There was a lot of anticipation in the buildup to UFC 178, and expectations were set as high as any card in recent memory.
A handful of high-profile scraps littered the lineup, and everything built toward the three big fights at the top of the card. In addition to the featherweight feud between Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor, hard-charging lightweight Donald Cerrone was set to welcome former Bellator champion Eddie Alvarez to the UFC fold. The action at UFC 178 would be capped off by a flyweight title bout where champion Demetrious Johnson would look to continue his streak of impressive title defenses, fighting heavy underdog Chris Cariaso.
Heated pre-fight faceoffs and months of trash-talking came to an end Saturday night in Las Vegas, and the action absolutely lived up to the hype. The violence was rolling at a steady clip heading into the final three bouts on the card, and the intensity definitely amplified when Poirier and McGregor stepped in to handle their business.
There has been a ton of hype surrounding the slick-talking Irishman since he stormed onto the UFC scene in 2013, and the Louisiana native was supposed to be his first big test in the featherweight ranks. That said, McGregor was confident The Diamond wouldn't be much of a challenge at all, and the Irishman proved clairvoyant when he put Poirier away with a flurry in the opening round. The 26-year-old Dublin native said he was going to knock Poirier out in the first round, and McGregor is apparently a man of his word.
While the scrappy Irish star attempted to steal the show at UFC 178, neither Cerrone nor Alvarez was willing to let the "Fight of the Night" bonus slip away. Cerrone, a 31-year-old Jackson-Winkeljohn fighter, had been wrecking shop on his way up the divisional ladder, and while it was Alvarez's debut Saturday night, a victory over Cerrone would put him right in the mix for a potential title shot.
The bout figured to be a ruckus, and that's exactly what unfolded when Cerrone and Alvarez got to work. Although the former Bellator champion took the opening round, Cerrone surged back to turn the tide in the final two frames. He used his superior striking skills to batter Alvarez for the final 10 minutes en route to a unanimous-decision victory and picked up one of the biggest wins of his career in the process.
While the main event typically draws the most attention, there wasn't a ton of excitement surrounding the flyweight title tilt between Johnson and Cariaso. Nevertheless, Mighty Mouse added another impressive chapter to his dominant title reign as he battered Kamikaze until he ended the fight with a kimura in the second round. The win stamped another impressive chapter for a fighter who is definitely one of the pound-for-pound best in the world.
In addition to the mayhem atop the card, plenty of face-punching goodness went down Saturday night at the MGM Grand. Let's take a look at the good, bad and strange from UFC 178.
Johnson crushed Cariaso in the exact fashion he should have in the main event at UFC 178. Mighty Mouse is amazing and put on a dominant performance. There isn't much more that needs to be said about that, so let's move on.
When Donald Cerrone's name is on a fight card, there is going to be a ruckus. Cowboy only knows how to fight one way: exciting.
The perennial lightweight contender had won four consecutive bouts coming into his tilt with Eddie Alvarez at UFC 178 and was getting within striking distance of a potential title shot. That said, Cerrone has been near the top of the ladder before but suffered setbacks when the stakes were at their highest.
Yet Cerrone has looked like a different animal during his recent hot streak, and those ways continued against the former Bellator champion. Despite a slow start in the first round, Cerrone bounced back to thump Alvarez for the final two frames.
The former WEC title challenger stalked Alvarez around the Octagon and peppered him with vicious leg kicks and knees to the body. In the final minute of the fight, a Cerrone leg kick crumpled Alvarez to the canvas, and the Colorado native spent the remaining moments of the bout handing out punishment from the top position.
The end result was a unanimous-decision victory and his fifth consecutive win over tough competition. While the 155-pound strap is on hold until champion Anthony Pettis and Gilbert Melendez handle their business at UFC 181 on Dec. 6, the Albuquerque transplant put himself in position to get the next shot at the lightweight title.
Then again, Cerrone's modus operandi is fighting anyone, anywhere, and there's a chance he'll take another bout in the interim just because he's Donald Cerrone.
Another fighter who is potentially on his way to a title opportunity is Conor McGregor.
The SBG Ireland representative has made a huge impact since hitting the UFC in 2013 and is living up to every ounce of hype he's created. Notorious put the entire featherweight division on notice before he ever stepped foot inside the Octagon, and he's been leaving a path of destruction on his way to the top of the weight class.
The Irishman took another huge step up the divisional hierarchy at UFC 178 when he folded Dustin Poirier in the first round of their tilt. From the opening bell, McGregor stalked down the American Top Team fighter until the opportunity he was looking for presented itself. The Dublin native landed a left hand that put Poirier on the canvas and then used a flurry of hammerfists to finish the job. The end result was another dominant showing from the rising star, and it very well could have allowed him to leapfrog his peers in the hunt for a shot at the featherweight title.
*** After being away from the Octagon for nearly three years, Dominick Cruz made it look as if he never left with a 61-second trouncing of Takeya Mizugaki at UFC 178. The Dominator poured it on from the opening bell as he took the savvy veteran to the ground and beat the brakes off Mizugaki with a brutal flurry of ground-and-pound madness.
The victory was as dominant as it gets inside the Octagon, and it will be interesting to see what the UFC chooses to do with Cruz. The former bantamweight champion had his title stripped back in February, and his performance Saturday night has earned him an opportunity to face current champion T.J. Dillashaw in Cruz's next fight, according to Dave Doyle of MMAFighting.
*** Another fighter who battled back from a long layoff to find success at UFC 178 was Cat Zingano. Alpha endured personal tragedy and a lengthy recovery from a knee injury to re-emerge Saturday night and put a beating on Amanda Nunes. While Zingano was on the receiving end of a drubbing in the first round, the Colorado native rebounded with vigor and turned the tide en route to finishing Nunes with ground-and-pound in the final frame. With the victory, Zingano keeps her undefeated record intact and puts herself in position to get the next shot at Ronda Rousey and the women's bantamweight title.
*** The lightweight division is one of the most talent-rich collectives under the UFC banner, and Jorge Masvidal is clawing his way up the ladder at 155 pounds. Gamebred picked up his third consecutive victory when he outstruck James Krause to pick up the unanimous-decision victory Saturday night.
While both fighters are known for their rangy brand of striking, Masvidal's aggression ultimately made the difference. He used combinations to keep Krause on his heels throughout the entire bout. Masvidal's victory at UFC 178 makes him successful in three of his four showings since coming over from Strikeforce, and he will definitely draw a big name in his next outing.
*** The "prospect" label can be too heavy for some fighters to carry, but Stephen Thompson appears to be carrying expectations just fine. Wonderboy picked up his fourth consecutive victory inside the Octagon when he picked apart veteran Patrick Cote at UFC 178. While The Predator's signature iron chin held up throughout the three-round affair, the scrappy Canadian had no answer for Thompson's precision striking. With the win, Thompson logged another impressive performance and took another step closer to drawing one of the bigger names in the welterweight division.
*** Kevin Lee has looked impressive thus far under the UFC banner, and the 22-year-old picked up his second consecutive victory by defeating Jon Tuck on the Fight Pass portion of the card. The Xtreme Couture-trained fighter worked an effective game plan that allowed him to batter the Super Saiyan throughout the 15-minute affair. With the victory, Lee has now found success in two of his three showings inside the Octagon, and the future looks bright for the Detroit native.
*** Mixed martial arts is a game that requires constant evolution, and Manny Gamburyan is a fighter who has been trying to reinvent himself and find his footing for the past few years. The Anvil has tried his hand in several weight classes but has ultimately struggled to find success.
The alumnus of The Ultimate Fighter Season 5 made his bantamweight debut Saturday night against Cody Gibson and put on a memorable performance. After getting smashed with a low blow and dropped from a big right hand, the savvy veteran battled back to earn the submission victory via guillotine choke. The win was his first in more than a year, and Gamburyan will be a solid addition to the 135-pound fold.
Eddie Alvarez fought his heart out at UFC 178, but it ultimately wasn't the debut The Underground King wanted to make.
After a lengthy court battle with his former promotion delayed his arrival to the UFC for more than a year, the former Bellator lightweight champion finally made his inaugural showing Saturday night inside the Octagon. The Philadelphia native wasted no time jumping into the deep end of the pool as he squared off with Donald Cerrone for his first test under the UFC banner.
While the Team Blackzilians fighter got off to a solid start against Cowboy, the rangy striker eventually found his rhythm and started picking Alvarez apart over the final two rounds. Yet despite Alvarez being on the receiving end of a brutal striking clinic, he continued to scrap until the final bell sounded. Again, it was a valiant effort from Alvarez against a red-hot Cerrone, but he wasn't able to make the impact he'd hoped to make upon arrival.
There is no doubt Alvarez is one of the top 155-pound fighters in the world, and his tilt with Cerrone delivered the expected excitement, but it is going to be interesting to see how he fares in the shark tank that is the UFC's lightweight division. That said, there appeared to be a huge size difference between the two fighters, and a possible drop to featherweight could be in Alvarez's future.
Anytime Brian Ebersole brings his "Hairrow" into the Octagon, there is a place reserved for its glory in this column. There are no words that can do Ebersole's chest hair proper justice, so we'll simply leave it be in all of its strange and wondrous beauty.
One of the most curious elements surrounding UFC 178 was the lack of promotional focus put on the main event matchup between flyweight champion Johnson and Cariaso. Granted, Cariaso being a huge underdog with few giving him much of a chance in the bout didn't help matters, but other hovering circumstances seemed to push the main event to the back burner in the lead-up to the card Saturday night.
With a huge personality like McGregor and fan favorites Cerrone and Alvarez on the docket, there wasn't much spotlight left when it came to Johnson vs. Cariaso. That said, there is also a disconnect with the fanbase when it comes to the lighter weight classes, and it's a stigma that Johnson has been battling since claiming the flyweight title back in 2012. There is no doubting that Mighty Mouse is one of the pound-for-pound best in the sport, but getting fans to care about watching him fight is a problem for the UFC.
The promotion was battered with heavy criticism when it put Johnson in the main event slot for UFC 174 back in June, and it took a different approach with how it handled things at UFC 178. Rather than force the flyweight champion to anchor the event, it put him atop a name-heavy card that had high-profile tilts that were all but guaranteed to deliver. Therefore, if Johnson cruised to victory like many believed he would (and certainly did), the success of the event wouldn't hinge on him.
Perhaps this will be the model the UFC uses to plug Johnson in with the fanbase going forward as it continues to battle uphill with selling its flyweight champion to viewers.
On a final and truly strange note, a few extra seconds—or 29 of them—can make all the difference between victory and defeat inside the Octagon.
After losing the opening round to Yoel Romero, former Strikeforce title challenger Tim Kennedy surged back in a big way in the second frame. The decorated military veteran began to find his range and put a blistering combination on the Cuban powerhouse that had Romero hanging on by a thread when the bell sounded. The Olympic silver medalist was still wobbly when he went to his corner, and it was clear the tide of momentum had turned in the fight.
That said, Romero's corner was slow to clear out of the Octagon, and the start of the third round was delayed because of their antics. Referee John McCarthy began barking instructions for Romero to get off his stool and prepare to fight, but the American Top Team fighter continued to sit and ignored the warnings. Frustrated with the delay, Kennedy walked across the cage to voice his opinion, but McCarthy instructed him to return to his corner.
Romero eventually got up off the stool and the round began, but there is no doubt those extra moments gave the exhausted fighter a much-needed breather. Yet despite the outrage from Kennedy and his corner, the fight continued, and Romero put the Jackson/Winkeljohn-trained fighter away shortly after.
Romero apologized for the delay in his post-fight interview with Joe Rogan, but there will certainly be controversy in the aftermath of his TKO victory.
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.