UFC 178 was hyped as a throwback, stacked card in an age of watered down cards and it delivered. Not only was the level of the talent on the card excellent but the card was stuffed full of interesting and compelling narratives. We had long time injured fighters returning and young starts looking to break through.
It was a much need shot in the arm for the UFC as it was a fantastic night of fights that is a great reminder of why MMA is a fantastic sport as the night was full of legitimately special sporting moments. And there are so many fights that will come from the events tonight, none bigger than the potential rematch between Demetrious Johnson and Dominick Cruz. Now clearly Cruz would need to reclaim his Bantamweight title first, but Johnson's coach Matt Hume has already said that another Bantamweight Title fight with Cruz is in their long term plans for Johnson.
But that is far in the future and we are hear to talk about last night, so on to thoughts about the fights:
- Demetrious Johnson put a beating on Chris Cariaso as he finished the first kimura in UFC title fight history in the mid-second round. Johnson is one of the best fighters in MMA right now and as dominant a champion as Jon Jones or Jose Aldo. Under a highly underrated coach in Matt Hume, Johnson has become the most complete fighter in the sport and at this point beyond a second fight with John Dodson there is very little left for Johnson to do at Flyweight.
- The Johnson/Cariaso fight was one of the only major fights on the card without a larger narrative being talked about and many jokes were made about how little people cared about this fight and how the McGregor/Poirier fight was the real main event. Words were put to action as reports flooded in of fans leaving the area at the start of this fight. Johnson is an outstanding fighter and his fights are a joy to watch for technique nerds but his active refusal to sell himself or his fights hurts his earning and star potential.
- In a night of excellent fights Donald Cerrone and Eddie Alvarez likely put on the best scrap of the night. Alvarez came out fast, doing his best to replicate Don Frye vs Yoshihiro Takayama as he just pistoned punches into Cerrone's face in the clinch. Cerrone clawed his way back into the fight with leg kicks, chopping down Alvarez in the third round. To his credit Alvarez saw the final bell but clearly lost the fight.
- While Alvarez didn't exactly have the blessing of Bellator, as their Lightweight Champion he was carrying their banner into this fight in a fashion. While he did loose, Alvarez clearly demonstrated he belongs in the cage with other elite Lightweights.
- Conor McGregor walked right through Dustin Poirier in what very well could be his break out performance. McGregor has the style, the skill, and personality to be a badly needed star for the UFC. McGregor came into the fight with a badly injured hand, and started off by working his kicking game. McGregor then caught Poirier lunging in and then followed up on the ground to finish the fight. There was some question about the legality of the shots McGregor landed, but there was only one shot on the ground that hit the back of the head an it came while Poirier was attempting a desperation single, which is fairly common for refs not to call.
- McGregor looked outstanding in this fight and I have no problems giving him the winner of Jose Aldo and Chad Mendes for the UFC Featherweight Title. Between those two Mendes likely presents the greater danger to McGregor because of his wrestling, but in both cases I think McGregor emerges the Champion. He has a striking game that matches up very well to Aldo and he has enough wrestling to deal with Mendes and land something hard on the feet.
- Yoel Romero and Tim Kennedy had an unforgettable fight. Romero came out strong in the first round and really looked improved on the feet as he soundly out struck Kennedy. In the second Romero was clearly slowing down and Kennedy landed heavy punches, and Romero had to be quite literally saved by the bell. In between rounds it appeared that Romero's corner left the stool in the cage and then referee John McCarthy asked for Romero to be cleaned off after Vaseline was applied to a cut. As a result Romero got a few extra moments of sitting before starting the third round and then quickly knocked out Kennedy to claim victory.
- Controversy aside, Romero looked quite good in this fight. His striking is clearly progressing each fight, and while there are still major concerns about his defensive abilities, Romero seems to still be improving as a fighter and hasn't peaked yet. Kennedy is a credit to the American military and is an excellent athlete, but Romero is another level of athletic, has amazing wrestling technique, and showed amazing grit. Romero has earned a fight against a Top 5 Middleweight and a chance to contend with this win.
- Cat Zingano came back to win her comeback fight after over a year away from the Octagon. Amanda Nunes took the first round as an excited Zingano got a little ambitious with a suplex and ended up on the bottom. Nunes nearly finished the fight with heavy shots, but Zingano came roaring back to dominate the second round with smothering top position and then finish the fight in the third with brutal elbows from the night. It was a great sporting moment as Zingano was overwhelmed with emotion in the post fighter interview.
- Zingano's wrestling game still looked very rough and her takedowns relied heavily on her getting into the clinch upright, not a good idea against the UFC Women's Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey as that plays very well into her Judo game. Zingano has some tools to be an interesting challenger for Rousey, her striking in the clinch and on the ground, but Rousey is a heavy favorite in my books.
- Dominick Cruz looked fantastic in his return to the Octagon, making lighting quick work of Takeya Mizugaki. Cruz came out extremly aggressive and blew the doors off Mizugaki with ground striking. I'm sure there will be nitpicking about the fact that Cruz was getting touched a bit early, but that is easily out weighed by how powerful and clean Cruz looked on the attack. Cruz didn't look as good as he did when he was Bantamweight Champion, he looked better. A win like that from a Champion who was stripped of his belt warrants an immediate title shot. A fight between Cruz and TJ Dillashaw would be an amazing fight, both fighters have such similar styles it makes it a very intriguing, high level match.
- Jorge Masvidal continues to be an intruding fighter at 155-pounds as he dominated RFA veteran James Krause with a relentless body attack with knees and kicks in addition to some heavy punches and well timed grappling. Masvidal is now on a three fight win streak in the UFC and is still in his prime as a fighter, he seems to deserve a step up in competition and square off with a top 10 fighter.
- Stephen Thompson's win over Patrick Cote nicely summarizes both fighters. Thompson has very good control of distance and mobility on his feet, but still has very little power as he doesn't sit down on his punches, and has no significant grappling game. Meanwhile Cote still doesn't have much footwork and relies heavily on his chin to get inside. Thompson is a nice fighter but he is in his thirties, his striking ability is largely overstated, he relies on countering and doesn't create offense very well, and is a one dimensional fighter. As a result the term "prospect" should not be applied to him, Thompson is a novelty fighter for his style and when he is matched well he can be an action fighter, but certainly not this past night.
- Brian Ebersole earned a very narrow decision over fellow MMA veteran John Howard. Early it looked to be all Ebersole as he was able to get the takedown and work some of his grappling game. But Howard came roaring back with some grappling of his own to take the second round, and seemed to do more than enough on the feet to earn the third round as well, but two judges scored the fight for Ebersole in a bit of a head scratchier.
- Kevin Lee put together a pretty solid overall performance against Jon Tuck. Lee is young, athletic, and is a solid wrestler. He displayed good top control in this match and ability to defeat an active and aggression guard. Lee still needs to develop more offensive tools to become a real threat, but at just 22-years-old he has some time.
- Cody Gibson really looked excellent, boxing up Manny Gamburyan, successfully navigating Gamburyan's grinding clinch game. It was looking like a wash for Gibson and then suddenly Gamburyan was able to snatch up a guillotine choke in the closing seconds of the second round. This will be a tough pill for Gibson to swallow as this would have been a very big win for the 27-year-old, but he showed clear growth as a fighter in this match. The result doesn't really reflect the impression each fighter gave off as the arrow seems pointed down for Gamburyan and up for Gibson.