UFC 173 was originally slated to feature Chris Weidman's second title defense against Vitor Belfort, but after Belfort was replaced by Lyoto Machida due to new testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) regulations, and Weidman elected to have surgery to repair his knees, that fight was moved to UFC 175. In its place, the main event of UFC 173 will feature Renan Barao defending his bantamweight belt against TJ Dillashaw. Barao has been on a tear for the past 10 years. He has only lost once since his debut in 2005, with 33 fights in that time. Dana White has been talking up Barao non-stop, calling him the pound for pound king of MMA because he has finished all of his fights since taking the interim UFC bantamweight title from Urijah Faber by decision back in the summer of 2012. Barao finished Michael MacDonald by arm-triangle choke, and Eddie Wineland by TKO, before being promoted from the interim champion to the undisputed champion of the bantamweight division. Dominic Cruz was forced to pull out of his bout with Barao and had been out for too long in the eyes of Dana White, leading to an official title for Barao. A rematch with a new and improved Faber, who had gone 4-0 since losing to Barao, was expected to be his toughest test, but in his first fight as undisputed champion, Barao dominated Faber in a victory by TKO.
TJ Dillashaw comes into this bout without much hype. He is a solid fighter worthy of his ranking within the top 5, but he lost to Raphael Assuncao at the end of last year before beating Mike Eason in January. Assuncao was supposed to earn a shot against Barao, but he suffered an injury, and the UFC needed to book Barao to a fight in the main event to bolster the UFC 173 pay per view card, and Dillashaw had to be called upon. Two of Dillashaw's last 3 wins have came by TKO and he is known to have a solid submission game and unquestionable heart,, but there is absolutely nothing he can do to Barao other than hope for puncher's chance for the opportunity to upset Barao in a crazy sequence of event. Look for Barao to finish Dillashaw by strikes in the first round, much like he did to Dillashaw's close friend and teammate, Urijah Faber, back in February. The only real challenge for Barao in the UFC is becoming a bigger star.
The co-main event will see Daniel Cormier face off against Dan Henderson. The winner of this bout is guaranteed a shot against light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, likely later this year. Cormier and Henderson are both world class fighters that come from Olympic wrestling backgrounds, but outside of that, and their first names, they are completely different fighters. Cormier dropped down from heavyweight earlier this year and has only 1 fight at light heavyweight. He kept his undefeated record intact with a TKO win over former training partner Pat Cummins, who was an unknown fighter before trash talking, and losing to, Cormier. Before dropping to light heavyweight, Cormier beat the likes of Antonio Silva, Josh Barnett, Frank Mir, and Roy Nelson.
Henderson is the oldest fighter in the UFC at 43 years old, and in his last 4 bouts it has seemed that age is catching up with his fighting abilities, but certainly not his power. Henderson is only 8 years older than Cormier, but he has been in MMA for 12 more years, and has had 27 more fights. Henderson is a natural middleweight which will give a big size advantage to Cormier. He had lost 3 straight fights, including two decision losses to Lyoto Machida and Rashad Evans, before losing his first fight due to strikes against Vitor Belfort, and rebounded from that streak by earning a third round TKO win over Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in a rematch of their classic war from 2011 that Henderson also won. The second time around Rua was dominant the entire time until Henderson landed his patented H-bomb. Cormier takes a wrestling heavy approach to bouts and looks to dictate the distance and pace of every minute, hardly losing a round throughout his 14 fight undefeated career. Henderson looks to circle around his opponents and take his time to strike and find that one opening to land his H-bomb and secure a knockout win. Cormier is a heavy favorite, and while Henderson has the chance to land the H-bomb and knockout anyone in the world, Cormier will use his wrestling and control of the distance and pace to avoid the H-bomb en route to a unanimous decision victory.
The third bout on the pay per view main card will feature recent title challenger Robbie Lawler facing off against fellow elite welterweight Jack Ellenberger. Lawler came into the UFC without much hype after a lackluster Strikeforce career, but with two straight knockout victories against Josh Koscheck and Bobby Voelker, he earned a title eliminator bout against Rory MacDonald. Lawler beat MacDonald by split decision and earned a shot against Johny Hendricks for the vacant welterweight championship. Georges St. Pierre vacated the title in his leave of absence from MMA. Lawler lost to Hendricks by way of a 48-47 decision that earned Hendricks the belt and sent Lawler back to the drawing board. Lawler and Ellenberger are both knockout artists with 18 wins by way of KO or TKO. Ellenberger has been on the cusp of earning a title shot ever since his massive upset of Jake Shields in 2011, right after Shields nearly beat then champion, GSP. Ellenberger lost the hype that he built up after beating Shields, but he followed that up by beating the always tough Diego Sanchez before getting knocked out by Martin Kampmann. Ellenberger bounced back from that by beating Jay Hieron and Nate Marquardt before losing a boring decision to Rory MacDonald. Lawler also fought MacDonald, but was able to dictate the pace and damage MacDonald enough get a split decision victory, and I expect that Lawler will dictate the pace of this fight as well. Ellenberger prefers to strike, so Lawler won't have to lead him into a striking war because it is bound to happen between these two fighters. I expect Lawler to strike more efficiently and use the head movement and ability to take a punch that he displayed in his fight against Hendricks to batter Ellenberger without taking too much damage, and finish Ellenberger with strikes in the second round.
Takeya Mizugaki is fighting Francisco Rivera on the second fight of the pay per view card. Mizugaki is on a 4 fight winning streak, with 4 straight decision wins, the most impressive being a unanimous decision victory over Eric Perez, who is currently ranked at #11 in the UFC rankings, and in my rankings. Rivera would be on a 6 fight winning streak if one of his wins wasn't changed to a no-contest due to a failed drug test, and of the 5 consecutive wins that he earned, 2 of those came by KO and 2 came by TKO. Earning 4 stoppages in 5 fights is no small feat for a bantamweight fighter, and two of those being by knockout makes the feat even more impressive, even when considering that the level of opponents he earned the knockouts over were not elite. Rivera's most impressive win of that streak was a TKO win over George Roop. Mizugaki has consistently faced high levels of competition in the UFC and WEC, and I expect that his experience and ability to dictate what happens in the fight will be enough to earn a decision victory over Rivera. I think Rivera is too tough to finish, and he will give Mizugaki a solid effort making it an exciting fight, but Mizugaki will ultimately get the nod.
A bout between Jamie Varner and James Krause will open up the pay per view main card. Varner is likely fighting for his job, although he is a former WEC lightweight champion, because he has been plagued by various streaks of losses, and has lost 3 out of his last 4 fights. His most recent loss was his first career loss by way of knockout after dominating Abel Trujillo for a round and a half. Varner is a seasoned veteran with wins over top fighters such as Donald Cerrone, Edson Barboza and Melvin Guillard, but his inconsistency has been catching up to him. Krause has been around for a long time as well, but has earned most of his victories in the smaller leagues, with the exception for a guillotine victory over Sam Stout that earned him submission and fight of the night. Krause has made 5 appearances in either the UFC, Bellator or the WEC, and has lost 4 of those 5 appearances, his most recent lost coming via TKO due to a body kick against Bobby Green. Krause is a submission specialist, but with Varner's tough submission game and significant experience advantage, I expect Varner to earn a safe decision victory over Krause, it likely won't be the most exciting but it will earn Varner the chance to continue to fight under the UFC banner.
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