On occasion, the UFC finds itself in a real pickle.
The promotion has cards announced, venues booked and tickets sold, and no fight. Now, that wasn't the case even as recently as a few years ago, but trying to deliver nearly a card per week across a handful of platforms can make strange bedfellows.
It can cause them to be cancelled outright.
It can cause them to be headlined by guys no one really cares about.
It can cause them to be headlined by guys no one really cares about for a title.
Whatever. Buy it if you like it—don't if you don't.
But in the event you are thinking about buying, you should probably know what you'll be getting yourself into come September's UFC 178.
Initially, the card was to be headlined by that quarrelsome duo of press conference brawlers, Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier. Those dudes are big, and they hate each other. Once they took it to the streets (foyer?) and started throwing 'bows on a press tour, it was all but a guarantee to be the biggest fight of the year.
In its place?
You've got a champion no one cares about fighting a challenger no one knows about. They're small, and they don't seem to have any real opinion on each other. Certainly no press conference 'bows to be thrown, that's for sure.
Yes, that sound you hear is the sound of money not being spent and pay-per-views not being bought.
Demetrious Johnson, fresh off his dreadful debut as a pay-per-view headliner, will defend the flyweight title against Chris Cariaso, who is basically just a guy.
He's better than some and not as good as others. He's probably good to his wife and his mom. Yup, just a guy.
Presently sitting at No. 8 on the UFC's official flyweight rankings, Cariaso is a 33-year-old former bantamweight who sits at 4-2 as a flyweight and 17-5 overall. Every time he's jumped up in competition at 125 he's lost—Jussier Formiga and John Moraga are both higher ranked and hold wins over him—and he most recently managed to score a split decision over Louis Smolka.
Why yes, Guy Who Just Asked, that is the Louis Smolka who doesn't have a Wikipedia page!
You can all have a moment to tug your collars and wring your hands now. We'll wait.
Cariaso has looked solid at times as a flyweight, but he's essentially become a title challenger by happenstance. Anyone who deserved it as much or more on merit was tied up fighting someone way tougher than Smolka; anyone else had either already fought Johnson or was coming off a loss.
That isn't to say he doesn't have a hope (we all remember how those claims can sometimes end up), but it is to say that three wins over totally irrelevant names in the promotion's thinnest division do not a challenger make.
At a time when Johnson is only getting better and pulling further away from the 125-pound pack, a fight with Cariaso is about as easy as it's going to get for him as champion.
He's made better men look awful in his reign, and unless he shows up totally underestimating his foe, this should resemble his win over Ali Bagautinov. The only difference could potentially be that this one will be more one-sided.
|Demetrious Johnson UFC Title Defenses|
|Ali Bagautinov||UFC 174||UD5||5:00||June 14, 2014|
|Joseph Benavidez||UFC on FOX 9||KO1||2:08||December 14, 2013|
|John Moraga||UFC on FOX 8||SUB5||3:43||July 27, 2013|
|John Dodson||UFC on FOX 6||UD5||5:00||January 26, 2013|
It's not particularly fair to Cariaso, either, as he's earned a chance to rematch Moraga or Formiga or get another highly ranked name thanks to his win streak. He's obviously not going to turn down a title shot, but there's been little to suggest he's ready for one in his performances.
A slower build would have been much more reasonable and perhaps would have made him more of an obvious, saleable threat if he was in a title fight he'd truly earned down the line.
All in all though, that's what you're looking at in Cariaso. The next man to challenge for the flyweight title isn't flashy, hasn't gotten into the fight via any wildly convincing exhibition in the cage and could be in for a very long night at UFC 178.
That's why they fight the fights, though: With one punch, he could wake up the next day as champion of the world.
Everyone will know who he is then.