Demetrious Johnson, of the United States, celebrates his win over...

Demetrious Johnson, of the United States, celebrates his win over Ali Bagautinov, of Russia, in the flyweight bout at UFC 174 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Saturday, June, 14, 2014. Credit: AP / Jonathan Hayward

For any of those mixed martial arts fans who complain the UFC has been watering down its recent pay-per-view cards, UFC 178 is an awfully potent response.

The MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas will host several compelling fights Saturday night in a show stacked with prominent names and interesting stories. A touted UFC newcomer, a grudge match, several charismatic stars, an ex-champion on the rebound, a contender returning from tragedy -- it's all here.

Flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson's title defense against Chris Cariaso is the main event, but Johnson (20-2-1) hasn't even been the focus of the promotion.

Instead, Vegas and Southern California are festooned with billboards promoting former Bellator star Eddie Alvarez's UFC debut against Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone, or Irish featherweight sensation Conor McGregor's much-hyped meeting with Dustin Poirier.

The main card also includes crowd-pleasing middleweights Tim Kennedy and Yoel Romero, along with the return of bantamweight Cat Zingano. Even the deep undercard includes big names to mixed martial arts fans, with Dominick Cruz and Patrick Cote both attempting to kick-start their stalled careers.

UFC 178 is stacked even after losing its main event last month. Jon Jones injured his knee while training to defend his light heavyweight belt against Daniel Cormier in the promotion's most anticipated upcoming fight, which has been postponed to Jan. 3.

The MMA world has been waiting years for Alvarez (25-3) to extricate himself from Bellator, watching the protracted legal conflict that played a role in limiting him to just one fight -- a sensational bout with Michael Chandler -- in the last two years.

"I feel like the timing couldn't be better," Alvarez said. "I feel like the last 10 years was me building the confidence, learning how to be a champion, losing, winning and just experiencing everything. Now I think I'm primed and ready to be on a big stage."

The entertaining lightweight from Philadelphia finally got his release last month, and the UFC immediately matched him up with Cerrone (24-6), the beer-drinking, waterskiing good-ol'-boy from Colorado who seemingly never has a boring fight.

Cerrone even said he has never watched Alvarez fight -- a claim that would be greeted skeptically from anybody except Cowboy.

"I'm more excited than the fans," Cerrone said. "He's been a top lightweight for years now. It's not like he has to come here to prove himself."

McGregor (15-2) has become a big name in just 18 months with the UFC, and the trash-talking, egocentric Irishman's charismatic personality would be a huge help to the UFC's attempts to promote its lower weight classes -- as long as he keeps on winning.

Just nine weeks after he stopped Diego Brandao in Dublin, McGregor returns for his biggest test yet against Poirier (16-3), another title contender on a three-fight winning streak. The fighters have traded acerbic verbal jabs for two months.

"I looked him in the eyes and I saw fear," McGregor said of his staredown with Poirier. "I saw a broken man. I could look through his soul when I looked into his eyes. ... I see a basic fighter with a weak chin and a weak heart."

"He's a jerk," Poirier said of McGregor. "He's full of himself, and I'm going to beat him up, plain and simple."

UFC 178 is so stacked that Cruz (19-1), once one of the sport's biggest lower-weight stars, is featured in the preliminary fights on Fox Sports 1.

Cruz won the WEC bantamweight championship in 2010 and carried it over to the UFC after the promotions merged, but hasn't fought since beating Johnson in October 2011, sidelined by serious injuries to his knee and groin.

The 29-year-old Cruz missed three years of his prime with injuries, while Zingano is returning to the cage for the first time since she missed a shot at Ronda Rousey for the women's bantamweight title.

Zingano earned it by upsetting Miesha Tate in April 2013, but she injured her knee and returned slowly from a difficult stretch that also included her husband's death in January. If Zingano beats Amanda Nunes, UFC President Dana White says she'll be the No. 1 contender for Rousey's belt again.

Johnson is a heavy favorite against Cariaso in arguably the biggest mismatch at UFC 178, but Johnson isn't taking his fifth title defense for granted.

"I'm going to go out there and get a win and come out healthy," Johnson said.

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