UFC 173 preview: Five burning questions heading into 'Barao vs. Dillashaw' in Las Vegas

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

Before every fight card, mixed martial arts (MMA) fans toggle between possible scenarios and what to expect days before it all unfolds in front of their eyes. Probable outcomes, distinguishable facts and head-scratching theories are all part of the mystique that surrounds the fights on any given night. We ask ourselves the same questions … and try to uncover different answers.

What happens in Vegas will be violent in Vegas.

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to "Sin City" for UFC 173: "Barao vs. Dillashaw," taking place this Saturday night (May 24, 2014) from MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

UFC bantamweight kingpin Renan Barao looks for his fourth consecutive title defense, as he takes on Team Alpha Male's T.J. Dillashaw in the main event. "The Baron" has not lost in 32 straight fights.

"The Viper" will get a chance to avenge his teammate Urijah Faber's loss this upcoming weekend, as coach Duane "Bang" Ludwig will be in the fighter's corner for the last time since he's leaving the upstart fight camp.

In the co-main event, Daniel Cormier takes on Dan Henderson in his second fight at light heavyweight. A win for either of these sluggers could see them challenge the winner of Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson at a later date.

Also on the card, former UFC 170-pound title challenger Robbie Lawler battles Jake Ellenberger in welterweight contest.

With several interesting storylines emerging from this card, check out our "Five Burning Questions" heading into these fights in Las Vegas:

5. Will Takeya Mizugaki be overlooked if he's victorious?

Historians will recall Mizugaki's battle against Miguel Torres at WEC 40 in 2009, where both bantamweights fought for the latter's title in one of the best five-round battles in World Extreme Cagefighting history.

Still, that was five years ago and the Japanese combatant didn't help his cause shortly after by going 4-4, before racking up four straight wins since 2012.

About those four wins, they date back to November 2012, which means Mizugaki has yet to taste defeat in a year-and-a-half.

It's possible Mizugaki goes unnoticed since his four decision wins were over average talent, yet you can't count out five consecutive victories in a division short of new title contenders.

4. What will happen when Robbie Lawler squares off against Jake Ellenberger?

Oh, the possibilities.

This fight could be bananas, or it could be a huge disappointment.

Pundits and observers alike would love for this battle to go down as marketed: two heavy hitters with devastating power in their punches trading until someone falters.

On the contrary, "The Juggernaut" should mix up his game and go for takedowns, since his team could be warning him about Lawler's fists.

"Ruthless" is more than capable of keeping things competitive in grappling exchanges and wrestling matches; however, seeing how Ellenberger is superior in that regard and may need this victory more than his foe in terms of the welterweight title picture -- and how his last fight turned out -- so he can't risk going into full knockout mode.

After all, Lawler was just in a title fight.

Let's hope this turns out to be a war, but the rage should be kept to a minimum if it doesn't.

3. Can Dan Henderson legitimately compete against Daniel Cormier?

Henderson has been fighting since some of us were in grade school, winning several major championships in his storied career.

Although, there's one title missing on the warrior's shelf back in California, and if he can beat Cormier this Saturday night, it's possible that dream can become a reality again.

He's already earned two UFC title shots before, but couldn't beat Quinton Jackson at UFC 75 and Anderson Silva at UFC 82. His last fight was difficult to watch, as Mauricio Rua dropped him on several occasions before Henderson clipped him with his notorious right hand.

Snapping a three-fight losing streak, which included his first-ever knockout loss to Vitor Belfort, the end of the road looked to be in sight. Not only did "Hendo" defy the odds, he now finds himself in a possible title eliminator bout against "DC" in Las Vegas.

The American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) standout is going to have his hands full with an opponent more accomplished than a coffee shop barista, but does Henderson have a realistic shot at getting the job done?

This will be Cormier's first true test in the 205-pound division, yet he's younger, possesses the speed and strength advantage, and he's been in far lesser wars than his counterpart.

Dare to dream?

2. Can T.J. Dillashaw shock the world?

It's going to be tough.

The young bantamweight hopeful finds himself up against a killer, and even a victory wouldn't earn him the same tag.

He would certainly become the best bantamweight in the world, but the odds are stacked against him.

Let's keep in mind Dillashaw is 1-1 in his last two bouts, even if his loss to Raphael Assuncao (Barao's original opponent) was a close one. He holds a 5-2 record in the organization, and apart from guys like his mentor Urijah Faber and Michael McDonald, who have already succumbed to the champion, he's the worthiest challenger to the Brazilian's throne.

With that being said, toppling the champ is going to be a tall order. At least "The Viper" is extremely confident in himself, finding extra motivation in Ludwig, who's been unsuccessful in bringing a title to Team Alpha Male thus far with one final chance to do it in his last shift.

Could Dillashaw score one of the biggest upsets in UFC history?

1. Does Renan Barao earn the tag of being the best fighter in the world if he wins?

Pound-for-pound rankings aren't everyone's forte, especially since we've seen how misconstrued the UFC rankings are when the promotion wants to tweak them for its own benefit.

Barao hasn't lost since 2005, racking up 32 wins including six impressive finishes under the Zuffa banner dating back to 2010. He's got a long way to go if he wants to see his name in the UFC record books when it comes to title defenses, yet he's already proven himself to be one of the most dangerous athletes in all of MMA.

UFC boss Dana White can't seem to make up his mind when it comes to who is the very best fighter in the world, going back and forth between Barao, Jon Jones and even Chris Weidman.

So, where does Barao rank if he crushes Dillashaw in Las Vegas?

The difference between Barao and the other champions mentioned is that he's scored three back-to-back finishes in his last three title defenses (one of them being controversial) and he's becoming arguably the most emphatic finishers out of all the title holders.

You can't count out his undefeated streak, either. Even though some of those wins were over unknowns in Brazil, nobody's come remotely close to finishing the Brazilian or putting him in grave danger. I guess it's just a matter of opinion ... or is it?

We may find out this weekend.

For more on UFC 173: "Barao vs. Dillashaw," check out the finalized card right here.

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