MMA Review: #478: UFC 178: Johnson vs. Cariaso

-When this show was first announced it looked like one of the most loaded cards in UFC history. The main event was arguably the biggest grudge match in MMA – Jon Jones defending his LHW Title against Daniel Cormier, and the undercard featured Donald Cerrone vs. the debuting Eddie Alvarez, Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier, as well as the returns of top contender Cat Zingano and former champion Dominick Cruz. But of course with it being 2014, the injury bug struck and robbed us of the main event. Zuffa put together a replacement – a Flyweight Title fight – but it just didn’t capture your imagination like Jones/Cormier did. Even so, the card top-to-bottom still looked like the best of 2014 to me.

UFC 178: Johnson vs. Cariaso

Las Vegas, Nevada

-Your hosts are Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan.

Bantamweight Fight: Manny Gamburyan vs Cody Gibson

This was a real prospect vs. veteran type match, with the younger Gibson coming in off an excellent win over Johnny Bedford, while Manny was dropping to 135lbs for the first time following a loss to Nik Lentz. I was picking Gibson as I thought he had a lot of potential while Manny seemed to be coming towards the end of his career.

Round One and even at 135lbs Manny looks like the smaller man. They exchange some early punches and it doesn’t look like Gibson quite has it down how to use his reach advantage. Takedown attempt from Gamburyan is avoided though and Gibson tees off with punches that have the Armenian in a bit of trouble. Good body kick from Manny but Gibson catches him with a right to the temple. Looks like Gibson’s getting more comfortable with the range now. Nice left hand sets up a throw for Gibson and he tosses Manny to the ground and then grabs a front headlock in the scramble. Manny pops back up and they end up clinched where it looks like Gibson eats a knee to the groin. Ref calls time but he recovers quickly and they restart. Manny comes out swinging and then shoots, but Gibson sprawls nicely to avoid. Good leg kick from Manny. Stiff jab answers for Gibson but he misses on a wheel kick. Another good leg kick connects for Gamburyan. More shots begin to land for Gibson and he’s definitely looking more comfortable now. Head kick glances for him. Right cross wobbles Manny and Gibson closes in with some nasty knees. Manny covers up, and then does a tremendous job of taking Gibson down to slow the momentum. Cody works his way back to his feet, but Manny dumps him back down right away. Less than a minute to go now though and they scramble with Gibson getting on top. He avoids a guillotine and they come back up, where Gibson goes to work with some vicious elbows from the clinch. Manny slows him down again but eats body punches to end the round. 10-9 Gibson; excellent round for him.

Round Two and Gibson starts with some nice quick jabs. He’s got his range down pat now and he’s keeping Manny at the end of his shots for the most part. No sooner have I said that as Manny clocks him with a right and then goes to work with a big combo. Gibson slows him down with an attempted takedown, and out of the scramble he lands a clean kick to the groin that causes Manny to collapse in pain. Jesus that looked bad. Ref gives Gibson a warning but it was clearly unintentional. Comical exchange from the announcers as Goldie claims it’s rare to see an intentional groin strike to which Rogan says he can think of a guy who does them, to which Goldie asks not to mention a name and Rogan instantly goes CHEICK KONGO. Well, call a spade a spade I guess. They restart after a while and Manny seems pissed off and stalks forward…but Gibson LEVELS him with an overhand right! Cody pounces and looks to finish him off, but Manny shows a lot of toughness and gets to his feet. Gibson continues to work on him with knees and misses a wild head kick, but Manny ties him up in the clinch. Gibson gets a takedown for a second and then OPENS UP on the TUF vet with a big flurry as he stands. Manny manages to stay in the pocket though and fires right back. Wow, this is awesome. Takedown from Gibson but Manny grabs a guillotine. Cody pulls free and adjusts to take the back with a rear waistlock, and from the side he delivers a big knee to the thigh. Manny works back up, and he lands a knee to the body and a hard right hand to break. His face is badly marked up though. Jabs from Gibson and he’s beating Manny to the punch again as Manny is throwing wild haymakers. Wheel kick misses for Cody. Right hand lands flush though and pegs Manny back again. Slip from Gibson allows Manny to clinch, but Gibson muscles him into the fence and lands some more knees. Nice low single leg from Manny and he winds up in Cody’s guard. Elbows from Manny and he throws in some shoulder butts for good measure. Gibson tries to reverse by reaching for the leg, but Manny controls him nicely and then locks up a guillotine. He drops into full guard with seconds remaining and really squeezes on it…..and Gibson TAPS! Crowd go batshit which is pretty rare for a Vegas prelim, but just goes to show how good the fight was.

Post-fight Manny cuts a total money promo calling out Bryan Caraway basically to defend the honor of his teammate Ronda Rousey. They really ought to set that one up as there’d be a lot of heat around it and it could easily co-main a Fight Pass card or something. This fight was FANTASTIC at any rate as both men showed a ton of aggression and it looked like Manny was in serious trouble once he got dropped in the second but he MANNED UP and fought through it and basically tore the win away from Gibson’s hands. Tremendous stuff.

Lightweight Fight: Kevin Lee vs Jon Tuck

Both of these guys were coming off wins on the periphery of the UFC – Lee over Jesse Ronson and Tuck over Jake Lindsey (in this really odd finish involving heel kicks to the kidneys). With similar records it was a tough one to pick but I was impressed by Lee’s athleticism and power in his fight with Al Iaquinta and went with him.

Round One and they circle to begin before clinching to exchange knees. Tuck looks like a dead ringer for Godofredo Pepey with his bleached hair. They break quickly and Lee lands with a head kick before Tuck clinches. Good knees inside for Lee before they break again. Lee is really fast. Right hand lands nicely for Tuck. Nice body kick from Lee. Lee looks much more explosive early on and he’s putting on a frenetic pace. Takedown attempt from Lee and he secures a rear waistlock and delivers a BIG GERMAN SUPLEX. Tuck avoids the hooks though and rolls into butterfly guard before reversing to his feet. Lee keeps hold of him and lands some knees from the front facelock position before looking to muscle Tuck down again. Nice takedown from Lee and he dumps Tuck into guard. Punches from Lee but Tuck locks up a really quick armbar. Good job from Lee to pull free and they stand back up into the clinch. Good knee to the body from Lee. Couple more connect but one apparently lands low and the ref has to call time. Jason Herzog sounds so kindly talking to the injured Tuck that it puts a tear in your eye, dude. They restart with a minute to go and Lee tags Tuck with a one-two. Head kick glances for Lee. Overhand right narrowly misses for Tuck but Lee steams into him with some shots that set up the clinch. Takedown attempt from Lee but Tuck defends it to end the round. 10-9 Lee.

Round Two and Tuck opens with a BLATANT groin kick that Lee shrugs off. Good uppercut from Lee but Tuck answers with a knee. Big overhand right from Lee. They’re swinging pretty wildly now with both guys landing. Another low blow connects for Tuck and this time Jason Herzog has to call time. Jesus, enough with the nut shots already! This time Herzog warns both guys that he’ll be taking points next time it happens…and in fact he takes a point from Tuck. Wow. They restart and a pair of body kicks land for Lee. Nice pair of knees answer for Tuck but Lee goes for a double leg and drives him into the fence. Tuck blocks but takes some really hard body shots against the fence. Good takedown defense from Tuck and they break off. Exchange of punches follows before Lee shoots on another double leg and gets it this time, landing in side mount. Tuck hip escapes to full guard though and lands some decent elbows from his back. Triangle attempt from Tuck but Lee’s head is too high and he pops it free and then stacks up to drop punches. Quick armbar attempt from Tuck but Lee shrugs that off too. They come back to their feet with seconds to go and Lee gets the better of the brief exchange. 10-8 Lee with the point deduction leaving Tuck needing a finish.

Round Three and Tuck opens with a jab and a front kick to the face. He does a good job in the opening minute of keeping Lee on the end of his strikes actually. Looks like Lee might be a bit tired as he’s not covering distance as well as he was earlier in the fight. Combo from Lee knocks Tuck’s mouthpiece out though and Tuck makes the error of looking for it, which allows Lee to SWARM on him with a big flurry! Takedown follows and it looks like Tuck’s nose is busted. Weird moment follows as Jason Herzog replaces Tuck’s mouthpiece while he’s in guard. Lee manages to posture up to deliver some hard shots, and man is Tuck’s face a mess now. Tuck switches to attempt a leglock but Lee prevents it by posturing up and he passes into half-guard. He’s getting off some good shots here. Tuck manages to get back to full guard, but Lee continues with ground-and-pound and avoiding submissions until the fight ends. 10-9 Lee for a 30-26.

All three judges have it 30-26 for Kevin Lee. Dude has a lot of work to do on his overall game but I think he has a bright future ahead of him in the UFC as he’s got so much athleticism and potential. Tuck will probably stick around for a while too but I don’t think he’ll do as well as Lee in the years to come. Perfectly acceptable MMA right here although it got slow at points.

Welterweight Fight: Brian Ebersole vs John Howard

This fight was Ebersole’s first one since November 2013 and only his third in three years – pretty surprising given his schedule pre-UFC had him doing three fights a year at least! Howard meanwhile had lost to excellent prospect Ryan LaFlare in April, but before that he’d beaten two solid guys in Uriah Hall and Siyar Bahadurzada. Close one to call but due to Ebersole’s layoff I went with Howard.

First round and Howard takes the center of the cage as Ebersole circles on the outside. Good leg kick early on from Howard. Couple of clinch attempts are shrugged off by Howard. Howard looks tiny for 170lbs here. They do clinch up and Howard lands a solid knee to the body, but Ebersole looks like the stronger man and he forces him into the fence. Knees to the thighs for Ebersole but the action’s really slowed down now. Referee Chris Tognoni calls a break and Ebersole lands a couple of strikes from the outside. Leg kick drops Ebersole but he manages to dive and get a takedown. Guillotine attempt from Howard allows Ebersole to scramble and almost take the back. He gets what looks like a half-nelson to control him and then slaps on one hook to keep him grounded. Pretty weird position. Howard seems a bit stuck actually. Ebersole tries to pull him over to take the back properly, but Howard rolls to avoid the second hook going in. Elbows to the side of the head from Ebersole and he still stays on the back as Howard stands. Howard does a good job of shaking him off over the top, but as Ebersole lands on his back he throws an illegal upkick that gains him a warning. They restart standing with literally a few seconds to go, and Howard backs him up with a combo to end the round. 10-9 Ebersole pretty obviously.

Between rounds Ebersole’s corner seem pretty pissed off with the commission guys saying JESUS CHRIST COME ON WE NEED A CHAIR!

Second round and Howard hits a brutal leg kick that clearly hurts Ebersole again. Big combo backs Ebersole up into the fence and has him covering up, but he manages to clinch. Howard shrugs him right off this time and he continues to push forward and look for big shots. Takedown attempt from Ebersole leads to the clinch again and this time Howard gets double underhooks and hits a trip takedown to half-guard. He works the body a bit and prevents Ebersole from hitting a reversal, and it looks like he might be setting up for a kimura on the right arm. Ebersole avoids that and hits a scramble, but Howard gets the better of it and takes the back with both hooks. Howard looks for the choke but Ebersole stays calm and then works to spin into Howard’s guard. Elbow from Ebersole but Howard reverses and drives him into the fence, getting a takedown back into Ebersole’s guard. Round ends with Howard on top. 10-9 Howard to even things up.

Third round and Howard stalks forward with a leg kick and a left hook. Inside leg kick lands for Doomsday. Good left to the body from Howard and he follows with a quick flurry that forces Ebersole to cover up. Clinch from Ebersole but Howard muscles him into the fence. Takedown attempt from Howard but he gives it up to wing some hard shots into the body. They break off with just over three minutes to go and Howard lands an inside leg kick. Ebersole’s firing back but he’s not putting much into his strikes. Ebersole clinches again and then breaks off with a right hand. Takedown attempt is stuffed by Howard and he grabs a front headlock before Ebersole breaks off with an elbow. Good inside leg kick from Howard buckles the right leg. Pair of body kicks glance for Ebersole but he takes another leg kick and another combo that has him covering up. Kick from Ebersole is caught and Howard goes for a takedown, but Ebersole blocks it and they break off. One minute to go and this is still anyone’s fight really. They exchange shots before Ebersole shoots, but Howard sprawls and shrugs him off. Heavy inside leg kick from Howard. They exchange from the clinch before breaking off and the fight ends on the feet. Close round but I’d go 10-9 Howard due to the leg kicks, so 29-28 for him. Could go either way.

Judges score it 29-28 Ebersole, 29-28 Howard and 29-28 for Brian Ebersole to get the split decision. I’d have gone the other way but the third was incredibly close to score to be fair so I’ve got no issue with Ebersole winning. Bit of a nothing fight really, wasn’t the worst of all time or anything but it just felt totally inconsequential. Which is probably unfair to the fighters but hey.

Welterweight Fight: Stephen Thompson vs Patrick Cote

Battle of strikers here with karate stylist Thompson – coming off two knockout wins over Chris Clements and Robert Whittaker – taking on the Canadian veteran Cote. Despite that win over Whittaker being pretty impressive I was going for Cote here – he has an underrated ground game and I thought he’d be able to use it to ground-and-pound Thompson probably for a decision.

Round One and they circle with Thompson in full-on karate stance, even moreso than Lyoto Machida. Cote manages to clinch though and muscles him into the fence. Thompson manages to turn the position around and they exchange knees inside the clinch. Thompson breaks off and Cote comes in with a chopping leg kick. Left hook from Thompson and he narrowly avoids a pair of heavy rights from Cote. Stiff left hand from Thompson connects cleanly. Couple of jabs follow and then Wonderboy lands a kick to the body. Kick is caught by Cote and he looks for the takedown, but Thompson shows some good defense and remains on his feet. Cote gets his hands connected and almost hits a slam, but Wonderboy does really well to keep himself vertical and he lands a hard knee to the body. Throw attempt from Cote almost works but Thompson avoids it and lands with a flurry before backing out. Good leg kick from Cote. Head kick glances for Thompson. Left hand from Cote backs Thompson up a bit but doesn’t land. Single leg attempt follows but he can’t take Wonderboy down before the buzzer. 10-9 Thompson in a bit of a nothing round really.

Round Two and both men miss with some quick strikes early. Good straight left connects for Thompson. Switch kick to the body lands for Wonderboy too. He seems to be able to catch Cote coming in now. Right hand and another body kick follow. Good leg kick from Cote. Cote’s face looks a bit marked up. Leg kick lands for Thompson. Beautiful counter left from Wonderboy. Thompson’s style is frustrating to watch though in that he’ll leap in, hit something and then get out without really following it up. Right hand counter glances for Cote. Couple more shots land for Wonderboy before Cote shoots and drives him into the fence. Thompson again stuffs it though and lands some elbows to the head for good measure. They break off with one minute to go and a clean right hand connects for Thompson. Cote just doesn’t seem to be able to get a handle on the style of Wonderboy. Side kick from Thompson. He’s switching stances a ton now. Beautiful left hand lands on the counter for Thompson but Cote takes it and gets angry, really swinging, but Thompson dances out of range to end the round. 10-9 Thompson and Cote’s going to need a finish.

Round Three and they wildly trade to begin with both men landing. Bit of a shocker there but Thompson quickly dances out of range. Hard straight right lands for Wonderboy and he’s catching Cote more cleanly than in the early rounds now. Low single leg is avoided by Thompson. Good leg kick from Thompson. Side kick to the face follows. Axe kick misses. Cote’s chasing forward more now evidently knowing he needs to finish, but it’s allowing Thompson to counter on him. Right hook glances for Cote. Single leg attempt follows but again Thompson stuffs it. Cote just isn’t pushing forward enough and it’s allowing Thompson to time him. Crowd begin to boo though as Cote gets tagged by a left hand. He wades in with a left but Thompson counters and drops him with a right! Cote manages to survive though, diving for a leg before coming back up to his feet. One minute to go and Thompson lands on him with another combo and wobbles him again. Another single leg is stuffed easily by Thompson and Cote drops to his guard and takes some shots. Thompson lets him up and he still looks a bit wobbled. Spinning wheel kick just misses the top of Cote’s head. Spinning back kick to the body lands for Wonderboy. Seconds to go and Thompson lands another combo to end the fight. Got to be 30-27 for Stephen Thompson I think.

Official scores are 29-28, 29-28 and 30-27 for Stephen Thompson. Not sure how you’d even give Cote a round there to be honest. Not the best fight to watch due to Thompson’s style, but it was interesting in a way to see how badly Cote struggled with him simply due to his inability to close the distance without getting caught on his way in. Thompson definitely looks like he’s improved since his loss to Matt Brown and evidently he’s worked on his ground game, but I still wonder how he’d do against someone who pressures him a lot more in a similar way to how Brown did. I don’t think he’ll get past Brandon Thatch personally but then I don’t think I’d pick many against Thatch as the guy is a beast. Regarding Cote he’s probably got a job with the UFC for a long time yet due to his personality and (usually) his fighting style but I do suspect he’s past his prime now.

Lightweight Fight: Jorge Masvidal vs James Krause

After a pair of impressive wins (Daron Cruickshank and Pat Healy) I figured Masvidal would probably be put in with a top ten level opponent, and indeed he was originally matched with Bobby Green here with Green coming off that big win over Josh Thomson. Things changed though when Green was moved into a fight with Donald Cerrone (which didn’t end up happening anyway due to the signing of Eddie Alvarez…) and so Krause stepped in, looking to follow up his controversial win over Jamie Varner with an even bigger name. I was picking Masvidal though – I’m a fan of his and when he’s on, he’s *really* on and there aren’t many guys out there that can beat him.

Round One begins and they circle and exchange feeler strikes with neither man really landing anything significant in the opening minute or so. Krause looks to be chambering his right hand, but he’s not quite reaching Masvidal. Combo backs Krause up and Masvidal follows in with a kick to the body. Beautiful head movement from Masvidal allows him to avoid some punches and then he tags Krause with a combo and grabs a guillotine from the clinch. Krause pops his head free easily and muscles Masvidal into the fence, but they break quickly. Right hand from Masvidal connects as does a body shot. Body kick answers for Krause but he eats a left hand counter. Wheel kick misses for Masvidal. Couple of jabs land for Krause. Action slows down a little as Masvidal continues to pressure Krause and back him up with combos. Spin kick glances for Masvidal and he ends the round by clinching. 10-9 Masvidal.

Round Two opens with Krause landing with a couple of jabs and leg kicks. Pair of body kicks from Masvidal back him up though. Good right hand over the top from Masvidal. Combination follows as the crowd seem totally disinterested in this as you can hear the Irish contingent chanting for Conor McGregor already. Insane. Takedown attempt from Krause but Masvidal blocks it and then drops to his back for a guillotine attempt. Krause avoids and gets his head free, taking top position before Masvidal uses a guillotine to hit a reversal into top position himself. Good job from Krause to scramble to his feet, but he eats a heavy combination against the fence before Masvidal forces him into the cage. They break off and a couple more straight punches from Masvidal tag Krause cleanly. Exchange continues with Masvidal continuing to outland Krause. Cartwheel kick misses for Krause by a mile. Masvidal tags him with another combo to peg him back. Masvidal’s striking is really, really smooth. Kick from Krause is caught and Masvidal almost throws him down. Krause pops up but eats another big combo that does set up a takedown this time. Reversal from Krause though and he takes the back of Masvidal as he turtles up. Masvidal spins though and winds up on top with Krause trying desperately to lock up a guillotine. Masvidal reverses to his feet though and CRACKS him with a big one-two, dropping him hard. Krause manages to survive though and ties him up to end the round. 10-9 Masvidal.

Round Three and Masvidal opens with a straight left to the body. Krause tries to pressure him back and lands with a stiff jab, but Masvidal still seems like the smoother striker and he’s still catching Krause with the better shots here. Good body kick sets up a rear waistlock for Masvidal and he slaps one hook in and trips Krause down. Krause pops right back up, but he eats a knee and can’t get off the fence. Krause manages to break off but he eats another hard body kick before Masvidal dumps him with a single leg. He immediately hops into half-guard and lands with some elbows. Krause again manages to get to his feet, breaking off with two minutes to go. Takedown attempt now from Krause, but Masvidal shrugs it off easily. Beautiful combo snaps Krause’s head back. Masvidal is just continually pressuring him. They clinch briefly again but break with a minute to go. Big right hand lands for Krause, but Masvidal gets pissed off and responds with a nasty combo to take back the momentum. Another good shot lands for Krause, but he screws up a takedown and winds up mounted. He manages to roll to almost free himself, but gives his back and the fight ends with Masvidal in control. Looks like a 30-27 shutout for Masvidal for me.

Judges all agree and it’s 30-27, 29-28 and 30-27 for Jorge Masvidal. Story of this one was that Masvidal basically outclassed Krause from start to finish, but to me it felt like he didn’t really push himself to look for the finish, although admittedly Krause is a tough guy and going for a finish against him isn’t as easy as it sounds. Nothing wrong with it technically then but this wasn’t the most inspired fight of all time. Definitely want to see Masvidal against a legit contender again next time out.

Bantamweight Fight: Dominick Cruz vs Takeya Mizugaki

Well, talk about a long time coming! This was the former champion Cruz’s first fight since October 2011 (!) after a myriad of horrendous ACL injuries put him on the shelf and caused him to have to give up his Bantamweight Title. Originally he’d been pegged to fight for the belt right away upon return, but after he pulled out of UFC 169 with another injury (torn groin) it was decided that he’d fight a slightly lower opponent. Mizugaki seemed like the perfect foil for him – a perennial contender who’d only ever lost to the very best guys in the division, and on a three-fight win streak too. To me this all depended on how rusty Cruz was after such a long layoff. I was picking him to win, but with some definite reservations.

Crowd evidently haven’t forgotten Cruz at all as he gets a pretty big pop and comes off somehow as a bigger star than he was when he was actually fighting! I guess being on a season of TUF and all over Fox broadcasts will do that when you’re a charismatic guy like Cruz is.

Fight begins and Cruz shows his usual good footwork right away to avoid some big shots from Mizugaki in the opening moments. Nice counter right hand from Cruz lands as Mizugaki comes forward. Beautiful takedown follows a right hand, just dumping Mizugaki onto his back in side mount. Mizugaki scrambles to his feet but Dominick grabs a rear waistlock and drags him down before OPENING UP with a flurry of left hands! Shot after shot lands and as Mizugaki gets up Cruz KNOCKS HIM RIGHT BACK DOWN! BRUTAL FLURRY of shots finishes things off. Jesus Christ.

Unbelievable stuff. I expected Cruz to come back a bit tentatively but man, there was nothing tentative about that mugging. It was as if Dominick loaded up all the bad luck and the shit he’d been through for the last three years and just took it out on poor Mizugaki who never stood a chance. Scary stuff. Post-fight Cruz cuts an AWESOME promo calling out TJ Dillashaw and referring to “Alpha Fails” and well, that would’ve been one of the biggest fights of 2015 except poor Dominick injured his ACL again. Hopefully he recovers more quickly this time because Cruz/Dillashaw would be awesome. This was one of the most tremendous comebacks in UFC history, no doubt.

Women’s Bantamweight Fight: Cat Zingano vs Amanda Nunes

Like Cruz before her, Zingano had of course been on the shelf for some time with an ACL injury – not quite as long as Dominick, seventeen months to be exact – but she’d also had to contend with something arguably much worse in the form of her husband’s suicide. The word initially was she’d be getting a title shot on return but instead I guess she wanted a comeback fight before Ronda and so she was paired with Nunes, who’d gone 2-0 in her UFC run thus far. I was just happy to see Cat back personally as I’m a big fan. I was taking her to win but like with Cruz I had a few reservations.

Pretty mad entrance for Cat here as she appears to be muttering to herself and looks as intense as any fighter I’ve ever seen in MMA. Real frightening stuff.

Round One and Nunes opens with a hard inside leg kick and a right hand that sets up a takedown into half-guard. Cat quickly gets to full guard and tries to scramble free, but Nunes keeps top position. Armbar attempt from Zingano but Nunes stacks up to escape and then almost winds up in a leglock before switching to get back into top position in butterfly guard. Good job from Cat to kick her away and she lands a nice upkick too, but Nunes stands over her to kick at the legs. Big right hand from Nunes drops through the guard and from there she OPENS UP with big ground-and-pound, landing some huge shots from above as Cat desperately tries to kick her away. Cat goes for another armbar as Nunes continues to pound away, but the Brazilian slips out and continues to land shots. Another good upkick lands for Zingano and she looks calm, but Nunes really goes to town with some MONSTER SHOTS that land pretty cleanly. Nunes pulls free of an armbar and goes into side mount before dropping for a leglock, but that allows Cat to move into top position and as she escapes she lands in half-guard. Big crowd pop for that one as Cat is the fan favourite here for sure. One minute to go and Cat begins to land some shots now before standing up. Nunes joins her standing and Cat glances on a superman punch before grabbing a front facelock. Crowd want knees but instead Cat HITS AN OVERHEAD SUPLEX!~! Holy shit. She lands on top and quickly steps to full mount, but Nunes hits a hip escape back to butterfly guard. Round ends with Cat on top as it sounds like she has the Irish support as you can hear the OLE OLE OLE chants raining down. Incredible first round. 10-9 Nunes but the momentum is with Zingano going into the 2nd.

Round Two and Cat throws a one-two into the clinch where she lands some heavy knees to the body and then a slicing elbow. Takedown follows and Zingano lands in side mount. Good control from Cat and she drops some elbows while looking to isolate the right arm for a possible kimura or armbar. Good job from Nunes to slip into half-guard, but she eats a big right hand in the process. More elbows land for Cat and she returns the favour from the first round by dropping BOMBS through the guard. Looks like Nunes is trying for a triangle, but Zingano avoids that and works into half-guard. More shots land for Zingano as she goes to the body and the head while looking to pass the guard. Nunes is looking badly marked up now. She looks gassed to me. Cat continues to beat her up on the ground with some really nasty elbows and punches. Leglock attempt fails for Nunes and Cat counters with a footlock attempt, but she gives up position in the process before wrestling Nunes onto her back again in the scramble. Round ends with Cat continuing to punish her with ground-and-pound. 10-9 Zingano to even things up.

Round Three and Nunes comes out swinging, but Zingano clinches and delivers some more knees before dragging her around and hitting ANOTHER overhead suplex, even cleaner this time as she lands while still holding the front headlock. Nunes gets half-guard but Cat quickly passes into full mount and from there she wears her down with body shots before posturing up to ABSOLUTELY DESTROY HER WITH ELBOWS. Nunes is sliced wide open and Cat is relentless with the elbows, just SMASHING HER until the ref calls the stoppage. Crowd go ballistic for the stoppage and quite rightfully so. Fucking tremendous fight.

Post-fight Cat can barely get through her interview with Joe Rogan as she’s so emotional. They do manage to say though that this sets her up for the title shot against Ronda Rousey finally. This was an incredible fight – a low-end FOTYC in my eyes as it was a lot like the Cruz fight previously in that it was about a returning fighter coming back from tons of adversity to win a major fight again, but where Dominick blew Mizugaki away right out of the gate, Zingano had to overcome a ton of adversity in the fight as well, but despite taking a lot of punishment her heart and will to win pulled her through, and once she took over the fight she didn’t let up for a second. The ending was pretty insane as it looked like all of the pain Cat must’ve felt over the past eighteen months or so was being taken out purely on Amanda Nunes, which is scary when you think about it. And the fact that she pours so much emotion into everything she does means she’s always going to be a big fan favourite with the crowds – although fighting like the female Matt Brown might help there too. As far as how she matches up with Ronda? I think she’s the best striker Ronda’s faced by far and also has the most heart and tenacity of any of her opponents, but the fact that she’s a bit of a slow starter might be an issue. Still, I cannot wait for that fight. Cannot WAIT.

Middleweight Fight: Yoel Romero vs Tim Kennedy

This one was massively intriguing given both men had been on fantastic runs since arriving from StrikeForce – Kennedy picking up the biggest name win in Michael Bisping, but Romero being wildly impressive too with four straight wins including a trio of knockouts. Tricky fight to pick too due to Kennedy having a lot more experience and Romero finding himself in sticky patches a couple of times (most notably against Derek Brunson), but after seeing the Cuban use his wrestling to throw a big dude like Brad Tavares around I was leaning towards him.

Round One and they circle before Kennedy glances on a body kick. Good lord is Romero HUGE for 185lbs. Knee attempt from Romero is caught but Kennedy can’t get him down. Leaping right hand lands for the Cuban. Left hook connects for Romero. He’s backing Kennedy up here. Another left hand lands for Romero and it looks like Kennedy’s bleeding. Couple of kicks glance off the body of the Cuban. Clinch is shrugged off by Romero and he hits an odd slashing backfist to the thigh. Good body kick from Romero but Kennedy answers with one of his own. Kick is caught by Kennedy and he tackles Romero down, but the Cuban pops right up and easily muscles Kennedy down. Kennedy reverses that though and gets back to his feet. Takedown attempt from Kennedy but Romero sprawls and grabs a front headlock before letting him up. Left lands for Romero and he hits a beautiful double leg, but Kennedy scrambles and gets up right away. Right hand counter lands for Romero as does a left. Kennedy looks badly busted up. He’s coming up short on his strikes too due to the speed advantage of Romero. Round ends on the feet. 10-9 Romero.

Round Two and Kennedy opens with a partially blocked body kick. Romero fires one right back that hits Kennedy’s arms. Kennedy seems to be pushing forward more in this round and he lands another body kick. Left hand glances for Romero. Lot of kicks coming from Kennedy here but he’s still coming up slightly short. Kennedy shoots for a takedown but Romero easily sprawls and then clocks him with a left hook. Combo glances for Kennedy. More punches come up a bit short for Kennedy. Series of uppercuts land from the clinch though cleanly. He follows with a takedown attempt but again Yoel easily sprawls to avoid. Another takedown is blocked but Kennedy lands with a pair of hard uppercuts from the clinch. Right hand answers for Romero. He trips Kennedy down, but Kennedy scrambles and they spin before Kennedy drops for a guillotine. Romero pops his head free though and they scramble to their feet. Kicks glance for both men before a spinning backfist lands pretty clean for Kennedy. Clinch from Romero and he forces him into the fence. Looks like Romero might be slowing down a little though. They muscle for position in the clinch and Kennedy seems to be landing the better shots inside too. Good uppercut lands for Kennedy. Seconds remaining in the round and Romero separates and lands a heavy combo, but a side kick to the body from Kennedy forces him back. Good right hand from Kennedy and a pair of uppercuts have Romero on ROLLER SKATES! Kennedy follows up with a BIG COMBO and Romero looks OUT ON HIS FEET! He stumbles backwards into the fence and Kennedy looks to put him away…..but he’s saved by the buzzer. Wow. Romero looks OUT OF IT on his stool too.

Round Three… apparently delayed because Romero can’t get off his stool and his corner seem to be stalling on leaving the cage. Joe Rogan is DISGUSTED by this as is Kennedy but Big John McCarthy somehow decides to let it go. CRAZY move as I’ve seen fights thrown out for similar stuff – Thiago Bodao vs. Massaranduba on the first season of TUF Brazil for instance.

They start the round and trade kicks….and then Romero DROPS KENNEDY WITH A STRAIGHT RIGHT! Holy shit. Kennedy pops right back up but goes down off another left and now he’s diving for a takedown! Romero avoids and drops him with an uppercut, and with Kennedy on his knees the Cuban continues to land! Kennedy gets up but he’s all over the place and he goes on the run…and Romero chases him down and LEVELS him with a left hand! Few punches on the ground follow and it’s OVER. Unbelievable.

Post-fight the crowd are booing Romero out of the building obviously due to stool-gate, and in a comical moment he chooses to completely ignore any questions about the incident, just ranting instead about God and Jesus and how much he loves the good ol’ USA. Hilarious stuff. At any rate this was an absolutely fantastic fight – it looked until about halfway through the 2nd like Romero was going to stroll to victory, but then Kennedy started to wear him down and land, and it definitely looked like Romero was out at the end of that round. I think you’ve got to blame Big John for the botch between rounds as really if Romero couldn’t get off his stool the fight should’ve been thrown out, but yeah, ignoring that for a second, for Romero to somehow come back and put Kennedy away in the third was unbelievably impressive and showed a ton of heart, something we hadn’t seen from Romero yet mainly because he’d been so dominant. I think the guy is a legit title contender and while I wouldn’t say no to a rematch with Kennedy I can definitely get behind the idea of him vs. Jacare next which seems to be the route they’re going. This was one of the most memorable finishes in UFC history to me.

Featherweight Fight: Conor McGregor vs Dustin Poirier

Despite its placement on the card for most people this was the true main event of the evening, as due to his undeniable fighting skill but more to his abrasive, confident, big star personality, McGregor had literally shot up the card and was *the* name on everyone’s lips. That goes without mentioning the crazy amount of travelling Irish fans he was bringing with him too! Poirier was undoubtedly his toughest opponent to date though – a legitimate top five fighter at 145lbs with skills in all areas – great on the ground and a heavy hitter standing too. Despite the McGregor bandwagon reaching fever pitch coming into the show I wasn’t quite sure about jumping onto it and was leaning slightly towards Poirier.

First round begins and Conor misses with a hook kick but lands on a spinning back kick to the chest. Another spin kick misses and Poirier glances on a left hand. Leg kick lands for Poirier. Crowd are LOUD. One-two from Conor connects but not cleanly and Poirier lands with a couple more low kicks. Another spin kick misses for Conor. He’s dropping his hands and taunting Poirier now. Good left hand connects for Conor but Poirier comes back with a left and an inside leg kick. Big left hook lands for McGregor and Poirier looks a bit hurt. He stays calm though and circles out before coming back with a combo. More taunting follows for McGregor and then he lands with a left hand to the side of the head that puts Poirier DOWN FACE FIRST. Couple more shots on the ground and he’s OUT. Unbelievable.

Well, I wasn’t on the bandwagon before this but I sure am now. Conor McGregor is FOR REAL. I mean, we’d seen Poirier lose to the Korean Zombie and Cub Swanson before but those were back and forth fights that could’ve gone either way. Conor came in and knocked the guy out in under two minutes and made it look EASY. The guy just has frightening power for a 145lber and I don’t think anyone in the division can take a clean shot from him. I know people keep going on about how he “hasn’t fought a wrestler” before he gets to Jose Aldo (of course he’s since beaten Dennis Siver who is another striker…) but I mean, nobody moaned that Chad Mendes hadn’t fought a world-class striker before HE fought Aldo did they? It’s not a prerequisite of a title shot after all. Not only is McGregor a MASSIVE STAR because of his personality, but he’s the real deal in the cage too and I can’t wait for his title shot.

Lightweight Fight: Eddie Alvarez vs Donald Cerrone

Original plans here were for Cowboy to be facing Khabib Nurmagomedov, but the Dagestani ended up with a knee injury and initially, Bobby Green was pegged as Cerrone’s new opponent. And then the rumors started – rumors that since Scott Coker had taken over the sleazy Bjorn Rebney at the helm of Bellator, there was a possibility that Bellator Lightweight champ Eddie Alvarez could be released from his contract to finally sign with the UFC – a move he’d tried to make in 2013 before Rebney and a bunch of legal horseshit forced him to stay with Bellator. Thankfully, where there was smoke there was indeed fire and literally like two days after Cerrone/Green had been announced, it was scrapped and Cowboy/Alvarez was made official instead. Let’s not beat around the bush – this on paper sounded like a FOTYC. As far as a pick? It was one of the tougher calls to make given Eddie hadn’t truly been tested by the elite in some time (not since his run in DREAM I’d argue) but there was no doubt he’s a fantastic fighter. I was taking Cerrone on a whim basically just because he’s COWBOY and he rules.

Round One and Cowboy glances in the opening seconds with his trademark step-in knee to the body. He throws it a couple more times and adds in a leg kick for good measure. Left hook misses for Alvarez and Cowboy lands with a counter left hook. Body kick lands for Cowboy. Good leg kick from Alvarez but Cowboy answers with one of his own and then lands the knee to the body. Big crowd chant for Cowboy. Another good leg kick lands for Cerrone. Right hand to the body from Alvarez and as Cowboy looks to clinch Eddie GOES TO TOWN with big shots from close range, absolutely NAILING Cowboy with uppercuts and hooks! More shots land for Alvarez like a replay of the legendary Don Frye flurry on Takayama and it looks like Cerrone might be hurt! Cerrone breaks with a knee and somehow he doesn’t look wobbly and lands with a jab. Guy has a tremendous chin. Takedown attempt from Alvarez follows and he drives Cowboy into the fence, but Cowboy manages to defend the takedown and remain on his feet. They break off and Eddie NAILS him with another big combo. Good body kick answers for Cerrone. Right hand counter connects for Alvarez. Leg kick from Cowboy lands cleanly. Combo glances for Eddie. Takedown attempt follows but again Cowboy shows excellent defense to avoid it and remain standing. They wind up against the fence before Cowboy breaks with a good knee. Another combo lands for Alvarez from close range though. Body kick lands for Cerrone and he comes forward swinging, but Alvarez avoids well. Takedown attempt from Cerrone and he gets Eddie down, but the former Bellator champ pops right back up. Round ends on the feet with a body kick from Cerrone. 10-9 Alvarez, largely for that one wild flurry.

Round Two and Cowboy opens with a sharp leg kick. Good right to the body from Eddie. Body kick lands for Cerrone pretty cleanly and he’s backing Eddie up more in this round. Clinch from Alvarez but this time Cerrone separates with a knee and lands with a kick to the body and then a leg kick. Really hard body kick lands for Cerrone and he follows it up with a knee to the body. Alvarez doesn’t appear to be slowing down all that much, but he does take another knee and kick to the body. Clinch from Alvarez but again Cowboy breaks with a knee to the body. Right hand glances for Eddie. Pair of hard leg kicks from Cerrone but a head kick misses. BEAUTIFUL leg kick from Cerrone buckles Eddie’s leg and another one does the same. Left hand tags Alvarez and Cowboy follows with a leg kick, but Eddie hits a takedown to slow him up. Cerrone pops right back up and lands with another knee before getting a rear waistlock. They break but not until Cowboy lands another knee to the body. Big head kick just misses for Donald. Chopping leg kick lands again for Cerrone. He’s owning this round with his kicks and knees. Left hand connects for Donald. Jab answers for Eddie and he follows with a big uppercut that just glances. Eddie’s left leg is JACKED. Cerrone continues to stalk him and he lands a vicious knee to counter a combo to the body. Seconds to go and Eddie’s continually changing stances now. Takedown is stuffed by Cowboy. Spinning backfist glances for him and that’s the round. 10-9 Cerrone.

Round Three and Eddie shoots from the off and gets to the clinch, but Cerrone stuffs the takedown and lands with a hard knee to the body. They separate and Cowboy lands a kick to the body too. Another one follows. Kick misses for Cerrone and Eddie clocks him with a right hook, but Donald recovers quickly and lands with another heavy knee to the body. Good right hand connects for Alvarez. Looks like every time Alvarez can get inside he’s landing, but if Cerrone stays on the outside he’s picking him apart. Leg kick from Donald and a combo hurts Alvarez and has him wobbled. He backs up and Cowboy opens up on him, but Alvarez survives and so Cerrone circles out smartly. Good jab from Alvarez but he’s limping badly now. Another leg kick connects for Cowboy. Head kick lands pretty flush for Cowboy but somehow Eddie takes it and stays standing. Alvarez is tough as leather. Another combo backs Alvarez up and a body kick connects again. Cerrone is looking awesome. Brutal leg kick lands again. Cerrone’s walking him down now. Trio of leg kicks have him wobbled and Cowboy follows with a flurry that ends with a pair of hard knees. Leg kick connects again and DOWN GOES ALVAREZ! Cerrone drops down into half-guard to look to finish him off, but Eddie manages to hold on to survive. Punches and hammer fists connect for Cowboy but with less than thirty seconds to go it looks like Alvarez will last the distance. Not sure why Cowboy didn’t just call him back to his feet and smash him with more kicks. Round ends there though and I’d call that a 10-8, so 29-27 for Donald Cerrone in arguably a career-best showing for him.

Official scores are all 29-28 for Cowboy. Well, this lived up to the hype for sure. Not quite a FOTYC I wouldn’t say and in fact I’d only call it the third-best fight on this show (behind Zingano/Nunes and Romero/Kennedy) but that’s more telling of an incredible show than this being a letdown or anything because it was AWESOME. It looked like Alvarez’s fight in the first round as he was able to close the distance and work from the clinch and the pocket to land bombs, and it looked like he had Cowboy in trouble at a couple of points. But once Cowboy managed to stay at distance he abused Eddie for two straight rounds with his leg kicks and body kicks and they were enough to wear Alvarez down which also allowed Cowboy to work him with knees in the clinch too. As I said I’d probably call this the best performance of Cerrone’s career as not only did he have to overcome adversity, he just looked amazing in those last two rounds and did everything right, as he didn’t swarm wildly when he had Alvarez hurt which could’ve cost him given Eddie’s punching power in the pocket. The guy has improved dramatically this year alone but somehow he remains probably the most exciting fighter to watch in all of MMA. He’s fantastic and should be a role model for all MMA fighters because rather than complain about his pay or sit out with contract disputes or put together pissy lawsuits and what-not he just gets in there and FIGHTS and that’s why he *is* being paid big money and why Dana and the boys love him and will probably look after him for the rest of his career. As for Alvarez? I don’t think he loses much with this defeat – he ended up faced with a top five fighter at the peak of his career in his UFC debut, it wasn’t exactly an easy out! I think he’ll recover in his next fight and entrench himself firmly in the top ten where he belongs.

UFC World Flyweight Title: Demetrious Johnson vs Chris Cariaso

While this was hardly Jones vs. Cormier, I don’t think it was as bad a main event as some were making out. I even heard people saying they should’ve just not had this fight on the show and main evented with McGregor/Poirier or Cowboy/Alvarez which is crazy to me – unless you have a real massive superfight like Rashad vs. Rampage or the upcoming Silva vs. Diaz, UFC should always main event their PPVs with a title match in my opinion. Admittedly this wasn’t the most intriguing one – I’m still not sure how Cariaso got a title shot off the back of a bunch of dull fights and wins over Iliarde Santos, Danny Martinez and Louis Smolka, but I guess Zuffa just wanted a challenger of the month type and didn’t want to waste someone they’d like to build like Lineker or Horiguchi, and of course Mighty Mouse has already beaten Benavidez, Dodson, McCall, Moraga and Bagautinov in title fights. On the plus side, this looked like a showcase fight for the champ and a chance for him to gain a highlight reel finish on a show that – thanks to the powers of CONOR – there would hopefully be more eyes on than usual.

First round and even with nothing being landed in the first thirty seconds you can see Mighty Mouse is moving at a totally different speed to Cariaso. Looks like he’s moving in fast-forward. Cariaso is coming up short on all of his early strikes. Right hand glances for Johnson. Crowd are dead which is super disappointing given how Mighty Mouse has performed recently. Takedown attempt from the champ and he slams Cariaso to the ground in half-guard and immediately works to pass. Looks like he’s practically got full mount in fact, but Cariaso manages to regain half-guard and then full butterfly guard. Slick pass into side mount follows. Cariaso hip escapes back to half-guard right away though. He’s doing a good defensive job from his back. Armbar attempt is shrugged off and Johnson continues to work to pass, landing a nice knee to the body as Cariaso manages to use the fence to stand back up. They’re in the clinch now and Cariaso can’t seem to shake Johnson off as he lands another knee to the body. Couple more follow and force Cariaso to drop for his own takedown attempt. Mighty Mouse easily sprawls to avoid that and continues to control the challenger before they break off. HARD body kick lands for the champ and sets up another clinch. Cariaso looks painfully outmatched here, even moreso than Bagautinov did. Seconds to go and they break, and Cariaso manages to catch him with a leg kick. Johnson responds with a HUGE overhand right that rocks Cariaso’s world, and then follows with a knee that has him in deep trouble! Head kick misses though and that’s the round. Easy 10-9 for Johnson.

Second round and Cariaso opens with some kicks, but they don’t land and he looks very wary of Mighty Mouse’s attacks now. Body kick lands for the champ before Cariaso slips to his back off a leg kick. Mighty Mouse drops down into half-guard, but Cariaso moves back to full guard quickly. Slick pass follows and Johnson gets the mounted crucifix and lands some nasty shots. Cariaso looks stuck and from there the champ continues to elbow him. Cariaso tries to roll, but Mighty Mouse traps his left arm into a kimura and tightens it down for the tapout.

Mighty Mouse is just a beast at this point. This was as one-sided as I expected it to be – a total squash match – but thankfully Johnson didn’t play with his food and put Cariaso away in swift order. I honestly don’t know who can give this dude a real challenge at this point – maybe John Dodson as I think he’s got the speed to match Mighty Mouse and he did have him hurt in their previous fight, but then Johnson’s improved his striking a ton since then and by the later rounds he was smashing Dodson up anyway. There are some interesting challengers on the horizon if they can get that far – Henry Cejudo, Wilson Reis, Kyoji Horiguchi for instance – but I don’t know if any of them can touch Mighty Mouse who might be pound-for-pound the best in the world at this point. It’s just a pity he doesn’t sell his fights better because he just doesn’t come off like a star – I guess the hope for Zuffa has to be that someone can come along and be Chael Sonnen to his Anderson Silva, because I don’t think he gets dethroned any time soon.

-Joe and Goldie wrap up the night with some discussion and highlights and we’re done. Whew.

Final Thoughts….

This show ROCKS. Probably the best PPV of 2014 in fact (although I might change my mind when I rewatch UFC 181…) and honestly the only thing stopping me giving it the full monty is the fact that a bunch of the prelims were slow-ish and made the show drag a bit due to the lack of finishes – basically Lee/Tuck, Howard/Ebersole, Cote/Thompson and Masvidal/Krause. Everything from there onwards though was incredible – the wild return of Dominick Cruz, two FOTYCs in Zingano/Nunes and Kennedy/Romero, Conor McGregor proving his bite’s as big as his bark, Cerrone vs. Alvarez living up to the hype and then a fun squash match in the main. Basically if you start at the Cruz fight it’s one of the best UFC shows of all time. Thumbs way up for this one.

Best Fight: Zingano vs. Nunes
Worst Fight: Howard vs. Ebersole

Overall Rating: ****3/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman: