Too often as of late it feels as though the UFC is matching up title fights with challengers that seem to be good fighters, but not quite worthy of fighting for the gold. Heading into the night, the headliner of UFC 173 felt to be one of those fights. Renan Barao had not lost since his professional debut in 2005 and had little if any problems with his opponents up to that point while Dillashaw was riding a win streak of one (to be fair, the loss preceding that win was controversial). So most looked at it as a PPV featuring a dominant champ that no one cared about due to his lack of ability to connect with North American fans (language barrier) and expectation of another quick first round finish main event... kind of like Barao did before. What happened? Well, tonight was the perfect example of why the fights are actually fought... and why I'm so damn reluctant to miss "subpar" cards.
* indicates I was right in my pick
T.J. Dillashaw defeated Renan Barao via TKO 5th Round (New Champion)
Dillashaw could not have picked a better time to have the fight of his life. He outworked and outlanded the champ in every round. He showed tremendous head movement to avoid most of the shots Barao threw at him. He masterfully used angles to attack Barao. He mixed up the variety of his strikes (uppercuts, hooks, kicks, jabs) as well as the placement (head, body, leg). He even doubled up on his jabs at times. About the only thing he could have done to complete the dominance is score a takedown... but then I would just be nitpicking. Everything went downhill for Barao after a massive overhand right scored for Dillashaw in the first round. Barao was able to recover physically from the knockdown, but as my brother said as we watched the fight, he was white as a ghost after the punch landed. He wasn't beat physically at that point, but it looked as though he had been broken mentally. In contrast, Dillashaw's confidence went sky high and it reflected throughout the fight. He had no fear whatsoever as he took the fight right at Barao, staying in his face the whole time.
While most expected to see the best version of Dillashaw we had seen up to this point, no one outside of his family and friends expected this type of dominance. It isn't just the fact that he beat a dominant champion... its that he did it from pillar to post throughout the fight. Serra beat GSP thanks to a lucky(?) shot whereas Dillashaw didn't need the stoppage to win the fight, but got it anyway. So the victory can't be called a fluke.
There are a lot of questions now. Do we expect this from him every fight now? Was his style simply the perfect recipe to beat Barao? How long will his reign be? Could this potentially cause a rift with him and Alpha Male teammate and perennial contender Urijah Faber? How much credit does outgoing coach Duane Ludwig deserve for Dillashaw's striking improvement? Ludwig will still be working with Dillashaw from Colorado, so the answer to that question may not be answered.
Barao was thoroughly dominated, so he won't get an immediate rematch and it doesn't make sense for Dominick Cruz to get a title shot after 3 years away when there are other viable options. Raphael Assuncao was first considered to fight Barao but had to pull out and actually beat Dillashaw in a controversial decision that is guaranteed to be even more scrutinized at this point. Matching Dillashaw and Assuncao up again (this time for the title) is the best option for Dillashaw's first title defense.
Barao should still be considered among the best in the division if not the UFC. He was in a situation he had never been in when he got knocked down and didn't know how to respond. I would expect him to come back after the title with a vengeance as he is still only 27. A match with Cruz at this point would still be quite marketable and while it does give Cruz a more than worthy opponent, it also doesn't put the onus squarely on Cruz to win the title back right away.
Nobody would object to the possibility of Cormier going into the WWE after his MMA career is over as he showed that he has a deep repertoire of slams as he manhandled and threw around Henderson throughout the fight, including a series of of body slams in the final round. He smothered Henderson on the ground, landed so heavy GNP, and never gave Henderson a real opportunity to land his fabled H-Bomb in a fight that was never competitive and even when the extra mile to sink in the RNC late in the third when he could have simply coasted to a decision. When you put a little perspective on the situation and remember that Henderson is 43 years old (and a natural middleweight), it makes the feat a little less impressive. Nonetheless, it was still very impressive.
Anyone else remember a year ago how it felt that there were no longer any viable contenders for Jon Jones to face in defense of his title? Me neither. Cormier left little doubt in anyone's mind that he could give Jones a run for his money as his wrestling is by far more powerful and explosive than anyone else Jones has faced and could give the champ serious problems. Cormier will have to wait for Alexander Gustafsson to get his second shot at the belt first, but its a cinch that he has next after that.
After three losses in a row followed by a miraculous come-from-behind KO of Shogun Rua, I don't see how anyone could have been surprised by Cormier's destruction of Henderson. Henderson has now fought 5 times in the last 15 months and might be best served to take a nice break before he climbs back into the Octagon. He can still present some intriguing fights, just no longer with the elite of the division. You can't just relegate him to fighting names no one has heard of though. Look at his resume! Do you think he'll accept fighting names most haven't heard of? Anthony Johnson and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira fight in late July and the loser of the bout should be a worthy opponent for Henderson. Johnson will be heavily favored and a victory for him would be favorable as Nogueira owns a victory over Henderson from 9 years ago. It would be fairly easy to sell.
There were some grumbles about this fight as it wasn't the balls-to-the-wall slugfest ala Hendricks-Lawler that most were hoping for, but it was still a highly entertaining affair. Lawler was calculating with his striking as he mixed in some head kicks and haymakers with some stiff jabs to wear down the durable Ellenberger. I admit that the first round had me scratching my head as Lawler took his foot off the gas after landing a lot of good shots early and Ellenberger was gun shy for the entirety of the round. After that though, I don't want to bitch about either one. Ellenberger made some attempts to ground Lawler and Lawler had no problems staying busy from that point. Lawler was able to finish it after a hard knee to the face of Ellenberger followed by some ground strikes.
There were some questioning whether losing the title fight to Hendricks would but a mental block on Lawler and cause some regression from his recent resurgence, but he put those qualms to rest. He looked as good as ever (when he was aggressive) and had a solid game plan. Lawler has good one-punch power, but he also knew that Ellenberger had a good chin. So he wore down Ellenberger with combinations rather than looking for the single strike to do it, which is partially what doomed Ellenberger. He wants another title shot and isn't far from it. Matt Brown had an instant classic a few weeks ago and has been making his own noise for a title shot. It would be stupid not to match these two up as another instant classic would be the expectation.
Ellenberger may have sealed his fate of never getting a title shot with this loss. He is still a hell of a welterweight and would beat the majority of the division on a consistent basis, but a title contender? Hard to be considered one when you are losing matches against your fellow contenders. His biggest problem seems to be that he can't generate consistent offense when he can't get that one shot or his takedowns aren't working... or keeping his opponent down. If he can work on putting together combinations more effectively, we could be talking about him in a different light in a year. Demian Maia is fighting Alexander Yakovlev very soon and most expect him to snap a two-fight losing streak. If he does, he would be the perfect opponent for Ellenberger to start his road back to redemption... if he can beat Maia.
Technically, Rivera was the one who received credit for the takedowns on Mizugaki, but Rivera never did anything on the ground as Mizugaki had well over 5 minutes of top control over Rivera. That turned out to be the difference in this fight as the standup was relatively even between these two in a fight that was sometimes boring and sometimes highly exciting. The boring came from the top control as the work Mizugaki did on the ground was only effective for scoring some points with the judges... not for entertainment purposes. The exciting came in the form of the standup which took on a brawling nature with both going for the KO blow most of the time, including a knockdown from Mizugaki in the first. Overall a good fight which was quite telling of where each fighter is.
Mizugaki has put together one of the quieter 5-fight win streaks in recent memories which should have him in the talks for the title... but he hasn't been. Whether or not he ends up there with this victory over a hard-nosed Rivera has yet to be seen, but he should be. He was not only the better all-around fighter, but he was the better striker as well as the knockdown in the first gave him a decisive advantage in that category. Dillashaw's title victory makes things a bit more complicated for Mizugaki though as those that Barao had already defeated are now back in the talks, but Mizugaki shouldn't be forgotten about. Iuri Alcantara is going to be fighting Vaughan Lee very soon and if he can get past him, he'd be the best option for Mizugaki going forward.
Rivera should still be seen as a viable gatekeeper for anyone looking to enter the ranks of contenders, which means that he is a tough (and often entertaining) out for anyone. It looks as though he did work on his stamina for this match which is telling of how good Mizugaki is as he was able to beat what was likely the best Rivera we've seen. If he can iron out his grappling deficiencies and rely less on his one-punch power, he could break out past the gatekeeper role. Eddie Wineland had his jaw broken in a loss a few weeks ago and has been questioning if he wants to continue fighting. If he decides to come back, a fight with Rivera would be entertaining as hell.
This was one of those very rare occasions where the loser was clearly the loser and yet his stock rose significantly higher than the winner. Thats what happens when you break your ankle early in the round and fight with the injury for the rest of the time period. Krause scored an early leg kick on Varner's ankle to break it, but Varner did a good job of hiding the fact... until he rolled his ankle underneath himself awkwardly while standing in front of Krause. He would do this two more times all while Krause targeted the ankle with a few more kicks and Varner climbing back to his feet to trade punches after having the fight on the ground. Krause was the winner, Varner's toughness was the story.
Krause isn't going to get enough credit for the victory here as his kick did the damage that ultimately caused Varner to lose the fight. If Varner had stopped right away after the ankle broke, Krause would be getting all of the praise. Bottom line: whether it was a freak accident or not, it was caused by a strategically well placed kick on the part of Krause and that should not be overlooked. Though his UFC career has been... we'll say strange thus far, that gives him a 2-1 record in the Octagon. Its hard to gauge where he is at exactly, so lets give him a similar opponent. Tony Ferguson won his second fight after a long layoff and looked great, but I wouldn't throw him in there against a ranked opponent yet. Pitting him with Krause would be more apporpriate.
Varner was in danger of being cut with a loss here... but that isn't going to happen after what could end up being a legendary display of toughness in the loss here. It isn't so much that he kept fighting (at least in my eyes), but the fact that he was able to make the fight fairly competitive. He scored some hard shots, landed a takedown, and was even the aggressor at times. He'll clearly be on the shelf for a while, but he isn't getting released after that. How long he'll be on the shelf is hard to say. If he can come back in a reasonable timetable (I'm no doctor so I'm not going to speculate), Francisco Trinaldo seems like a fair test to determine if he is still at a UFC level.
*Micheal Chiesa defeated Francisco Trinaldo via Decision
Trinaldo had a few good moments in the fight, but overall the fight was dominated by Chiesa who continued his accession up the lightweight ladder. The first round was no contest once Chiesa got the fight on the ground and completely overwhelmed Trinaldo and keeping the referee on watch to call it. He wasn't in quite the same amount of danger after that, but never really threatened Chiesa seriously. It wasn't bad from an entertainment standpoint, but it wasn't great either.
Chiesa is one of the few recent TUF winners that most pundits feel has some solid upside and he put on a pretty solid display of why. Despite being smaller than Trinaldo, he easily outgrappled the Brazilian veteran and held his own with Trinaldo in the standup even though it was thought that Trinaldo likely had the advantage there. He still has a good amount of work to do with his striking and do a better job of utilizing his long reach. Until he does that (and he is working on that), he likely won't reach the expectations some have put on him. I still wouldn't throw him to the sharks yet (like when he lost to Jorge Masvidal), but a match with Mark Bocek would represent a likely step up in competition and give him an experienced grappler on his resume.
Trinaldo did what was largely expected of him: offer some tough veteran resistance with the occasional flurry with capabilities of threatening Chiesa. Though I already mentioned that he didn't really threaten, it isn't a horrible thing. His gas tank has looked improved his last couple of outings which at least shows he is progressing in that stage which has been his biggest weakness. I already mentioned that I think he would be a good match with Varner, but if Varner isn't going to be able to recover quickly, it would be wise to get him an opponent before that. Ernest Chavez and Elias Silverio square off soon and the loser would make a fair next opponent for Trinaldo.
*Tony Ferguson defeated Katsunori Kikuno via KO 1st Round
Despite coming off of a victory over Mike Rio in his last fight, Ferguson's star has been somewhat dim as of late. That's what happens when you lose as a 3-to-1 favorite then take well over a year off to heal up. But he should be right back where he was before that loss if not higher as he scored a brutal one punch KO of Kikuno in one of the more entertaining bouts of the night. Kikuno came out with his unusual hands down stance and avoided some of Ferguson's early shots and landed some good ones of his own. It wasn't long before Ferguson figured him out with constant pressure which resulted in a takedown with some submission attempts before returning to their feet and the end result was the KO.
Ferguson improved his UFC record to 5-1 with the victory, and impressive record regardless of whether he hasn't been facing contenders. But he also had the long layoff and is almost completely starting over with regards to building up his reputation again. He isn't as young as most would think either as he is now 30, far from old, but most would say he is past the ideal prime years. His mileage isn't too heavy though and he can still take his time with development. I mentioned Krause earlier as a solid opponent, but feel Joe Lauzon would be another name worth mentioning. Lauzon almost always puts on fun fights and would likely bring out a solid performance out of Ferguson.
Kikuno may have actually redeemed himself in the loss (somewhat... I'm trying to put a positive spin on it as Ferguson overwhelmed him after the opening moments) as the fight was actually a lot of fun... something that couldn't be said about his UFC debut with Quinn Mulhern, though it wasn't Kikuno's fault. If nothing else, his unique style makes him an interesting opponent for anybody as it can be a puzzle for opponents to figure out. Mairbek Taisumov is coming off of a disappointing sophmore effort to Michel Prazeres and could use another test against an experienced veteran to help the UFC see what they have in him. Kikuno would be perfect to fill the bill.
Everything but the method of victory likely went to plan with this fight. Holdsworth is a young and talented fighter who needs experience more than anything else and Camus is a savvy veteran who wins more on guts and guile than he does talent. With these facts being quite clear, Camus wanted to stand and bang with Holdsworth and take technique out of the equation. Holdsworth didn't get dragged into the veterans plan and ended up spending most of the time on the ground in a dominant position, threatening with submissions multiple times and almost pulling off the victory that route.
Holdsworth could be a burgeoning star on the rise. He had little trouble with a guy who owned a 3-1 UFC record heading into the bout and didn't show issues with his gas tank, a question considering he had never gone the distance in a fight before. It could even be said that he did get the better of the standup exchanges, which shows that he has been working on that aspect. Few camps consistently churn out contenders for the smaller divisions than Team Alpha Male either and Holdsworth has the talent to turn into that. For his next step, Mitch Gagnon would be a logical next step as he has a 3-1 record and is tough as nails.
Camus should be able to stick around for a while providing a test for the young potential up-and-comers. Not all of them are going to be as talented as Holdsworth, so he is certainly going to be able to pick up some wins in the process. His ceiling is pretty much established as a gatekeeper and while he shouldn't be happy with that label (fighters should always be striving to be the best), he shouldn't be mad about it either. Tim Gorman seemed to be in over his head against Mitch Gagnon and Camus should be just a small step down from Gagnon. It makes sense to put Gorman in there with Camus at this point.
Damn. I don't think too many people saw that one coming. The first round of the fight went exactly how most thought it would as Iaquinta put Clarke on his butt with a counter right and controlled him for the rest of the round with little damage being done from there. Iaquinta looked to be in the dominant position again until Clarke snuck in a D'Arce choke against the fence and put Iaquinta to sleep. It was a hell of a surprise for most fans as Iaquinta was riding a three-fight win streak and was heavily favored.
Clarke is constantly overlooked due to the mostly low level of competition he has faced and his relative lack of activity as this is only his fourth fight in the UFC since he joined the organization in 2011. His lack of punching power doesn't help, and he didn't do anything to quash the notion that he isn't a threat on the feet despite the victory. He is savvy as hell though and is one of those guys that will end up being more than the sum of the parts. I'd love to see him matched up with Yui Chul Nam as Nam doesn't have a lot of discipline, but is big and strong for the division and capable of putting out Clarke. Clarke would either expose the lack of discipline and submit him or get KO'd. It sounds like a good idea to me.
Iaquinta is still a talented fighter worth keeping your eye on despite this loss. I'd say its as simple as the fact that he got caught. He's young and its easy for a youngster to lose sense of all of their surroundings from time to time. The good thing for him is that it is less likely to happen again now that it has happened once. Maybe some a worried about Iaquinta... but I'm not. Its a learning experience. Remember that he looked good right up until he got caught. Rodrigo Damm and Rashid Magomedov meet shortly and the loser would be an ideal candidate to compete with Iaquinta to see who gets back on track.
Anytime you have two fouls in the first round of a fight, the pacing of it is thrown off right away and one of the fighters (not always the the one on the receiving end) ends up affected in a mental way. It certainly could have been the case as Pichel poked Njokuani in the eye and then delivered a groin shot about 2 minutes later into the fight. There were a couple of shots later in the round that looked questionable as well... but I'm no ref. Pichel dominated the last two rounds using a grappling based strategy and I will give him that. He earned the decision. But seeing Njokuani squinting from time to time and not displaying his usual aggressiveness (even before the beatdown in the second began) makes me wonder how much the fouls affected him. If
It sounds like I'm trying to take away from Pichel's solid performance and I suppose I am. But it needs to be said that he showed better grappling than I gave him credit for and had the performance of his career up to this point. He stayed busy and landed a lot of shots (particularly knees) from the clinch and on the ground that had a lot of power behind them to wear down the Nigerian. Many thought he wouldn't be long for the UFC after his demoralizing loss to Rustam Khabilov, but Pichel is proving all of those people wrong. Yves Edwards and Piotr Hallman fight soon and are on about the same level as Pichel at this point. Match up the winner with Pichel.
Excuses of the fouls aside, Njokuani looked bad. It certainly could have been the fouls, but it could have also been the ring rust as he hadn't fought in over a year. I would say it is a combination of both as Njokuani's stamina was bad (I'm aware Pichel attacked the body for a reason). But then again, maybe Njokuani is on the downslope as he is now 34 years old. I don't know what to take away from this fight for him except for the fact that it was all bad. I'll decide where he is at after his next fight. Tony Martin seems like a wise choice to match him up with next. Martin needs some work on his striking, but is a great grappler... and area Njokuani has always needed work on.
This match largely went as it was expected to. Phillips threw some pretty kicks while hanging tough with the brawling Sicilia. Sicilia was overpowering in the end though as his size and strength as well as his Octagon experience were the difference makers in this fight. He put Phillips on his back multiple times and landed some heavy GNP and bullied him against the cage every chance he got. Phillips showed a lot of talent, especially when the fight was standing to go along with his heart in what was a pretty entertaining scrap. But alas, it was not enough in his Octagon debut.
Lets say this for Sicilia: he will never be a contender, but he is a hell of an entertaining fighter as he goes for the finish. In cases like this where he doesn't get it, his effort is appreciated because the fans notice it. He seems to have settled into a role of lower level gatekeeper (due to a lack of diversity in his striking and his not-so-great BJJ) and with his style I expect him to be there for quite a while. Introducing newcomers to the UFC like he did here fits him too. I wouldn't have a problem with him welcoming Brian Ortega or Doo Ho Choi to the organization. But if he doesn't want to do that again and wants to try moving up, how about a fight with highly touted Mirsad Bektic? Maybe Alex White?
I'm more excited about Phillips after this fight than I was heading into it. Sure, he lost handily. But he showed great kicks and is a more natural bantamweight where he wouldn't be bullied nearly to the extent that he was by Sicilia. But the fact that he seemed to be having fun in there (at least when he was standing up) is what I like to see from a fighter. If they are having fun it is more likely the fans are too. In other words, Phillips wants to stand and strike. Leandro Issa has been sitting for a while without word of what his next fight is. Pitting Phillips with him creates a winnable fight for the both of them.
Jingliang Li defeated David Michaud via Decision
Neither fighter needs to feel bad about their performance, but both have areas that they could improve on. It was extremely close to the point that it could have gone either way and no one would have complained (though over 90% of the media according to MMA Decisions agreed with the call). What did it was Li made effective use of his reach advantage over Michaud to score the cleaner strikes as well as a better mix too as it could be said that the grappling was largely a wash. Both had their moments and both made some attempts at submissions with little success.
Li showed more to his striking than many gave him credit for. It seems as though someone helped him to utilize his range as I hadn't always liked what I had seen from him there, but he looked much improved. What I liked best though didn't even happen in the Octagon. It was the fact he spent the month before the fight training in Vegas which also helped with the time difference and allowed him to adjust to long before the fight took place. I expect the Asian population would have more UFC success if they employed such a strategy. There aren't a lot of options I like for him next, so either a newcomer or George Sullivan next.
Michaud is a natural lightweight, so the fact that he was able to overpower Li from the clinch should bode well for him if he does make the weight drop as expected. It would help him in terms of the reach disadvantage that he suffered from as well. He is aggressive (maybe too much at times) and likes to brawl it out. Hard to say if he'll be able to stick around for a while, but he certainly deserves another look to decide that. I like the idea of matching him up with a returning Vagner Rocha in his sophmore effort. Rocha didn't have a distinguishing run the first time, but does deserve another look.
Record for this Card: 6-6 Record for Year: 107-69-1