily; it won’t be a walk in the park for Cruz in his return. So what makes this fight underrated? It’s not even on the Main Card. Viewers can catch the long-awaited return of the Dominator live on Fox Sports 1 during the prelims.

Key Quote: “This whole process has literally taught me that fighting does not define me. It’s not who I am,” Cruz said. “It’s just a piece of what I do, and I love to do it. So, for one second I never thought I wasn’t going to fight. I just had to turn off the switch for a little while, switch hats, and I did it with every ounce of myself.” –Dominick Cruz, on how he returned to fighting after three years.

What to expect from the Main Event

Demetrious Johnson is quickly becoming the UFC’s version of Al Davis. His personal mantra seems to be, “Just win, baby,” despite the fact that the methods he uses to get his victories don’t endear him to many fans. Johnson has been notorious for refusing to promote his own fights, preferring to focus instead simply on the fight alone. In itself, that’s not a bad strategy, but Johnson has had a stranglehold on the flyweight division since the UFC inaugurated it two years ago.

“Mighty Mouse” Johnson has been the only man to hold the belt in the division and has defended his title four times since he originally won it against Jospeh Benavidez. Although that’s a very impressive string of victories, only one of them has ended before the fifth round and Johnson’s strategy of wearing fighters out and simply winning rounds rather than trying to end the fight early isn’t exactly fan friendly. That was quite evident when those in attendance began leaving the arena in droves the last time Johnson fought as the headliner of an event, at UFC 174.

As the No. 8 fighter in the division, Chris Cariaso, Johnson’s opponent Saturday night, doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that he’ll be the one to dethrone the division kingpin. The champion is the superior fighter in nearly every facet of the sport and will likely once again technique his opponent to death. Cariaso, who has trained in kickboxing, is powerful with his leg kicks and he’ll likely try to end the fight early with a flurry of strikes, as Johnson’s endurance is second to none.

In the end, however, Johnson is a heavy favorite and will likely retain the belt. He is running out of opponents in the flyweight division and a move back to bantamweight, where he was defeated in a title fight back when Cruz topped the division, could be imminent. If Johnson stays at flyweight, however, his penchant for fighting rather than promoting could lead this to be the last event the division headlines for the foreseeable future.

Key Quote:

“He always comes to fight and is a very durable guy. He’s able to take a lot of punishment and is always game. He’s always up to fight, and I think it is going to be a good one. My camp and I are prepared, and we are ready to go out there and fight.”-Demetrious Johnson, on Chris Cariaso

And for your viewing pleasure, the complete UFC 178 fight card:

Dylan Sinn is a freelance contributor for CraveOnline Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanSinn or “like” CraveOnline Sports on Facebook.