The reception to Chris Cariaso's flyweight title shot at UFC 177 has been far from positive. Cariaso is ranked number eight in the UFC's rankings and is sitting as a massive underdog to champion Demetrious Johnson. Given his low ranking and the fact that his current three fight win streak has come against fighters with poor UFC records, many fans and media members feel that Cariaso simply doesn't deserve a title shot.
Dana White spoke about the issue on the "Dana Download" on UFC.com and explained why Cariaso is getting a shot:
"The problem is that there is no doubt the fight everybody wanted to see would be John Dodson, but he's hurt," White said. "Ian McCall just fought, Johnson knocked out [Joseph] Benavidez, and he beat John Moraga. People are going to bitch about Demetrious Johnson no matter who we put him in there against. Eventually, he'll just have to keep knocking people out left and right and then he'll earn his respect."
There are a three main things to unpack here.
1) Johnson has had ten fights in the UFC. In those ten fights he has scored a total of one knockout. So, maybe "knocking people out left and right" isn't the best bar to set for Johnson to achieve some sort of mainstream acceptance.
2) I don't actually know of too many people who "bitch about Demetrious Johnson." He's well respected as one of the most elite fighters on the planet by media and the MMA fanbase.
Some people (myself included) have discussed how he might turn out to be the kind of fighter that just can't draw as a pay-per-view headliner. He has done fine numbers on Fox, but drawing fans into paying PPV prices is a different ballgame and Johnson's first shot as a PPV headliner did an awful buyrate by all reports.
That's not a shot at Johnson. There are issues with public perception of smaller weight classes and the PPV market is down anyway. And there are also just certain intangible factors in drawing on PPV.
Andre Ward can draw 1.3 million viewers on HBO but he'd be lucky to draw a tenth of those viewers to pay for the same fight on PPV. Johnson might simply be in that same boat.
But, beyond that, no one really complains about one of the most consistently entertaining and undeniably talented fighters on Earth.
3) White may actually have a valid point that Cariaso was simply the best option available for Johnson at UFC 177. Dodson is hurt, Benavidez is one fight removed from being the victim of Johnson's only Zuffa KO, McCall fought not even a week ago, Bagautinov just lost to Johnson, Moraga lost his last fight, Formiga fights Makovsky in less than a month, Lineker just fought and is only one fight removed from losing to Bagautinov...which brings us to Cariaso in the rankings.
If Johnson and the UFC wanted him back in the cage at 177, Cariaso is actually the highest ranked available fighter. We can discuss the depth of the flyweight division or the UFC's inability to market the fighters as stars that lend these fights gravity. But, Dana is telling the truth here.