These post-fight analysis pieces always start with a recap of the main event. I don't plan to break that tradition, but talking about Demetrious Johnson's lopsided--and entirely predictable--win over Chris Cariaso isn't the most interesting thing following what had been a very entertaining fight card. A card that managed to not come up short on the heightened expectations of fans who'd spent weeks drooling over the return of a "stacked" UFC event.
For Johnson, it was another chance to step into the Octagon and mmake his case as the best fighter on the planet.
He certainly didn't do anything to hurt his case tonight. Cariaso got a title shot because everyone ranked ahead of him was either injured, booked to fight or had recently lost to Johnson. Rather than drag the fight out, Johnson treated a fighter who in his league as exactly that.
Watching round one felt a bit like watching Johnson play with his food. He was seemingly testing what he could do and what risks there were for him, finishing the round with a thudding serious of strikes that signaled that he was ready to end the night.
In round two it was more of the same before Johnson got him down, passed guard and took an arm with a kimura.
If there's anywhere Johnson needs to improve, it's the post fight interview. He thanked Conor McGregor's fans for coming out (reports suggested these fans were already out of the arena well before the main event), giving his spotlight to a fighter who already seemed like a much bigger star tonight. He also passed on softballs being lobbed by Joe Rogan as Rogan asked Johnson how he felt about some thinking he was the best fighter in the world. Rather than cut a nice, useable soundbyte, Johnson just said that the goal is to get to that point. He also passed on a chance to build a future fight by not really talking about who he would like to fight next when asked.
Johnson is a fighter of ridiculous talent who just isn't ever going to be a self-promoter in the way that might best benefit his career.
- Eddie Alvarez has nothing to be ashamed of in his UFC debut, but Donald Cerrone should feel great. Alvarez was laying into Cerrone with heavy shots in round one before Cerrone came back with a focus on knees to the body and heavy leg kicks. Alvarez's leg ended up betraying him at the end of round three, forcing him to crumble to the canvas, but Cerrone had likely won the fight prior to that anyway. Cerrone is peaking as a fighter right now and it has been a thrilling ride to watch.
- Conor McGregor backed up his talk in a huge way tonight. Dustin Poirier is a talented guy, and beating him proves your legitimacy at 145. McGregor came out and looked like a man who didn't just talk about a first round stoppage, but expected it. And that's exactly what he got, catching Poirier with a punch that (despite anyone suggesting it was illegal) landed right behind the ear as Poirier was ducking.
- McGregor is also undeniably a star. And this sport is starved for stars. If he wins a title it might be the start of something that changes the sport.
- Yoel Romero's corner was taking a while to get out of the cage before the start of round three, yes. They were stalling and trying to give their badly rocked fighter a bit of extra recovery time. But, the referee also had told the corner to wipe Romero off. He should have made it happen more quickly and should not have allowed Romero to remain seated. But he did. Ultimately, it was Big John McCarthy who failed in his job here. And, depending on how much you think it changed the fight, it's McCarthy who may have caused Tim Kennedy to get knocked out minutes later.
- Cat Zingano is tough as nails. Amanda Nunes was busting her up something fierce in the first round, but Zingano stayed in the fight and started to turn things around before the first was over. In the second, it was Zingano taking full control of the fight and in the third she finished it. To do that all is impressive enough, but to do it coming off a lengthy injury layoff is really special.
- Speaking of injury layoffs...Dominick Cruz returned for the first time in what felt like forever and just blew through Takeya Mizugaki as though Mizugaki weren't a legitimate fighter. Cruz looked far better than any of us had a right to expect or even help. He looks like you could throw him in a title fight tomorrow and he'd deserve to be the favorite.