UFC 173 preview, predictions for 'Barao vs Dillashaw' online 'Prelims' fights on Fight Pass / FOX Sports 1, Pt. 1

USA TODAY Sports

More fights are coming to Fight Pass online digital network and FOX Sports 1 this weekend (Sat., May 24, 2014) when UFC 173: "Barao vs. Dillashaw" mixed martial arts (MMA) event kicks off from MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. MMAmania.com's Patrick Stumberg kicks off UFC 173 "Prelims" party with part one of a two-part under card preview series.

Nova Uniao vs. Team Alpha Male: Take 10?

After stopping lead Alpha Male, Urijah Faber, Brazilian monster Renan Barao is back this weekend (Sat., May 24, 2014) for his second Bantamweight title defense of 2014, taking on young(ish) gun T.J. Dillashaw in the main event of UFC 173, which takes place at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

In addition to the 135-pound main event, the pay-per-view (PPV) card will also feature a clash of Olympians when Dan Henderson faces Daniel Cormier in a pivotal Light Heavyweight tussle. Also, two of the hardest punchers in mixed martial arts (MMA) at 170 pounds in the sport, recent title contender Robbie Lawler and powerhouse Jake Ellenberger, will lock horns.

But, before all that, we've got seven UFC 173 "Prelims" under card matches on tap, the first three of which will stream online via Fight Pass and the balance will beam on FOX Sports 1.

Let's first look at the former trio:

155 lbs.: Anthony Njokuani vs. Vinc Pichel

Anthony Njokuani (16-7) scored one of the more stunning wins of his career in April 2013, starching Roger Bowling with a beautiful left hook in the second stanza. Unfortunately, he has not seen action since because he was forced to withdraw from a Sept. 2013 bout with Al Iaquinta because of an injury.

Nine of his career wins have come by form of knockout.

Vinc Pichel (8-1) -- a semifinalist on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 15 -- had a rather ignominious Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) debut, falling to Dagestani suplex machine Rustam Khabilov. After more than one year on the shelf, he bounced back with a decision win over Garett Whitely in Jan. 2014.

That win marked his first victory by submission, all others having come via punches.

I will go on record as saying that Njokuani is one of the absolute elite strikers of the Lightweight division. He uses all limbs extraordinarily well and has greatly improved his takedown defense in recent times. If Pichel is forced to engage him on the feet, it will end very poorly for him.

The decisive question in this bout is whether Pichel can drag down Njokuani. He was content to smother Whitely, but I don’t imagine him having the same success here. Barring ill effects from the layoff, Njokuani should chew him up before a big head kick or something similar ends things in the second round.

Prediction: Njokuani via second-round technical knockout

145 lbs.: Sam Sicilia vs. Aaron Philips

Sam Sicilia (12-4) impressed enough on TUF 15 to become coach Dominick Cruz’s second pick. Since then, though, it’s been all downhill, as he’s lost three of his last four after knocking out Cristiano Marcello at TUF 15 Finale.

He has not gone the distance in victory since his professional debut, scoring seven knockouts.

Aaron Philips (5-0) -- a Muay Thai specialist -- was scheduled to face Chute Boxe-trained prodigy Thomas de Almeida under the Legacy FC banner in June 2013. When Korean wunderkind Doo Ho Choi was forced out of his debut with an injury, however, Philips answered the call to face Sicilia on short notice.

He is a student of UFC veteran Tim Credeur, scoring three knockouts in five victories.

The Sam Sicilia ship has well and truly sailed at this point. In fact, he didn’t just dodge a bullet, he dodged a damn howitzer round when Choi pulled out. Luckily for him, Philips -- a solid striker with average takedown defense -- seems to play right into his hands. Philips is coming in on short notice and has faced significantly weaker opposition in his career.

Sicilia’s chin and poor striking will forever relegate him to the lower tiers of the division. Philips, at least at this point in his career, is in an even lower tier. Sicilia bulldozes him to the mat and pounds him out early on.

Prediction: Sicilia via first-round technical knockout

170 lbs.: David Michaud vs. Li Jingliang

Davis Michaud (7-0) got his first crack at UFC stardom on TUF 16, losing to Eddy Ellis in the elimination round. Undaunted, he scored three straight victories on the regional circuit afterward, most recently beating Bellator veteran Carey Vanier in Jan, 2014.

He replaces David Mitchell on less than one month’s notice.

Li Jingliang (8-2) has spent the majority of his career under the Legend FC banner, going 5-2 in the promotion. He was last seen beating New Zealand’s Luke Jumeau in April 2013. As befits his nickname, five of "The Leech" wins have come via submission.

Honestly, I’m not terribly impressed by either of these guys. Michaud gets hit too easily and neither Jingliang’s stand up nor ground game are particularly eye-catching. Both are primarily grapplers, meaning this likely comes down to wrestling.

And I think Michaud has the edge there.

Again, neither of these two are elite, but I believe Michaud will have slightly more success putting Jingliang on his back than vice-versa. The American grinds out a win in a rather lackluster bout.

Prediction: Michaud via unanimous decision

Four more UFC 173 "Prelims" fights to preview and predict tomorrow, featuring a few TUF winners in quality match ups.

See you there, Maniacs!

MMAmania.com will provide LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 173 fight card on fight night (Sat., May 24, 2014), starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, right on through the FOX Sports 1-televised under card bouts at 8 p.m. ET and then main card PPV, which is slated to begin at 10 p.m. ET.

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