UFC flyweight Chris Cariaso needed a second to compose himself for a second when he got the call to fight champ Demetrious Johnson.
After all, the idea that he was next in line for the title was as surprising to him as it was to most MMA observers. Until onetime title challenger John Dodson announced he would be out for a year due to a knee injury, he was assumed to be the next guy in line.
“I was in just as much shock as everybody,” Cariaso on Thursday told MMAjunkie Radio. “I had to hang up the phone to call them back; I had to go around the house real quick to calm down. It was an ecstatic feeling.”
Now, that feeling is changing to another one of resolve as he prepares for the opportunity of a lifetime in the co-headliner of next month’s UFC 177, which takes place Aug. 30 at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, Calif. (The event’s main card airs live on pay-per-view following prelims on FOX Sports 1 and UFC Fight Pass.)
When the UFC came calling, Cariaso had been training for a bout with Kyoji Horiguchi at UFC Fight Night 52 in September, so his surprise wasn’t accompanied with a dread that he was unprepared. On the contrary, he said he’s been thinking about fighting the champ for a long time.
“I was already in training camp, so it was an easy transition and an easy choice for me to take it,” said Cariaso (17-5 MMA, 6-4 UFC). “It’s always been my thing that I’m training for every day – to fight Demetrious and get that belt.
“Every time I’m training, in my mind it was, ‘This is how I’m going to beat Demetrious.’ So when I got the call, it was an easy decision to make.”
Johnson (20-2-1 MMA, 8-1-1 UFC) is likely to be a massive favorite heading into the bout. The 27-year-old fighter has looked increasingly unstoppable as he’s dispatched four title contenders and grown into a pay-per-view headliner, dominating Ali Bagautinov this past month in the main event of UFC 174. Although UFC 177 represents a quick turnaround for the champ, Cariaso will be counted out by many in the buildup to the event.
And yet the past year has been one filled with victories by big underdogs, some of which have caused dominant champions to be upset. UFC 177's headliner features a bantamweight title rematch between newly minted champ T.J. Dillashaw after he shocked the world by stopping the long-reigning Renan Barao.
“It’s definitely something I think about,” Cariaso said. “(Chris) Weidman and Anderson Silva, everyone thought Anderson Silva would run right through Weidman, and look what happened twice. I definitely paid some dues to get there, and I’ve never backed down from a fight. I’ve always asked for big fights no matter what.
“Getting this call, I’m not even listening to what anyone else is saying. I’m focused on my training to go in there and be the best I can be. You can say what you want to say now, but I come to the fight. Let’s see what’s going to happen.”
Cariaso said he won’t necessarily try to come up with an answer for everything the lightning-fast Johnson does in the cage, but he said he will be ready to go five hard rounds with the champ if need be.
“You learn his pace and his rhythm,” Cariaso said. “That’s the biggest thing I can get. You can’t get too focused on one technique the guy’s doing. But you can learn his pace.”
If anything, Cariaso has proven he has the ability to keep up with the competition. Although he’s fallen short against standouts such as John Moraga and Jussier Formiga, he is a quick striker that could present a challenge for Johnson on his feet.
That might not be enough for those who put money on fights, but Cariaso likes his chances.
“Anything can happen,” he said. “I’ve been doing this since I was 5 years old. I’m ready for this matchup. It’s a dream for me to be out there, so I’m ready to go out there and capitalize on this.”
For more on UFC 177, stay stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.
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