Some UFC events are headlined by a fight that everyone believes will be a one-sided blow out, intended only to build the name of the better fighter and give fans a great finish, this was expected to be one of these events. Renan Barao was expected to annihilate TJ Dillashaw with little difficulty, he was around an 8-1 favorite in betting odds, and Dana White was on a rampage about how good Barao is. White has berated the media all week about how Barao is 34-1, he's 32-1, he hasn't lost in 35 fights, he's on a 22 fight winning streak, he's got a 100% finishing rate since winning the title, and while the majority of these stats are either fudged or flat out incorrect, the one thing that is consistent is Barao is very good. When an article came out, which called into question Barao's ability to become a pay-per-view draw, White also smashed some media members for discounting Barao's credentials as a fighter. White called Barao the best pound-for-pound fighter, after giving Jon Jones that title a month ago, and while reading and remembering previous statements may not be White's strong suit, the moral of the story is Barao is really good and Dillashaw only got this fight when Raphael Assuncao got hurt. Dillashaw has been out-shined by the other members of Team Alpha Male for most of his career, but with Urijah Faber, Chad Mendes and Joseph Benavidez all on the team with him, it is easy to be overlooked. White claimed after the fight that he said that Dillashaw has one of the best striking rates in the history of the UFC and WEC, and while there is truth to that figure, White didn't put much emphasis on that, if he actually said it, because he was too busy berating reporters and talking up Barao.
The opening round commenced with Dillashaw showing very good movement, being able to come in and out, seemingly anticipating Barao's actions before Barao even thought about them. Barao is known for coming out strong in the opening rounds, his last two wins have taken a combined time of just over 9 minutes, and it looked like something went wrong physically or mentally before the fight even started because Barao was lacking his killer instinct early in the fight. Dillashaw started tagging Barao on a frequent basis from the outside, while switching stances, feinting and keeping his hands down, inviting Barao to come in, but he was always somewhere else throwing a counter strike when Barao did come in. Dillashaw capped off the first round by dropping Barao with a solid overhand right, and when Barao dropped to the canvas there was a moment in the arena when there was almost complete silence. No one could believe what they saw, as heavy underdog just hurt reigning champ Barao in the blink of an eye, and the arena erupted from there. Dillashaw capitalized on the knockdown doing damage on top and avoiding Barao's desperate leg lock attempt. The second round saw Barao land some shots, but Dillashaw still landed with a pace that was in another league.
Barao looked hopeless after the first round, especially since he has had trouble with cardio in the past, and I think closer examination of the foul committed by Barao in the second round, really showed his desperation. Barao fired an inside leg kick that “accidently” hit Dillashaw in the groin, but unlike most other accidental fouls, the kick came up straight towards the cup first, hit Dillashaw in the groin and then grazed the inside of Dillashaw's leg, the opposite of how most fouls with this technique are committed. This appears to be a dirty tactic used by Barao to gain some extra time to recuperate and catch a breath while being dominated, as there is a maximum allowance of 5 minutes that can be used at the fighter's discretion when a groin shot occurs, and Dillashaw made sure to take as little time as possible to make sure he was alright to get back into the fight, giving Barao only a short break to build up some energy. Whether it was a foul intended to get some extra time or just an accident, it didn't help Barao at all as he lost the second round as well. Dillashaw continued to confuse Barao with his movement, taking down Barao for the first time in his UFC career, in the first round, and land with consistency for the next 2 rounds. Duane “Bang” Ludwig, the head coach of Team Alpha Male who will be leaving after this fight, said to Dillashaw going into the fifth round, “give him a seminar, we're not even gonna charge him.” Dillashaw did just that in the fifth round, and used a head kick to start a flurry that dropped Barao, and Dillashaw finished the fight with some strikes from the top that Barao had no answer for. Bang Ludwig and Dillashaw, both crying, embraced in the cage, Urijah Faber and Joseph Benavidez were shown hugging in the audience, and it is hard to question the unity at Team Alpha Male after Dillashaw took the title.
Anyone has a puncher's chance in a fight, but Dillashaw dominated this fight for nearly every second of the 22 minutes that it took for him to finish Barao. Barao suffered his first loss since his MMA début in 2005. I imagine a story will soon surface about some injury or problem that Barao faced coming into this bout, but that still doesn't change this fight. Whether or not Barao was compromised coming into this bout, he still believed he could take this fight since he showed up on Saturday night, and he was completely dominated. It is questionable that Barao deserves an immediate rematch, a common trend when reigning champions are dethroned, because he didn't show much hope at all over the course of the fight. Barao might be better off rebounding with a fight like Johnny Eduardo, who was unranked before knocking out Eddie Wineland. Eduardo is becoming a hot name in the division, but he only has 1 big win and lacks the necessary experience to give Barao a run for his money. Dillashaw however, can start defending the belt against worthy contenders, and if he continues to perform like he did against Barao it will likely be a long time before the title changes hands again.
Raphael Assuncao, who handed Dillashaw a controversial loss recently, is a good first title defense for Dillashaw while Barao earns another chance to fight for the belt. Myself and almost everyone else who predicted this fight would have never guessed that Dillashaw could have dominated Barao the way he did, but regardless this moment will always be remembered as one of the biggest, most dominant and most exciting upsets in UFC history. Another factor in the bantamweight division that could shake things up is the return of Dominic Cruz. Cruz has been out since 2011 but never lost a fight while holding the title, he was forced to forfeit the title due to inactivity. Cruz could match up with Dillashaw, Barao or even his longtime rival Urijah Faber upon his return, whenever that may be.
The co-main event saw Daniel Cormier face Dan Henderson, in a performance almost exactly as many media members predicted. Cormier was a huge favorite in this bout, having a distinct size and wrestling advantage, even despite Henderson's Olympic wrestling credentials. Henderson's wrestling never translated to MMA well offensively or defensively, and he prefers to stalk opponents on the feet while looking for his right hand. Cormier looked at least 2, maybe 3 weight classes above Henderson. Cormier is a huge light heavyweight who likely weighed around 225-230 pounds in the cage against Henderson, who doesn't often cut weight, and likely weighed 195-200 pounds, after weighing in at 199, and may have lost some water weight when warming up for the fight. Cormier dominated Henderson immediately at the start of the fight, taking him down, keeping him down, passing to side control and landing some blows while rag-dolling Henderson in the process. Henderson was able to work for a leg lock and create enough space to stand up at the end of the first round, and briefly tried to land a couple of big right hands while standing with Cormier in the second round. Outside of those brief moments by Henderson, Cormier had him down and was dominating him from on top.
Going into the third round, Henderson was gassed and Cormier was still very fresh, and this was no more clear than when Cormier went for a takedown, picked Henderson up above his head, slammed him down and allowed Henderson up for just long enough to trip him and end up on top again. Cormier continued his dominance from on top from there and went to take Henderson's back and secure a choke when he saw the opportunity to do so. This decision was rather surprising as Cormier looked happy to dominate Henderson from on top without worrying about going for a finish, but the rear-naked choke was there, Cormier went for it and Henderson went to sleep without trying to tap. While the outcome of this fight and the dominance that Cormier showed was expected, it is still very impressive and has earned him a title shot later this year against Jon Jones or Alexander Gustafsson, who will fight towards the end of the summer. Henderson at 43 years old might still have some gas in the tank as evidenced by his TKO over Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in his last outing, and while he still may have his power, his days at light heavyweight should be over. Henderson should look to come back to the middleweight division, as he doesn't have the gas to keep up with élite light heavyweight fighters anymore and is naturally a smaller middleweight. Henderson once faced Anderson Silva to unify the Pride and UFC belts, and he should face someone near the bottom of the top 10 in the division, as Henderson has earned is right to fight someone who has a name, rather than someone looking to make a name from the fight, and Henderson needs to earn a couple more wins to earn a top-level opponent based on his lone win in his past 5 fights.
The third bout on the pay per view main card saw Robbie Lawler face Jake Ellenberger to see who would climb the ladder towards a title shot in the welterweight division. Lawler was coming off a shot against Johny Hendricks for the vacant welterweight title, and looked like he continued to improve after losing a close 48-47 decision to Hendricks. Ellenberger looked outclassed for most of the fight, as Lawler opened the fight by landing at a regular pace with both hands and kicks in the first round while using superior movement to evade most of what Ellenberger threw at him. In the second round Lawler used the same striking he displayed in the first round, but Ellenberger was able to secure a couple takedowns to threaten Lawler. This threat was not taken seriously, as Lawler popped up to his feet quickly after being taken down, even ending up on top at times, all while smiling and seemingly laughing at Ellenberger's takedown attempts.
The third round started with a firm message from Ellenberger's corner to stand close and trade big blows, which he did after the start of the round with some success, appearing to rock Lawler slightly. Lawler fired back with little hesitation in a moment of brawling before continuing to dominate Ellenberger from every position. The brief brawling moments initiated by Ellenberger were mainly capitalized on by Lawler with his superior technique. Lawler ultimately hurt Ellenberger against the fence with punches, landed a knee to drop Ellenberger and continued to land punches and secure a TKO victory mid-way through the third round. Lawler looked flat-out dominant throughout the fight, and whether he fights the winner of Rory MacDonald versus Tyron Woodley or the winner of Hector Lombard versus Matt Brown, he is likely only 1 win away from a title shot, if he doesn't get an immediate rematch with Hendricks. Ellenberger needs to face someone lower in the top 10 or top 15, as he has looked very hesitant in his past 2 fights and needs to get a fight that will give him a greater chance to establish his trademark offense once again.
Takeya Mizugaki squared off against Francisco Rivera in the second fight on pay per view, in a technical bout for Mizugaki with some brawling exchanges sprinkled in. Mizugaki knocked down Rivera early in the first round during a brawling exchange and looked to have him out, but after allowing him time to recover Rivera came back strong and earned two takedowns to finish out the round. Mizugaki continued dominating the opening half of the second round by staying on top, but he was unable to do much damage .Rivera was efficient with his strikes, but he did not hurt Mizugaki much to close out the round, making it hard to chose whether Mizugaki's time on top or Rivera's striking won the round. The second round wasn't important in the end, though. Mizugaki scored another knockdown in the third round, wound up on top and landed some minor strikes, Rivera got up and Mizugaki won the brawling exchanges at the end of the fight that had the crowd briefly eating out of the palms of their...fists. Mizugaki clearly won a decision, and without the dominance needed to shoot up the ladder he still needs another fight or two before talk of a title shot commences despite his impressive 6 fight winning streak. It will be back to the drawing board as Rivera will need to face someone ranked near the bottom of the top 15 to see where he will go in the division from here.
The opening fight on the pay-per-view card showcased former WEC champ Jamie Varner facing off against James Krause, in what unfolded to be a very odd chain of events. It wasn't readily apparent when watching the fight the first time, but upon rewatching the fight and looking closely at Varner's ankle, Krause hit him with a low leg kick barely 40 seconds into the fight, and immediately after the kick connected cleanly, Varner's ankle gave out. Varner continued to try to fight the best he could, but with his movement severely impaired he shot for a takedown. Varner managed to escape a guillotine attempt by Krause, end up on top and do enough damage to cut Krause before the stand up occurred. From the stand up it was all downhill for Varner, who was clearly unable to stand with Krause, or barely stand at all, but he tried his best to control his dangling foot and give Krause his best shot. Varner fell down twice before the round ended, and the doctor immediately came in to call the fight. Whether Varner, the ref, his corner or the doctor called the fight is irrelevant, because Varner was not going to physically be able to come out for the second round. The better question is why those 4 parties didn't do anything when Varner was clearly struggling for the better part of 4 minutes, Varner admitting immediately after the round that he likely has a broken ankle. With fighter safety in mind, either the ref, or Varner's cornerman, should have recognized the extent of Varner's injury based on the multiple times the ankle gave out, and this was rather irresponsible. This fight doesn't say much about either fighter, as Krause landed 1 good kick and looked good fighting a crippled Varner, while Varner showed his massive heart. A rematch after Varner recovers, if he recovers quickly, or matches against low ranked opponents in the top 15 are good future matchups for both fighters amidst this bout of confusion.
UFC 173 will be a night of fights that will always be remembered throughout the history of the UFC. What are your thoughts on the fights? Please comment below with any ideas and feedback.