A look at UFC 178...
Even though August is just getting underway and there are a bunch of quality scraps on the calendar for the month ahead, it’s impossible to not look ahead to UFC 178 and the jam-packed lineup that will hit the Octagon on September 27 inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
If Monday’s press tour kickoff was any indication, the attention and energy surrounding this event is only going to keep climbing as the number of sleeps between now and this collection of all-star caliber contests counts down.
Headlining the festivities is a battle between heated rivals Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier for the UFC light heavyweight title. Originally scheduled to rematch Swedish challenger Alexander Gustafsson, “Bones” will now defend his title against the two-time Olympian and unbeaten Cormier - the man he said he wanted to fight earlier this year and one that has been calling him out ever since he arrived in the UFC from Strikeforce.
Though it hasn’t been on the books for long, the rivalry between these two was heated before it was signed and has only gotten hotter since, with the two combatants going back and forth on social media and taking every opportunity to snipe at each other whenever they can.
For the undefeated Cormier (15-0, 4-0 UFC), this is an opportunity to claim the first major championship of his career. After coming close at every level during his wrestling career, earning a pair of regional titles early in his MMA career and winning the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix, one of the few goals “DC” has left to accomplish is bringing another UFC championship back to the American Kickboxing Academy.
Jones, on the other hand, is not only fighting to maintain his firm hold on the light heavyweight title, but also bring himself one step closer to matching Anderson Silva’s records for most consecutive UFC victories and consecutive successful title defenses as well. Should the 27-year-old become the first man to defeat Cormier, he’ll also continue to strengthen his case for being considered the greatest of all-time.
As great as the main event is, the rest of the card is equally as compelling.
Joining the light heavyweight headliners on this card will be featherweight force of nature Conor McGregor, who makes his Las Vegas debut opposite surging contender Dustin “The Diamond” Poirier in a bout that carries real ramifications for the 145-pound ranks.
25-year-old Louisiana native Poirier has rattled off three straight victories, including back-to-back stoppage wins, to position himself within arm’s reach of a title shot. While challenging for the featherweight strap is the ultimate goal, the American Top Team representative jumped at the chance to face “The Notorious” in hopes of being the one to halt his momentum and further solidify his position as one of the elite competitors in what is quickly becoming one of the most competitive weight classes in the UFC.
As for McGregor, who turned 26 just a few days prior to thrilling the partisan crowd at the O2 Arena in his hometown of Dublin with a first-round TKO victory over Diego Brandao earlier this summer, he’s hell-bent on making the championship visions that dominate his dreams a reality, and Poirier is merely the next obstacle in his way.
The charismatic and dynamic fighter showed no ill effects of the knee surgery that sidelined him for eight months when he returned to action against Brandao and has continued to thrive under the increased pressure that comes with commanding as much attention as he does. A win over the 16-3 Poirier, who is currently ranked No. 5 in the featherweight division, will go a long way to silence the critics that still question whether McGregor is deserving of his position in the division’s Top 10 and the increasingly bright spotlight that currently shines on him wherever he turns up.
UFC 178 will also feature a middleweight battle between a pair of former Strikeforce competitors that are currently charging up the rankings as US Army Ranger Tim Kennedy squares off with 2000 Olympic silver medalist Yoel Romero.
Kennedy enters the bout riding a four-fight winning streak, the last three of those victories having come inside the Octagon. Most recently, the Team Jackson-Winkeljohn fighter scored the biggest win of his career, controlling the action against Michael Bisping to earn a unanimous decision win over “The Count” back in April.
Perfect since moving down to middleweight, Romero carries a similar four-fight winning streak into this one and is coming off a dominant effort against Brad Tavares. Prior to halting the Hawaiian contender’s climb up the rankings, Romero collected consecutive come-from-behind stoppage wins over Derek Brunson and Ronny Markes after heading into the third round of each contest down on the scorecards.
Fresh off his split decision win over former Strikeforce champion Josh Thomson last month on FOX, Bobby Green will make the quick turnaround to face fellow lightweight standout Jorge Masvidal, who also picked up a hard-earned win in San Jose. Though not as established as some of their fellow contenders in the deep 155-pound ranks, Green and Masvidal have been turning heads of late and improving with each appearance, making this an under the radar contest you don’t want to miss.
But wait - there’s more!
The September 27 event in Las Vegas will also mark the return of two dynamic contenders, as women’s bantamweight Cat Zingano steps back into the cage opposite Amanda Nunes and former bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz will fight for the first time in nearly three years when he faces off with Takeya Mizugaki.
Zingano was primed to be a breakout star for the UFC, turning in a gusty, emotional third-round stoppage win against Miesha Tate in her promotional debut to earn a spot opposite champion Ronda Rousey as a coach on Season 18 of The Ultimate Fighter before challenging “Rowdy” for the title later in the year.
Just before filming got underway, Zingano suffered a major knee injury that forced her off the reality TV competition and out of her impending bout with Rousey. As she started to work her way back, the 8-0 Colorado native suffered a second knee injury that required her to undergo another surgical procedure. After 18 months on the sidelines, Zingano looks to re-establish herself as a force to be reckoned with in the women’s 135-pound ranks by bringing Nunes’ modest two-fight winning streak to an end in impressive fashion.
As daunting as the road back to the Octagon has been for Zingano, Cruz has also endured multiple knee surgeries and has been sidelined for twice as long, while also being stripped of the UFC bantamweight title.
Cruz last competed in October 2011, earning a unanimous decision victory over current flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson. The win - his tenth consecutive victory and second successful title defense—set up a trilogy bout with long-time rival Urijah Faber.
“The California Kid” was (and still is) the only man to defeat Cruz, but “The Dominator” earned a measure of revenge by taking a decision from the Sacramento-based Faber at UFC 132. With their series level at one win each, a rubber match was scheduled to take place after the champion and challenger served as coaches on The Ultimate Fighter Live.
Disaster struck when Cruz suffered a torn ACL late in the season, and was replaced in the fight against Faber by Renan Barao. Unfortunately for the San Diegan, his ligament replacement surgery did not take and he was forced to undergo a second procedure to repair the initial injury.
Late last year, Cruz appeared ready to return and was booked into a title unification bout with Barao that would serve as the main event of UFC 169 in Newark, New Jersey, but it wasn’t meant to be. Roughly a month before his bout with the Brazilian interim champion, Cruz suffered a groin tear that forced him out of the contest and ultimately led to the UFC stripping him of the bantamweight title.
Now, nearly three years since he last fought, the former champion will begin his march back to the belt by taking on the Japanese veteran Mizugaki, who has won five consecutive contests and six of his last eight in the UFC.
In addition to all that, UFC 178 also includes welterweight bouts between John Howard and Brian Ebersole, and Patrick Cote taking on Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson, a lightweight battle between Jon Tuck and Kevin Lee, and former Ultimate Fighter finalist Manny Gamburyan making his bantamweight debut against Cody Gibson.
UFC 178 takes place on Saturday, September 27 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.