Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) flyweights Chris Cariaso and Henry Cejudo will collide this Saturday night (March 14, 2015) at the UFC 185 pay-per-view (PPV) event inside the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.
After going on a three-fight win streak, Cariaso earned an opportunity to challenge Demetrious Johnson for the title. He ultimately failed in his bid, which leaves "Kamikaze" with plenty of motivation to recover some momentum and get back into the win column.
Cejudo's debut was muddled by issues with making weight, but it ultimately lead to him battering Dustin Kimura at bantamweight. Considering that impressive showing, the UFC has given him a second opportunity to try his hand at flyweight.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for both men.
Key Wins: Louis Smolka (UFC Fight Night 40), Iliarde Santos (UFC Fight Night 29), Takeya Mizugaki (UFC 144)
Key Losses: Demetrious Johnson (UFC 178), Jussier Formiga (UFC on FX 8), John Moraga (UFC 155)
Keys to Victory: Cariaso is a Muay Thai kickboxer and mixed martial arts (MMA) veteran. Though he's hardly a power striker, Cariaso's gameness usually ensures that his losing efforts are closely-contested affairs.
In this bout, Cariaso's movement will be very important. While Cejudo proved himself to be a capable and dangerous boxer in his debut, he's not the most fleet-footed puncher around. In the flyweight division, that can be a major problem.
Additionally, Cejudo was not tying takedowns in with his punches particularly well. Without that ability, plenty of movement will make it very difficult for Cejudo to secure takedowns, even with his incredible wrestling.
Considering the fact that power punches and takedowns seem like Cejudo's best areas, a strategy that limits the effectiveness of both is clearly Cariaso's best chance at victory. In order to win, Cariaso simply has to keep his feet moving and avoid getting pinned against the fence.
Furthermore, Cariaso is the more developed kicker of the two. If he's using his footwork to keep distance, he should be able to land the sharper strikes at a higher volume than his opponent. Cariaso's base is kickboxing, and that's what he needs to rely on in order to defeat "The Messenger."
Key Wins: Dustin Kimura (UFC on FOX 13)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: Cejudo has rightfully earned his reputation as one of the best prospects in the sport. If the former Olympian can keep his head straight and weight low, he has the potential to make it to the top of his division quickly.
Cariaso is a veteran and fairly technical fighter in every aspect, but he cannot match Cejudo's athleticism. In order to capitalize on that advantage, Cejudo needs to pressure his opponent and force exchanges of fists and takedowns.
In both areas, Cejudo is at a pretty big advantage. Cariaso will be forced to respect his opponent's wrestling skills for obvious reasons, which will undoubtedly affect his boxing ability. Plus, even if that wasn't the case, Cejudo's punches will consistently have more of an impact than Cariaso's, which is a difficult factor to overcome without a major technical advantage.
Once Cariaso has felt Cejudo's power, the gold medalist can return to his roots. Again, while Cariaso is a technical submission grappler, Cejudo's wrestling and physical prowess should be more than enough to keep him out of danger while he batters his opponent from top position.
Cejudo most definitely has the skills to take out his top 10 opponent. The question is whether Cejudo will capitalize on his potential.
Bottom Line: Flyweight needs new contenders, and Cejudo has major potential.
At this point, Demetrious Johnson has beaten a majority of the division, which is why he's next fighting the talented but unheralded Kyoji Horiguchi. If Cejudo is able to take out a legitimate top-10 fighter in Cariaso, expect him to be in the title mix sooner rather than later.
On the other hand, should Cejudo lose this bout -- or worse, miss weight -- a great deal of his hype will dissipate. Cariaso may be a tough scrapper, but he does not have a history of beating top fighters.
It's a very long and unlikely road for Cariaso to get back to the title, but a victory over Cejudo would be a pretty spectacular start. Plus, taking out the prospect would undoubtedly secure his position inside the top 10, which is especially important with the Reebok deal coming into play.
Cariaso's loss would not really hurt his current chance of being a contender, but that's only because he isn't seen as one. Instead, it would confirm "Kamikaze" as a gatekeeper to the top 10 of the division.
At UFC 185, Chris Cariaso and Henry Cejudo will go to war for a position inside the top 10. Which man will leave the Octagon with his hand raised?