Even without light heavyweight champion Jon Jones defending his belt, UFC 178 is still one of the deepest pay-per-view cards of the year. While the main event isn’t much of a hook, there are five bouts below it that could all produce title challengers in their respective divisions in very short order. Flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson may end up going off as a bigger favorite over Chris Cariaso than TJ Dillashaw was against his 24-hour notice opponent Joe Soto last weekend at UFC 177. That shows how little people expect from Cariaso as a title challenger, and quite frankly it’s hard to see the public being wrong on this one. Aside from landing the strike of his life, Cariaso seems primed to be dominated from the opening bell until whenever the fight ends. Johnson is currently a -1375 favorite (bet $1,375 to win $100) with Cariaso a +900 underdog (bet $100 to win $900) at Several Bookmakers. The line in the co-main event is about as different as can be from the main event. Donald Cerrone is an ever-so-slight -115 favorite over Eddie Alvarez (-105) who makes his UFC debut after highly successful stints in Bellator and DREAM. While Alvarez doesn’t have the name value of a long-tenured UFC veteran like Cerrone, this bout is a huge deal to any MMA fan whose knowledge expands beyond the Octagon. A bout with very interesting implications in the featherweight division pits brash Conor McGregor against Dustin Poirier in what will be the Irishman’s biggest test in MMA to date. McGregor is the type of fighter who simply draws a ton of interest in his bouts, and often delivers with his sublime striking once the cage door closes. Poirier’s only defeats have come to the #2 and #6 ranked 145ers in the world, and his fights are usually extremely entertaining as well. The line on McGregor keeps climbing, as he is now -250 just three weeks out from the fight. That alone would be a compelling PPV offering, but UFC 178 also includes a middleweight showdown between Tim Kennedy and Yoel Romero, women’s bantamweight Cat Zingano looks to reaffirm her spot as #1 contender, and former bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz makes his much anticipated return to the Octagon after a nearly three year layoff due to injuries. MMA oddsmaker Nick Kalikas opened the lines for the main card and the Cruz/Mizugaki bout today at Several Bookmakers. Take a look: ——————– MAIN CARD (PPV, 10pm ET) UFC Flyweight Title Demetrious Johnson -1425 Chris Cariaso +675 Donald Cerrone -130 Eddie Alvarez -110 Conor McGregor -170 Dustin Poirier +130 Tim Kennedy -130 Yoel Romero -110 Cat Zingano -280 Amanda Nunes +200 ——————– PRELIMINARY CARD (Fox Sports 1, 8pm ET) Dominick Cruz -350 Takeya Mizugaki +250 ——————– Brad’s Analysis: These three fights are all tricky for different reasons. Yoel Romero is definitely the more dynamic fighter in his bout with Tim Kennedy, but he has lost rounds that he shouldn’t have in the past and his cardio has been questionable. Kennedy doesn’t necessarily have the physical tools that Romero possesses (who does?) but he’s very consistent, always extremely well-prepared, and can be considered a bit of an overachiever in MMA as a whole. This will be one fight where I can’t blame the commentators for going on and on about how explosive and athletic a fighter is — because Romero might exemplify those qualities more than anyone in MMA — and with the improved overall performance he displayed against Brad Tavares, I think he gets a very slight lean here, but I have to admit I’ve gone back and forth on this fight many times. Cat Zingano’s physical and mental states present cause for concern in this fight, but I think that her actual skills are far better than Amanda Nunes’. If her knee is 100% and her mind is 100%, I think she’s the stronger, faster, better fighter, but who knows if that will be the case. Nunes has faltered when she’s stepped up against top 10 competition in the past, but she has uncommon power for women’s MMA if she gets a dominant position. The problem for her here is that Zingano is far better on the ground and won’t let that happen — if Nunes can even get this to the ground at all. Dominick Cruz was once considered one of the UFC champions who would have the longest reign. That was two major knee surgeries and several other injuries ago. At this point he’s a bit of a mystery, and his physical state is certainly worrying, but my thought process is that if he actually makes it to the cage on fight night, he should dominate Takeya Mizugaki. Mizugaki is competent in every area, but if Cruz is even 75% of his former self he will be a faster and more technical striker, a better wrestler, and have better conditioning. I just don’t see Mizugaki having any way to beat Cruz as long as the former champ is healthy, but it’s hard to be confident in how Cruz will look. At 29, Cruz still has plenty of time to re-assert himself at the top of the bantamweight division, and I think he’ll be there eventually, but it’s just too much of a risk to lay the price here.