I had been waiting for the right moment to finally sit down and actually put together in writing my thoughts about how the UFC could consider changing its pay-per-view model, particularly in light of the rumored low buyrate for UFC 174. When the company announced last week that it was basically scrapping UFC 176 after the main event was removed from the card, I finally did it. I won’t do you the disservice of repeating myself too much, but after outlining a few ideas on potential alterations to how the UFC presents its pay-per-views, I focused briefly on UFC 177, which at the time of the column’s publication only featured one bout (its bantamweight title fight main event) that was worthy of fans’ purchase. I wondered, then, if the UFC would supplement the card with another premium contest or if it would stay its recent course and hope people tune in for just the T.J. Dillashaw vs. Renan Barao rematch.

The UFC answered that question just hours later by announcing the addition of a flyweight title fight to UFC 177’s main card. In what will be the night’s co-main event, champion Demetrious Johnson will attempt to defend his 125-pound belt for the fifth time when he takes on Chris Cariaso.

While no one has taken umbrage with the addition of a second championship contest to the previously shaky UFC 177 card, the choice of opponent for Johnson has left some scratching their heads. After all, Cariaso is in just the eighth position in the UFC’s flyweight rankings and has put together a respectable but hardly remarkable 4-2 UFC record at 125 pounds. To these critics, Cariaso is hardly deserving of the tremendous opportunity he’s being handed at UFC 177.

Me? I’m just happy to see another notable fight taking place on the pay-per-view card. Contentious opponent selection or not, the addition of a second title bout to UFC 177 brings it from “Probably not” to “Yeah, all right” in the “Will I Buy It?” category, and I’ll get into why just a little later. First, though, I want to address the (legitimate) criticisms some have of Cariaso’s inclusion in the fight.

The most glaring aspect of Cariaso’s career that calls his forthcoming title challenge into question is his ranking. Again, Cariaso is ranked eighth among his fellow flyweights by the UFC, leaving a sizable list of fighters in between him and Johnson who some believe are all more worthy of the title opportunity. Let’s take a quick look at this list, however, to see if we can determine why Cariaso was selected if there are so many other capable contenders ahead of him.

Immediately below Johnson in the UFC’s rankings is John Dodson, who previously lost to Johnson but has put together two straight wins in the time since. He would obviously have been the best choice to take on Johnson next, but he recently underwent knee surgery and will be out of the Octagon until sometime next year.

After Dodson is Joseph Benavidez, who has put together an impressive flyweight campaign since joining the division upon its UFC debut, but Benavidez has already lost to Johnson twice. Even with his recent win over Tim Elliott, then, it would have been extraordinarily difficult for the UFC to sell a third fight between Benavidez and the reigning champion. Perhaps with one or two more convincing wins, Benavidez could find himself with another title shot, but for now he’ll be left out because of his 0-2 record against Johnson.

Ranked third at flyweight is Ian McCall, whose inclusion at UFC 177 would have been problematic not only due to the fact that he’s gone just 1-2-1 in the UFC (including a loss to Johnson), but also because he’s already scheduled to fight on July 19. One could argue that the winner of McCall’s bout with Brad Pickett would potentially be worthy of a title shot before Cariaso, but that’d be splitting hairs, especially considering the rapid turnaround that would be required for that challenger.

The rest of the fighters before Cariaso are a little easier to write off. Ali Bagautinov follows McCall in the UFC’s rankings, but he just lost to Johnson at UFC 174 and then tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. He won’t be seeing the Octagon in general anytime soon, let alone another title opportunity. Next comes John Moraga, who already lost to Johnson and also dropped his most recent fight to Dodson, and we know no one gets a UFC title shot after a loss. (Well … almost no one.) Jussier “Formiga” da Silva, ranked sixth, actually holds a win over Cariaso, but also has losses against Dodson and Benavidez. The main obstacle with scheduling Formiga is that he’s already slated to compete two weeks before UFC 177. The UFC could have bumped that fight in favor of his inclusion at the pay-per-view, but we’d probably be hearing similar complaints as we are with Cariaso. Finally, there’s John Lineker, who just fought last night, and despite his success he does have a history of missing weight, so he’s probably out.

In that context, Cariaso’s selection as Johnson’s next victim opponent doesn’t seem so far-fetched. Sure, one would prefer to see a more highly ranked fighter challenging for the title next, but everyone before Cariaso is either occupied, injured or coming off a loss. Meanwhile, Cariaso is in the midst of a three-fight winning streak (sure, against guys who themselves are hardly title-contention material, but wins nonetheless) and, at the very least, he is a top-10 opponent who has yet to square off with Johnson. Let’s not forget that Dillashaw was also ranked in the lower portions of the bantamweight top 10 when he was selected to challenge Barao, and his surprising success is why the two are fighting in the headlining spot at UFC 177. Could Cariaso emulate Dillashaw’s performance and prove everyone wrong against Johnson? Probably not, but stranger things have happened.

We should also consider the fact that UFC 177 was in need of another marquee fight, and a flyweight title match is one of the only ones that made sense. The featherweight and welterweight title pictures are currently on hold with injuries to Jose Aldo and Johny Hendricks, respectively, and the next lightweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight title bouts have already been scheduled. Middleweight champion Chris Weidman just fought and is reportedly on the shelf for a few months, which leaves Ronda Rousey as the only titleholder besides Johnson who might have been available on Aug. 30. Ignoring the fact that Rousey also just fought a few weeks ago, would the UFC really have been able to put together a women’s bantamweight fight that, from a rankings standpoint, made more sense than Johnson/Cariaso?

Outside of a second title fight, there aren’t too many other contests the UFC could have put together with six weeks before UFC 177 that would have been significant selling points. Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre aren’t coming back anytime soon, Rashad Evans and Carlos Condit (two other non-champion fan-favorites) are both out with injuries, and just about every other fighter who the UFC could use to sell a pay-per-view card (your Frankie Edgars, Lyoto Machidas and Junior dos Santoses) is already occupied or just recently fought. Again, looking at the whole picture here and acknowledging that the UFC needed a fresh co-main event for Aug. 30, what other choice could it have made?

In the end, though, the flyweight title fight at UFC 177 is exciting for one reason: Demetrious Johnson. Johnson has officially entered into Silva/Jones/Rousey territory for me, where he’s been so dominant and generally so exciting that it doesn’t matter who he’s fighting as long as he’s competing in the Octagon. Sure, the flyweight division as a whole is probably among the least popular with the sport’s fans, which is why its title fight at UFC 177 is in the co-main event slot, but Johnson (more than the headlining champion Dillashaw, even) is the sort of special talent that does not come along often.

Here’s the bottom line: Before the UFC unveiled the Johnson/Cariaso fight, I was really questioning whether to spend the money on UFC 177. Afterward, I had no doubt that I’d be less $50 come Aug. 30. Despite Cariaso’s resume and the critics that have emerged in the wake of the fight’s announcement, adding a second title contest to any card is going to make that card worth the purchase. And when that contest features one of the best fighters in the world at any weight class, no matter who he’s fighting, it makes the event a must-see.

About The Author

Eric Reinert
Staff Writer

Eric Reinert has been writing about mixed martial arts since 2010. Outside the world of caged combat, Eric has spent time as a news reporter, speechwriter, campaign strategist, tech support manager, landscaper and janitor. He lives in Madison, Wis.