UFC 178: An Early Look at the Biggest Card of 2014

Tim McTiernan@tmt2393Correspondent IJuly 15, 2014

UFC 178: An Early Look at the Biggest Card of 2014

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    Normally, the UFC's year-end event is the biggest card of the year. Past events have featured Anderson Silva vs. Chris Weidman II, Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos II, Brock Lesnar vs. Alistair Overeem and more.

    However, this year it looks like UFC 178 on September 27 has a chance of being the biggest card of the year. The main event is a rematch between current light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and the man who gave him his toughest fight yet, Alexander Gustafsson.

    When these two first met at UFC 165 in 2013, Jones walked away with an incredibly close unanimous-decision victory (48-47, 48-47, 49-46).

    In addition to that fight, a former champion is making his return, a rising title contender looks to keep his momentum and a key fight takes place in the women's bantamweight division.

    Let's take an early look at the biggest card of 2014: UFC 178.

Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson

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    The main event of the card features a light heavyweight title fight between the champion Jon Jones and the No. 1 challenger Alexander Gustafsson.

    This fight is a rematch of their previous title fight, which took place at UFC 165. Jones won the unanimous decision that night, although many thought Gustafsson would win when the scorecards were read. That was not to be, and Jones remained champion.

    Each has fought once since their title fight, with Jones winning a unanimous decision over Glover Teixeira for his seventh straight title defense. Gustafsson faced Jimi Manuwa and scored a second-round TKO, which would also earn him bonuses for Fight of the Night and Performance of the Night.

    Gustafsson gave Jones the closest fight of his career when they met the first time, and he's likely to be even more motivated and driven to get that title when they square off again.

    Their first fight won both Fight of the Night and Fight of the Year from numerous publications. There's no reason to believe the second will be any less outstanding.

Dominick Cruz vs. Takeya Mizugaki

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    In what's presumed to be the co-main event, former bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz will be returning from a nearly three-year layoff to face the surging Takeya Mizugaki.

    Cruz's last fight came in October 2011, when he defended his bantamweight title against Demetrious Johnson—who is now the flyweight champion. Cruz was then coaching on Season 15 of The Ultimate Fighter opposite Urijah Faber, whom Cruz was supposed to defend the title against.

    Unfortunately, Cruz tore his ACL and was forced to have surgery. Seven months after that surgery, he had to have a second ACL surgery after his body rejected the first. Then some time after that, he was forced to drop out of a scheduled title unification fight when he tore his groin. With that, he vacated his title, and Renan Barao was promoted from interim champion to undisputed champion.

    Takeya Mizugaki has fought six times since Cruz's last fight, going 5-1, with five wins in a row. Until this current streak, he had fought nine times in the UFC and WEC, alternating losses and wins since 2009.

    On this streak, Mizugaki has won five decision victories over Bryan Caraway, Erik Perez, Nam Phan and others.

    This is a great bout for both fighters. Mizugaki gets a chance to put a huge name on his resume and bolster his credentials for a title shot, while Cruz gets a chance to fight a solid fighter before jumping back into the top tier of the division.

Tim Kennedy vs. Yoel Romero

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    This middleweight fight between Tim Kennedy and Yoel Romero is very interesting.

    Kennedy is currently on a four-fight win streak, including having won all three of his UFC fights. Since 2010 he is 6-1, with the only loss coming to Luke Rockhold. His six wins have also been over impressive competition, including Robbie Lawler and Michael Bisping.

    For Romero this is a big step up in competition. He is 4-0 in the UFC and 8-1 in his career, with the lone loss coming to Rafael Cavalcante in 2011. Romero has finished his competition with strikes in three of his four UFC fights and has earned one Knockout of the Night and one Fight of the Night award. In addition, he has won seven of his eight career fights by (T)KO.

    Kennedy is currently ranked No. 6 in the middleweight division, while Romero is ranked No. 11. A win for Kennedy would possibly push him into serious title consideration along with Rockhold, Vitor Belfort and Ronaldo Souza, while a win for Romero would move him into the Top 10 and establish him as a threat to anyone in the division.

Cat Zingano vs. Amanda Nunes

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    The next scrap is a key fight in the women's bantamweight division, featuring Cat Zingano returning from injury to face off against Amanda Nunes.

    Zingano was last seen in April 2013 when she beat Miesha Tate by TKO in the third round to move her undefeated record up to 8-0. After that win she was supposed to coach Season 18 of The Ultimate Fighter opposite Ronda Rousey, whom Zingano would then face for the title.

    Unfortunately, she suffered a knee injury that required surgery, which forced her to drop out of coaching and out of the fight. When she returns in September, it will be after a 17-month layoff.

    Nunes is 9-3 in her career and 2-0 inside the Octagon. She has won both of her UFC fights by TKO in 3:56 and 2:08, respectively.

    She is currently ranked at No. 8 in the division, but a win over Zingano—No. 1 in the division—would be huge for Nunes' resume. With nine finishes in nine wins, Nunes will come out looking to put Zingano away and make a statement.

John Howard vs. Brian Ebersole

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    In the welterweight division, John "Doomsday" Howard will be squaring off against the unorthodox Brian Ebersole.

    This will be Howard's fourth UFC fight in his second UFC run. He won his first two fights against Uriah Hall and Siyar Bahadurzada before dropping his most recent one to Ryan LaFlare.

    In the past, Howard has been a solid competitor but has faltered against higher levels of competition. While Hall and Bahadurzada are not the best the division has to offer, they are likely Howard's most impressive wins yet and show he is improving as a fighter.

    Ebersole has been with the UFC since 2011, when he faced—and beat—Chris Lytle on very short notice. In the Octagon, Ebersole has racked up a record of 4-2 with one finish and one Fight of the Night award. Unfortunately, his two losses have come in his last two fights, where he lost decisions to James Head and Rick Story.

    Ebersole may not be cut with a loss, but losing three in a row never looks good to the bosses. Expect him to come out fighting like his UFC career depends on it, and expect Howard to look to send Ebersole flying out the door.

Patrick Cote vs. Stephen Thompson

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    The final fight that's been announced for this card thus far is another welterweight matchup—this one between the former middleweight title challenger Patrick Cote and Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson.

    Cote has been impressive since returning to the Octagon in 2012. His first fight back was a loss to Cung Le, but since then he has won three straight fights, including two since dropping to the welterweight division. 

    Thompson is 4-1 in the Octagon and 9-1 overall in his career. In the UFC, Thompson has won three of his fights by (T)KO and one by unanimous decision. He has also earned Knockout of the Night and Performance of the Night bonuses. His only loss came at the hands of Matt Brown, who is now only one win away from a title shot.

    Thompson may seem like the early favorite in this one, but don't forget Cote was the first person in the UFC to ever make it to the third round against Anderson Silva.