Wednesday September 24th, 2014

Everything you need to know about this weekend's big fight.

Overview

This one was going to be big. Now it is little.

UFC 178, which goes down on Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas (10 p.m. ET, PPV), was a huge event right from the get-go. It was to be headlined by Jon Jones, the world’s No. 1 pound-for-pound mixed martial artist, in a light heavyweight title defense rematch with Alexander Guatafsson, the only man to give him a real fight. But the tall Swede was injured in training, had to be pulled from the big bout … and then the title fight got even bigger. Slotted in against the champion was Daniel Cormier, the undefeated erstwhile heavyweight and two-time U.S. Olympian in wrestling.

Cormier is man enough to stand up to “Bones,” and everyone knows it, including Jones. That imbues their bout with heightened tension, and we saw that unease detonate the first time the two were stood face to face, at a press conference in the MGM Grand hotel lobby in early August. You probably saw the video: Jones digging his forehead into Cormier’s, Cormier putting his hands on Jones’s throat and shoving him back, and a flash of helpless desperation displayed on the face of UFC PR chief Dave Sholler, who was charged with keeping the ferocious men apart and knew he couldn’t.

What did succeed in keeping the fighters apart -- at least until Jan. 3 -- was a Jones leg injury sustained a week later. The rescheduling left a cavernous gap at the top of the bill of UFC 178, and to fill it, the promotion called on its smallest belt holder.

Demetrious Johnson is flyweight champion. He is a sublime athlete to watch, a fleet-footed, aggressive, creative and resilient man. “Mighty Mouse” (20-2-1, 8-1-1 in the UFC) is unbeaten in seven straight fights, and his only career losses came while competing as a bantamweight. On the strength of four defenses of the 125-pound crown he won almost exactly two years ago, Johnson is No. 6 in the SI.com pound-for-pound rankings.

MMA
T.J. Dillashaw missed his chance to join MMA pound-for-pound rankings

His opponent on Saturday night will be Chris Cariaso (17-5, 7-3 UFC), who does not appear in SI.com’s flyweight Top 10. He’s won three in a row, but against no one resembling the crème de la flyweight crème; the bout that apparently earned him this title shot was a split-decision win over a middling 125-pounder named Louis Smolka. The problem was, there weren’t a whole lot of options for the UFC, with presumed next-in-line challenger John Dodson injured. So Casiaso gets his shot, as a huge underdog.

The UFC could have asked its hype machine to go the “anything can happen” route in promoting this fight, citing T.J. Dillashaw’s big upset of Renan Barão for the 135-pound belt back in May or, venturing way back, Matt Serra’s shocking 2007 KO of Georges St-Pierre for the welterweight strap. Instead, the promotion enlisted its matchmakers to take an upside-down approach to this fight card, fortifying it from the bottom up.

The co-main event pits forward-moving Eddie Alvarez, UFC debutante and former Bellator lightweight king, against the no-retreat Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone. Before that collision comes the possible coronation of a featherweight star, as the loquacious Conor McGregor takes on his first Top 10 test, Dustin Poirier. There’s also a jostle for middleweight relevancy between Tim Kennedy and Yoel Romero, a freestyle wresting world champion and Olympic silver medalist. And there also are two high-profile returns: women’s bantamweight top contender Cat Zingano will fight for the first time in nearly a year and a half, and longtime men’s bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz will be back in the octagon after an injury-riddled layoff that’s lasted three days short of three years.

That’s a lot to draw you in. Just not in the main event.

In addition to the pay-per-view telecast of the five-fight main card, four prelims will be shown on Fox Sports 1, starting at 8 p.m. ET, and the card’s other two bouts will stream on the UFC Fight Pass digital subscription service (7 p.m.).

Background

After Demetrious Johnson fended off the challenge of Ali Bagautinov in June, there was talk that he might next face John Dodson, who was coming off a couple of impressive knockouts in the wake of his unsuccessful bid to dethrone “Mighty Mouse” early last year. Dodson had rocked Johnson in that fight, and the consensus in the game seemed to be that he was the toughest challenge out there, unless the UFC wants to keep throwing Demetrious into the cage with Joseph Benavidez, whom he’s beaten twice, including a stirring KO last December.

The Dodson bout couldn’t be booked, though, because he sustained an ACL tear and is out until 2015. Who, then? The UFC didn’t want to book any other rematch, so Benavidez, Ian McCall, and John Moraga were out. Enter Chris Cariaso.

Johnson vs. Cariaso initially was scheduled for UFC 177, as a co-main event beneath a bantamweight title rematch between T.J. Dillashaw and Renan Barão. But when the Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier tussle for the light heavyweight belt fell off the UFC 178 marquee, “Mighty Mouse” and “Kamikaze” were moved to the top of that card. And with that, the UFC began its furious underfilling project.

Last Five Fights

Johnson
6/14/14 Ali Bagautinov W UD 5
12/14/13 Joseph Benavidez W KO 1
7/27/13 John Moraga W Sub 5
1/26/13 John Dodson W UD 5
9/22/12 Benavidez W SD 5
Cariaso
5/10/14 Louis
Smolka W SD 3
2/1/14 Danny Martinez W UD 3
10/9/13 Iliarde Santos W TKO 2
5/18/13 Jussier Formiga L UD 3
12/29/12 John Moraga L Sub

Tale of the Tape


Johnson
 
Cariaso

Aug. 13, 1986

BIRTH DATE

May 27, 1981

MadisonvilleKy.

BIRTHPLACE

San Jose, Calif.

Kirkland, Wash. 

RESIDENCE

San Francisco

19-2-1

RECORD

17-5

125*

WEIGHT

125*

5’3” 

HEIGHT

5’3” 

66”

REACH

64.5”

(Official weights announced at the weigh-in -- Friday, 7 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 2.)

Other Numbers to Count On

576: Significant strikes landed by Demetrious Johnson, by far the most among UFC flyweights, according to FightMetric statistics. The 56.2 percent striking accuracy of “Mighty Mouse” also is the best among 125-pounders. Chris Cariaso is third in both categories, having landed 322 at a 42.5 percent clip.

1: Number of Cariaso’s main card appearances among his 12 UFC/WEC bouts. It came in his last fight, a split-decision win over Louis Smolka that kicked off the six-bout Fight Night headlined by Matt Brown vs. Erick Silva in May.

12: Number of Cariaso’s 17 victories that have come by decision. Can he outpoint Demetrious Johnson over five rounds? That’s a lot to ask.

Greatest Hits

“Mighty Mouse” becomes UFC flyweight champ:

Matchup

Demetrious Johnson can fight on his feet. Demetrious Johnson can fight on the canvas. What does that leave for Chris Cariaso to exploit? Well, he’s going to have to rely on his own strongest asset, which is striking. Can he keep the fight standing? He’s among the UFC’s flyweight leaders in takedown defense, and that will be tested by the champ, who has more takedowns (24) than anyone in his division. And even if the fight does remain in standup, “Mighty Mouse” would appear to have the edge. Cariaso absorbs fewer strikes than any other flyweight, including Johnson, but he’s not been in with the murderers’ row that the champ has.

The Odds

Johnson is a huge betting favorite, with a money line ranging from -1110 (bet $100 to win $9.01) to -1600 (bet $100 to win $6.25). The line on Cariaso ranges from +640 (bet $100 to win $640) to +971 (bet $100 to win $971).

Prediction

Lightning can strike … but this fight is indoors. Shoelaces come untied … but the guys will be fighting barefoot. “Mighty Mouse” has been in with far better competition and has set himself apart. At the end of an evening filled with meaty top-level bouts that could go either way, the champ should be able to put on a sweet show. Johnson by submission (or whatever finish presents itself to him, really).

Must-See Photo

Demetrious Johnson (top) punches Joseph Benavidez in their flyweight championship bout during the UFC on FOX event at Sleep Train Arena on December 14, 2013 in Sacramento.
Demetrious Johnson (top) punches Joseph Benavidez in their flyweight championship bout during the UFC on FOX event at Sleep Train Arena on December 14, 2013 in Sacramento.
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Fighting Words

“He’s going to get dominated.”
-- Chris Cariaso, speaking to Fox Sports about Demetrious Johnson

“My outlook is to be the best in the world, whether it be pound-for-pound, whatever. There’s more accomplishment if I can go in and beat every single person in my division. There’s no perception there. That’s been laid, set in stone. You know, I’ve beat Joseph [Benavidez], John Dodson. If I can beat John Lineker, Zach Makovsky, Jussier Formiga, now that’s cleaning out the division where it’s like, ‘Damn, all you [expletive] fought this man, and you all [expletive] lost.’ That’s cleaning out the division right there.”
-- Demetrious Johnson, speaking in a UFC-produced “Countdown to UFC 178” video about his goal as flyweight champ.

The Tweet Beat

Join the conversation about Johnson vs. Cariaso on Twitter. Track the hashtags #JohnsonCariaso and #UFC178 to see who’s tweeting what about Saturday’s fight. (It’d also be a good idea to check out the feeds of at least some fighters on the stellar undercard.)

@MightyMouseUFC (Demetrious Johnson, champion)
@chriscariasomma (Chris Cariaso, challenger)
@cowboycerrone (Donald Cerrone, co-main event)
@EdAlvarezFight (Eddie Alvarez, co-main event)
@DustinPoirier (Dustin Poirier, main card fight vs. Conor McGregor)
@TheNotoriousMMA (Conor McGregor, main card fight vs. Dustin Poirier)
@ufc (Ultimate Fighting Championship)
@danawhite (UFC president Dana White)
@jeffwagenheim (SI.com’s Jeff Wagenheim)
@lorettahuntmma (SI.com’s Loretta Hunt)
@chuckmindenhall (Chuck Mindenhall, MMAfighting.com writer)
@arielhelwani (Ariel Helwani, Fox Sports 1/MMAfighting.com interviewer)
@SBNLukeThomas (Luke Thomas, MMAfighting.com writer)
@benfowlkesMMA (Ben Fowlkes, USA Today/MMAjunkie.com writer)
@kevini (Kevin Iole, Yahoo! Sports MMA/boxing writer)
@bokamotoESPN (Brett Okamoto, ESPN.com MMA writer)
@davedoylemma (Dave Doyle, MMAfighting.com writer)
@MMAjunkieJohn (John Morgan, USAToday/MMAjunkie.com writer)

The Rest of the Card

Donald Cerrone vs. Eddie Alvarez, lightweight; Dustin Poirier vs. Conor McGregor, featherweight; Tim Kennedy vs. Yoel Romero, middleweight; Cat Zingano vs. Amanda Nunes, women’s bantamweight.

Preliminary card (8 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1): Dominick Cruz vs. Takeya Mizugaki, bantamweight; Jorge Masvidal vs. James Krause, lightweight; Patrick Côté vs. Stephen Thompson, welterweight; John Howard vs. Brian Ebersole, welterweight.

Online prelims (7 p.m. ET, UFC Fight Pass): John Tuck vs. Kevinb Lee, lightweight; Manny Gamburyan vs. Cody Gibson, bantamweight.

Programming Notes

Mike Goldberg will handle blow-by-blow and Joe Rogan analysis for the main-card telecast on pay-per-view as well as prelims on Fox Sports 1 and the UFC Fight Pass. An hour-long postfight show begins at 1 a.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.

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