UFC 173 was a crowning achievement for T.J. Dillashaw, Duane Ludwig, and Team Alpha Male. It was a very surprising upset as Renan Barao looked like he was set to rule the division for a serious amount of time with his well-rounded skill set. The final three fights of the card put a really excellent cap on this event and made it a very entertaining night of fights.
It was that key breakthrough for Team Alpha Male, a camp that has fielded some fantastic fighters but since the WEC merger with the UFC has been unable to get that first UFC belt. Clearly Urijah Faber's dominance in the WEC Featherweight division will always be a highlight for the gym, but in recent years Nova Uniao fighters have proven to be the bane of Faber's ilk. This was a hugely validating win for Dillashaw, his entire camp, and huge feather in Duane Ludwig's cap as he sets out to start his own camp.
Onto thoughts about the fights:
- T.J. Dillashaw's footwork looked fantastic. That isn't because he was shuffling and bouncing on his feet, but because was almost never directly in front of Barao - he was always on an angle. It forced Barao to continually adjust and disrupted his flow of offense and allowed Dillashaw free reign to land offense. Barao was so totally taken out of his element and did not have an answer for Dillashaw's superior positioning on the feet.
- It cannot be overstated how good Dillashaw looked in this fight. It isn't even a knock on Barao as a fighter, this was just Dillashaw's night as he was just faster, more determined, and flat out better. Dillahsaw has taken big strides as a fighter under Duane Ludwig's tutelage, and it will be interesting to see if he keeps making those strides with Ludwig departing.
- Daniel Cormier's absolute demolition of Dan Henderson should not surprise anyone. Cormier is the better boxer, the younger fighter, the larger fighter, the better MMA wrestler, and the better ground grappler. It was not a competitive match in any respect and Cormier went in and acted like the better fighter. It was a solid showing and should create some buzz and some highlights heading into his Light Heavyweight contendership.
- Robbie Lawler took Jake Ellenberger apart. Lawler was able to establish his range with diverse striking and force Ellenberger to over reach on his very predictable punches. At that range Lawler progressively landed more and more, and got a good sense for Ellenberger's limited head movement. Then Lawler timed a Ellenberger duck with a knee and then put him out. Lawler looked fantastic in all aspects of his game, he is ready to get right back into the title picture.
- This is two fights in a row for Ellenberger were has mounted basically no offense. It is a very concerning trend as Ellenberger is not a young combatant anymore and really should be able to create offense against elite fighters if he wants to remain among the elite fighters.
- Takeya Mizugaki got a pretty entertaining win and is actually up to five straight wins in the UFC and 8-2 in his UFC career very quietly. Difficult position as he is clearly not title contender material but also wins far too consistently to be a gatekeeper.
- Jamie Varner injured his ankle in gruesome fashion several times, without a doctor's check in sight. It was great toughness by Varner, and also he smartly called the fight after the conclusion of the round, but really it shouldn't need to come to that.
- Michael Chiesa thoroughly outworked Francisco Trinaldo in their fight, and while Trinaldo had his moments it was pretty much all Chiesa. This was a big win for the TUF product, a gatekeeper kind of win for Chiesa. By beating Trinaldo, Chiesa is ready for a step up in competition.
- Tony Ferguson just beat the tar out of Katsunori Kikuno. It was pretty ugly at times as Kikuno's statue-still head was just a target for Ferguson as the Japanese striker did not attempt any form of defensive action on the feet. It was a indicting performance for Kikuno who in his first UFC fight was underwhelming and then looked positively awful in this fight.
- Chris Holdsworth had a very solid showing as he was all over Chico Camus, and while Holdsworth didn't get the finish he was consistently working from superior positions for submissions. He appears to be a pretty solid talent off The Ultimate Fighter.
- Mitch Clarke slipped in a sweet little D'arce choke on Al Iaquinta from the bottom of side control. To get into position Clarke wall-walked over to the other side and locked up the choke before Iaquinta realized what was happening and put him out in an awesome piece of grappling and a surprising upset.
- Vinc Pichel and Sam Sicilia both put one-sided beatings on their opponents. Pichel did foul Njokuani several times in the first round to get the ball rolling, but the next two rounds were Pichel exploiting Njokuani's historically bad grappling.
- Jingliang Li and David Michaud had a closely-contested fight. Li won a close decision, which could have easily gone the other way. Michaud clearly had the grappling edge, both in the clinch and on the ground, but Li had a slight edge in the striking with his accuracy, which was enough to win him the fight in the judge's eyes. Li looked like a halfway decent prospect coming out of China, but I don't expect anything amazing from him.