Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
UFC 178 is a wrap: four knockouts, two submissions, four unanimous decisions and a split verdict later, things are much clearer in the world of professional mixed martial arts.
It’s rare to find so much lucidity in the wake of an event. Usually, more questions are raised than answered after such a high-caliber fight. But with flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson cruising to yet another victory and bantamweights Dominick Cruz and Cat Zingano earning title shots, UFC 178 provided a handful of concrete results that will ultimately have a significant impact on the contemporary MMA landscape.
Oh, and don’t forget about Conor McGregor’s complete shellacking of Dustin Poirier.
Starting at the top of the card, Demetrious Johnson once again showed why he is–hands down–the top 125-pounder in the game today. Stopping challenger Chris Cariaso in less than two rounds, Johnson whizzed past his opponent with impeccable striking and grappling, dancing in and out of the pocket with blazing speed and perfect technique.
Johnson gets better every time he fights, and he has overcome the stigma that lighter fighters are not able to finish bouts, having stopped three of his last four opponents. He has significantly distanced himself from the rest of division.
But in order for “Mighty Mouse” to continue to lay claim to his spot atop the rankings, he needs face better competition. Cariaso, the UFC’s eighth-ranked flyweight, was clearly below championship level. The next flyweight challenger should be Ian McCall–if he can get past John Lineker on November 8.
The UFC 178 co-main event between Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone and Eddie Alvarez also answered a number of questions riddling the lightweight division.
Since last November, Cerrone has now won five straight contests, and for the first time during that streak, he went the distance, outlasting Alvarez in a heavily contested battle at 155 pounds. Not that anyone ever doubted Cerrone’s tenacity and striking, but his form was on point at the MGM Grand, coming from behind to take the unanimous nod from Alvarez. After dropping the first round, Cerrone landed heavy leg kicks to slow Alvarez’s attack, systematically chipping away at the Octagon newcomer’s offensive weapons.
Cerrone again displayed why he is a perennial top-five lightweight, but rather than throw him directly into the title mix–which is hard on account of his win streak–the UFC should pit him against undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov, a man whom he was previously set to face, before a knee injury derailed the matchup. A clear number-one-contender bout, Cerrone and Nurmagomedov would provide even more concrete evidence of who is up next at 155-pounds, save Rafael Dos Anjos, who could also earn the spot, should he take out Nate Diaz on December 13 in Phoenix.
For Alvarez, UFC 178 proved that the Octagon jitters are, in fact, a very real thing. A former two-time Bellator champion, Alvarez had previously never lost a decision. And while he looked poised and dominant in the first round against Cerrone, Alvarez was less effective as the fight went on.
Many quality fighters drop their first contest with the UFC, and Alvarez will have time to prove his worth, perhaps against Jim Miller or Josh Thomson.
But the most conclusive result at UFC 178 came courtesy of Conor McGregor. Not only in the Octagon, where he topped Dustin Poirier via TKO in less than two minutes, but on the microphone as well, where he backed up months of trash talk and directed at his opponent.
Prior to Saturday night, it was easy for punters to scroll through McGregor’s resume and label him a loudmouth, jive-talking heel who faced no one of merit. But the finish over Poirier is a very real, very definitive victory. And while McGregor may need one more win before he earns a title shot against featherweight champ Jose Aldo, he is now a legitimate threat, who must be taken seriously–no matter the color of his suit (which was more of a cream or elephant tusk, rather than elephant trunk, as McGregor previously stated).
But the only real controversial moments of UFC 178 came in card’s lone middleweight contest, as Yoel Romero took a contentious, third-round TKO over Tim Kennedy.
Romero clearly won the first frame and Kennedy almost stopped the contest in the second on account of some heavy rights, but the one minute rest period in between the last two rounds lingered on and on, well past the sanctioned limit, with Romero still planted on his stool.
Whether it was a cutman applying too much Vaseline, an issue with the language barrier, or Big John McCarthy failing to summon Romero to his feet, the longer rest clearly played a pivotal role in the contest, allowing the Cuban to regroup and do severe damage in the final stanza.
Kennedy has already made clear his plan to appeal the official result. Normally I would be the first person to tell any fighter to accept defeat, but in this case, Kennedy is right. No matter where the chain of command broke, the system failed miserably in this contest. A win over Romero would have put Kennedy one win away from legitimate title contention, but with the loss, he stumbles out of the championship picture.
And then there were those who earned title shots with their performances.
Already considered the number-one contender going into the contest, Zingano’s return marked her first appearance inside the Octagon in over a year, following a pair of knee injuries and the devastating suicide of her husband Mauricio.
A bit rusty in the first round, Zingano found her form in the second, overwhelming Nunes on her feet, rag-dolling the Brazilian to the ground at will before mounting and laying down some heavy and bloody punches and elbows.
And while the women’s bantamweight division previously looked devoid of any real challengers for Ronda Rousey prior to UFC 178, the still-undefeated Zingano appears to be the biggest threat yet.
Dominick Cruz, who completely dismantled Takeya Mizugaki on the preliminary card also earned his title shot.
Making his first professional appearance in nearly three years, Cruz delivered possibly his best performance to date, knocking Mizugaki out in 61 seconds. Cruz danced around the Octagon using his signature footwork, head movement, and level changes before taking his Japanese opponent to the mat. A second takedown followed, and from there Cruz steamrolled, connecting on 11 straight right hands to the face.
Reasonably, there were many questions surrounding Cruz’s return. Out of action for over 1,000 days, Cruz was coming off of a pair of knee surgeries and a groin tear. And for a fighter so reliant on speed and lateral movement, an ACL tear could have been the nail in the coffin of his MMA career. But his dominant victory at UFC 178 proved that Cruz is, no doubt, the number-one challenger to T.J. Dillashaw’s 135-pound strap.
By year’s end, UFC 178 will without a doubt be remembered as one the year’s top fight cards. And while it may have lost out on its original marquee headliner between Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier, the card featured phenomenal fights from start to finish. And if none of the aforementioned results proved compelling enough to capture your attentions, then at least remember that Manny Gamburyan is back, and he wants a piece of Bryan Caraway.
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