UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson puts his belt on the line for the second time in three months this Saturday, September 27 (10 P.M. EST, Pay Per View). Taking on challenger Chris Cariaso in the UFC 178 main event at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Johnson looks to make his fifth successful title defense.
A dominant wrestler, and one of the most complete athletes in the UFC, Johnson (20-2-1, 8-1-1 UFC) has looked unstoppable since claiming the 125-pound title in 2012, and most recently put on a masterful performance at UFC 174, where he took a unanimous decision over Ali Bagautinov.
The UFC's eight-ranked flyweight, Cariaso (17-5, 7-3 UFC) seemed an odd choice to receive the title shot, but the high-level kick boxer's current three-fight win streak proved to be enough to earn top billing and a chance at promotional gold.
Johnson possesses all the tools and techniques necessary to stop Cariaso. His speed, quickness, and durability should allow him to slip in and out of the pocket at will, before moving in for the takedown. And while Cariaso might be able to fend Johnson off in the first two rounds with solid takedown defense and guard work, he will eventually fatigue and leave the door open for the champion.
Look for Johnson to finish this contest via third round ground and pound.
Co-main Event: Eddie Alvarez vs. Donald Cerrone
Alvarez (25-3, 0-0 UFC) and Cerrone (24-6, 11-3 UFC) represent two of the more intriguing talents in the UFC's lightweight division, and despite Cerrone's four consecutive finishes, the attention is focused on Alvarez, who is making his UFC debut.
A former two-time Bellator champion, Alvarez was long considered the top prospect outside of the UFC, and two years after his initial contract with the promotion was subject to a contentious legal battle, he will finally step foot inside the Octagon.
A boxer and wrestler, Alvarez last fought at Bellator 106, where he reclaimed the title over Michael Chandler in a wild and bloody affair. Alvarez showed his knack to land brutal jabs and damage opponents early, allowing him to open up his heavy strikes as the rounds progress.
Cerrone, a flashy kickboxer and submission artist, seems unimpressed with Alvarez's accolades, and is looking to make his case for a shot at the lightweight belt. Beginning his current four-fight win streak at UFC 167 in November 2012, Cerrone most recently stopped Jim Miller via a picturesque head kick and punches in July.
With two finishers pitted against each other in this contest, most will expect an early stoppage, but these two high-level athletes will nullify early attacks with offense of their own, and eventually Alvarez takes the decision.
Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier
A battle of top-ten featherweights, this contest between McGregor (15-2, 3-0 UFC) and Poirier (16-3, 8-2 UFC) has received a tremendous amount of attention on account of McGregor's antics and histrionics. But make no mistake; this pair is prepared to settle the score in the cage, after months of verbal jabs.
One of the more polarizing athletes to step foot inside the Octagon in recent years, McGregor has risen near the top of his division on account of three-consecutive wins in the UFC. And after taking nearly a year off to recover from injury, McGregor stormed back with a first round TKO of Diego Brandao in July.
Poirier, who also previously defeated Brandao, knocking out the Brazilian in the first round at UFC 168, is a well-rounded fighter with crisp striking and excellent transitions to the ground game. A member of the American Top Team, Poirier is versatile in his attack, and finds his biggest advantage on the mat.
This fight should be a barnburner, with both athletes storming out of the gate. And while the first round should be a dizzying affair of back and forth striking, look for McGregor to knock Poirier down in the second before pouring on the finishing onslaught.
Yoel Romero vs. Tim Kennedy
Two surging middleweights meet on the UFC 178 main card, with Romero (8-1, 4-0 UFC) and Kennedy (18-4, 3-0 UFC) determined to move closer toward title contention.
Romero, a former Olympic silver medalist in wrestling, has looked ferocious inside the Octagon, most recently dominating Brad Tavares in a unanimous decision win. Relying on his elite mat work, Romero is able to set up strikes against the fence and wear opponents down.
Kennedy is a savvy and crafty veteran who implements strategic game plans with coach Greg Jackson, and will know how to neutralize Romero's strengths. Much like in his unanimous decision win over Michael Bisping, Kennedy will be able to thwart Romero's attacks and maintain control on account of his high-level jiu jitsu.
In the end, Kennedy rides out another decision, pushing the fight to the fence and dirty boxing his way to victory.
Cat Zingano vs. Amanda Nunes
Fighting for the first time since April 2013, Zingano (8-0, 1-0 UFC) is making her return to the Octagon after a devastating knee injury and the tragic death of her husband.
Once the top challenger in the UFC women's bantamweight division, Zingano was initially awarded a title shot against Ronda Rousey, along with an opportunity to coach on The Ultimate Fighter, after knocking out Miesha Tate. But a torn ACL, and subsequent hardships, delayed her comeback.
Standing in her way will be the Brazilian, Nunes (9-3, 2-0 UFC), who has knocked out both of her opponents inside the Octagon.
Expect a back and forth affair, with Nunes looking to take advantage of a rusty Zingano. But look for Zingano to come back in the second and earn a TKO victory.
Best of the Undercard
Former UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz (19-1, 2-0 UFC) will fight for the first time in nearly three years, when he takes on Takeya Mizugaki (20-7-2, 7-2 UFC) in the UFC 178 prelims (8 P.M. EST, FOX Sports 1).
A slick boxer with speedy footwork and sharp angles, Cruz was untouchable during his brief reign as champion, but a pair of ACL injuries and a subsequent groin tear forced Cruz to relinquish his title.
Mizugaki last competed at UFC 173, earning a unanimous decision over Francisco Rivera, his fifth-straight victory. A well-rounded fighter, Mizugaki pushes forward with punches and low kicks and has excellent defense off of his back.
And although it's been over 1,000 days since Cruz last competed, he'll use his footwork to keep his distance and pick Mizugaki apart with strikes en route to a decision win.