UFC 177 now features a pair of title fights. That would normally be cause for a lot of excitement from MMA fans. Instead, we’re left scratching our heads in confusion.

The card’s headliner is a rematch between former UFC bantamweight champ Renan Barao and T.J. Dillashaw, the man who took Barao’s title at UFC 173. The recently added co-headliner is a flyweight title fight between champion Demetrious Johnson and challenger Chris Cariaso. Cariaso is riding a three-fight winning streak and has been with the promotion since the WEC merger, but let’s call this what it is: one of the worst title match-ups the UFC has ever put together.

Cariaso has won three straight fights, but what about the level of competition he’s seen in those contests? Illiarde Santos isn’t even in the UFC anymore, Danny Martinez has yet to win a fight inside the Octagon and Louis Smolka is 1-1 in his UFC tenure. Cariaso’s opponents in the flyweight division have a combined record of 1-8 in the UFC. Yes, you read that right, the next title challenger in the UFC flyweight division has wins over guys who have combined to win a single fight in the promotion. That’s not to mention the fact Cariaso has only a single win against a top-10 opponent. That win came in the bantamweight division way back in 2012, when he defeated Takeya Mizugaki at UFC 144.

A colleague of mine, Eric Reinert, composed an article in defense of this match-up. He presented some valid points as to why this fight is happening, with timing and necessity of a title fight to help build up a weak card being the primary reasons that justify the pairing. Yes, UFC 177 definitely needed some help to get pay-per-view buys following the dismal showing by UFC 173, which featured the same headlining duo. However, you could say that about virtually every UFC pay-per-view nowadays. They’ve become so top heavy that without a strong main event, the card either completely fails at the box office or gets canceled entirely (see: UFC 151 and UFC 176).

And yes, “Mighty Mouse” is running short on challengers. Outside of John Dodson (injured until next year) and John Lineker (issues making weight), there are few viable options for the UFC to sell to fans. But is that how the UFC should be awarding title shots, by default? It’s pretty telling about the depth (or lack thereof) for the flyweight division that a guy with a three-fight winning streak over some unranked competition would be awarded an opportunity against the champion.

The fight looks to be set up to give fans another reminder of just how dominant Johnson has been during his run at 125 pounds. There’s only one problem: fans already know this. As Mr. Reinert pointed out in his editorial, he, along with quite a few MMA fans, already hold Johnson in the same regard as Anderson Silva, Jon Jones and Ronda Rousey in that they’re so dominant, fans tune in to watch them overwhelm the opposition. While Reinert may be content to drop $50 to watch a guy dominate the opposition, I don’t see how the UFC can sell that idea to fans unless the fighter is handing out some ungodly form of violence like Silva or the Mike Tyson of old. Fights are supposed to be competitive on paper and in the cage. Although it’s true fights aren’t fought on paper, the only reason the UFC is making this fight is to increase the buy rate of UFC 177. In that method of thinking, I’d say they’ve done very little to move the needle of fan interest.

Reinert does bring up a good point in comparing Cariaso’s fight to Dillashaw being bumped up to face Barao at UFC 173. Dillashaw hadn’t defeated a quality opponent on his way to the top either. But for all the similarities with both men playing the underdog, there’s one glaring difference between Dillashaw vs. Barao I and the upcoming Cariaso vs. Johnson bout. With each fight in the UFC, Dillashaw demonstrated to fans that he was evolving into the complete fighter he is today. There was visible improvement in his game. Dillashaw appeared to be a new fighter every time he stepped foot in the Octagon, and his UFC 173 performance was the ultimate masterpiece in that evolution. Where’s that same vast improvement in Cariaso’s game? It’s nowhere to be seen.

The UFC is banking that Johnson puts on a memorable performance at UFC 177, and it’s very likely he will. He’s shown to be far and above the competition. Outside of a mental error on Johnson’s part, it’s hard for anyone to bet on Cariaso pulling off the upset. But, hey, it’s MMA and anything can happen with four-ounce gloves. We’ve seen the impossible happen plenty of times in the cage, and it could very well happen again at UFC 177. Maybe that’s enough for some people to invest their hard-earned money in the possibility of “what if,” no matter the odds, but just don’t expect that to be of any significance when the pay-per-view buy numbers come in.

About The Author

Kyle Symes
Staff Writer

Kyle is a recent graduate of Aurora University, where he obtained a Bachelor's in Communications. Kyle resides in Illinois, just outside of Chicago. He played baseball and football in both high school and college, but is now focusing on an amateur MMA career.