Up and down the card questions were being asked. Two fighters were returning from long-term injuries; how sharp would they be? Two athletic specimens were facing their first legit top ten tests; how would they fare? And one high-profile titlist from another organisation was taking on perhaps his stiffest test to date; would be prove he was UFC championship calibre?
Those questions, by and large, were answered. But what questions still need to be posed and which fights will answer them?
Demetrious Johnson – Joe Rogan compared ‘Mighty Mouse’ to Roy Jones Jr after his predictable smashing of Chris Cariaso was all over with. Whilst it’s not the most apt comparison stylidtically, DJ is ridiculously fast and skilled, and seems on another planet to his opposition, just as Jones did in his prime. Cariaso, who has been seen by MMA fans and media as out of his depth since the bout was first announced, was no exception.
So, how do you test Demetrious Johnson? A lot of fans don’t seem to care much about him, which is a shame, but for those that are wowed by his mastery of mixed martial arts and way he goes about his business, ‘Mighty Mouse’s next opponent is an important decision.
You either give him the one fighter in the division who can challenge him in terms of speed and athletic ability and that gave him a stiff test before, in John Dodson. Or you hope that John Lineker beats Ian McCall to give Johnson a fresh body to work over, with the added excitement of Lineker’s fight ending power being thrown into the mix (which regardless of the ingredients ends with Johnson blending everything to mush). Seeing as how Ian ‘Uncle Creepy’ McCall gave Johnson such a hard fight first time round, he would be an interesting challenger should he beat Lineker, despite Johnson thoroughly beating McCall in their second fight. Ian McCall and John Lineker will meet in October.
Chris Cariaso – Cariaso certainly wasn’t disappointing, he was just outmatched in every facet of the game. He wasn’t a huge factor in the division before he was set to challenge for the title, so I’d use the added exposure he got from headlining his first pay-per-view to match him with top prospects going forward. If you can beat him, you’re right near the top of the division, and in a bracket in need of more legit’ contenders, that would be welcome. Assuming Ray Borg beats Richie Vaculik in Australia on November 8th, I’d love to see Borg try and implement his high-octane grappling game on Cariaso, who knows how to maintain kickboxing range.
Donald Cerrone – Yeah, we all wanna’ see Cerrone and Khabib Nurmagomedov go at it. But the stifling wrestler from Dagestan might not be ready to go for a few months yet, and true to form ‘Cowboy’ wants to fight again before the year is up. So why not put him in with another one of the most reliable action fighters under the Zuffa banner, and one that is also in the top ten, giving the bout more relevance than a straight up crowd pleasing slobber knocker? You know damn right I’m talking about Jorge Masvidal, who beat James Krause on the prelims last night. Usually the Bloody Elbow readership thinks matching up two winners from the same card is lazy, but in this instance I can’t see there being many complaints.
Eddie Alvarez – Alvarez showed he is definitely a top ten fighter, regardless of what organisation he is fighting in. He had his moments throughout, putting on a dirty boxing clinic in the first round and showing off his timing in the third round by briefly dropping Cerrone. Still, the decision was just, and this firmly puts Alvarez in the ‘action fighter’ category rather than ‘future title contender’. Still, Alvarez will still have ambitions of being the latter, and after the rest he’ll require to let that shiner go down and to put some ice on his left leg, I’d love to see him in with the loser of the Rafael Dos Anjos-Nate Diaz fight, which take place on big FOX this December.
Conor McGregor – Sure, some of y’all will be saying ‘this was a favourable stylistic match-up for the UFC’s latest golden boy’. What I would say to that is that Poirier has never been stopped via strikes before, and despite being stunned and dropped a few times has always shown excellent powers of recovery. Also, that was McGregor scuffing Poirier, admittedly in a place where it doesn’t take a clean shot to make your equilibrium argue with your will to carry on. McGregor is absolutely legit’, and while there will still be some saying ‘he still hasn’t faced a good wrestler’, I have news for ya’: the champion is not a wrestler, he’s a striker, and seeing as McGregor shows no respect for leg kicks, Jose Aldo already has a stylistic advantage, despite McGregor’s assertion that Muay Thai fighters aren’t dyanmic enough to deal with him. If Chad Mendes comes out of his rematch with Aldo triumphant, I would definitely have McGregor face the winner of Ricardo Lamas-Denis Bermudez, and give Cub Swanson or Frankie Edgar the next shot at the belt. But if Aldo successfully defends his title, then the UFC has to strike while the iron is hot in my opinion. McGregor is in the top five of the division now, and, despite the polarising Irishman not being a long-standing contender who has ‘paid his dues’ the way veterans like Cub Swanson and Frankie Edgar have, every fight ‘The Notorious’ has going forward is a big deal: A bout with the long-reigning 145lb king would be a super fight.
Dustin Poirier – Chan-Sung Jung was due to make his comeback two weeks from now in Stockholm, but sadly suffered another injury. Both are coming off of losses, and for most cage fighting connoisseurs their epic ‘fight of the year’ is still fresh in the memory. Let’s see that again, for purely selfish and violent reasons.
Yoel Romero – I’m not going to comment on ‘stool gate’ (Romero and stools is a recurring theme now) but only on the fight itself. As Conor McGregor might say “Bejeezus”! Pat Wyman was right, Romero’s defensive wrestling is nothing to worry about. The Cuban is a physical force, and his striking is quick, clean and powerful. Still, his striking defence remains porous. Perhaps he’ll show improvements in that facet of his game soon, because going forward he’s going to need it. With the middleweight title fight between Chris Weidman and Vitor Belfort postponed, it leaves Romero with two options (assuming Joe Silva doesn’t book a rematch between Romero and Kennedy). The Cuban could take on the winner of the very interesting bout between Lyoto Machida and C.B Dolloway, which will take place just before Christmas. What I’d much prefer, is that ‘Jacare’ Souza stays active while he pursues a title shot that seems quite far away, while Romero, who at 37 isn’t getting any younger, gets a chance to jump the pack in a potentially exciting scrap between grappling geniuses with fight-ending power.
Tim Kennedy – Kennedy was just starting to get some momentum, picking up the best win of his career against Michael Bisping, and requiring just a slightly sleepy timekeeper away from finishing a hot prospect like Romero to go into the end of the year as a potential title contender. As it stands, Kennedy will be clinging onto the controversy of last night’s 3rd round KO loss to Romero to try and keep his name in the top ten of the division. Kennedy is tough as nails, a canny grappler with relatively heavy hands, and he doesn’t need to be matched soft, and certainly wouldn’t want to be. I’d give him Gegard Mousasi next, in what could be a stinker, but would be a good fight between veterans hoping to keep their names in Joe Silva’s thoughts when he offers fight contracts to those close to contention.
Cat Zingano – After a horrible year personally and athletically, Cat Zingano is back, showing her usual grit and determination in seeing off the game Amanda Nunes. Dana White gave Zingano what she originally earned by battering Miesha Tate back in 2012; a fight with ‘Rowdy’ Ronda Rousey for the women’s bantamweight title. I can’t see it being competitive, but Zingano deserves her shot, and will be guaranteed to give it her all.
Amanda Nunes – The scrappy Brazilian is a real ‘kill or be killed’ fighter. Let’s see if Holly Holm can circumnavigate the perilous first round with Nunes and lend herself some legitimacy in the process.
Dominick Cruz – Talk about having something to prove. I’m not sure if the former WEC and UFC 135lb kingpin would’ve treated Mizugaki that badly in his prime. Hell, I’m not sure when Cruz’s prime even was any more! Cruz honestly looked better than ever, and even though he got clipped (slightly) he showed much more aggression than you would think judging off his title run, and didn’t seem to have lost any sharpness at all in terms of his all-round game and phase shifting. ‘The Dominator’ has never been better in my opinion, despite years of injuries and setbacks. That’s a scary thought for anyone, even the current belt holder T.J Dillashaw, who not only has to be Cruz’s next opponent, but will make for probably one of the most anticipated fights in recent years for the guy currently typing out his thoughts.
Despite losing the fight that captured everyone’s imagination, UFC 178 had a lot to offer MMA fans of all different persuasions. A tremendous card that could’ve only been bettered by having the most anticipated bout of the year on it (be it Jones Vs Gustaffson or Cormier).
Probably good that it didn’t, because the cynical MMA fans (myself included) would be moaning about every card that happens from here on in if we were that spoiled.
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