The longest unbeaten streak in mixed martial arts (MMA) will be put to the test once again this Saturday (May 24, 2014) when Brazil's Renan Barao faces Team Alpha Male standout T.J. Dillashaw in the main event of UFC 173, which will emanate live from MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The two will battle for Barao's bantamweight title, which he won in interim fashion two years ago at the expense of Dillashaw's teammate, Urijah Faber.
In addition, two of the light heavyweight division's most highly-credentialed wrestlers will battle in the co-main event when unbeaten Daniel Cormier takes on the resurgent Dan Henderson. Robbie Lawler will also make his return to the Octafon against :The Juggernaut," Jake Ellenberger.
That's not all.
We examined the first three of seven scheduled UFC 173 "Prelims" under card bouts that will air online via Fight Pass yesterday right here. We've still got four more under card fights to look at the will air on FOX Sports 1 ahead of the pay-per-view (PPV) main card.
Let's get right to it:
155 lbs.: Michael Chiesa vs. Francisco Trinaldo
After starting his Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) career with two straight wins, Michael Chiesa (10-1) faced the sternest test of his career in the form of Jorge Masvidal at UFC on FOX 8. Though he managed to drop "Gamebred" in the opening round, Chiesa ultimately submitted to a D’arce late in the second round.
Chiesa rebounded in Nov. 2013, submitting Colton Smith at UFC Fight Night 31 to record his sixth straight win via rear-naked choke.
Francisco Trinaldo (14-3) rebounded from his loss to Gleison Tibau with consecutive submissions over C.J. Keith and Mike Rio. While he lost in Sept. 2013 to Poland’s Piotr Hallmann, "Massaranduba" managed to raise his Octagon record to 4-2 at the expense of Jesse Ronson in Feb. 2014.
He will give up five inches of height to Chiesa.
As fond as I am of Trinaldo, it’s getting old seeing the same story each fight. You’ll get five to seven minutes of dominance from him, then he’s out of steam and holding on for dear life. I understand the appeal of being possibly the biggest lightweight in UFC, but this isn’t the path to consistent success.
It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he thrashed Chiesa in the opening round. Trinaldo is a tank of a man with huge physical strength. The problem is that Chiesa is still going to be there when Trinaldo is struggling to draw breath. Chiesa is tough as hell and is very unlikely to wilt under Trinaldo’s might early on.
Rule one is cardio. Chiesa survives an early manhandling to secure his signature rear-naked choke late in the second round.
Prediction: Chiesa via second-round submission
155 lbs.: Tony Ferguson vs. Katsunori Kikuno
Tony Ferguson (14-3) had a six-fight win streak abruptly halted in 2012 by fellow The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) winner Michael Johnson, at which point he seemed to vanish from Earth. He eventually made his return in Oct. 2013, submitting Mike Rio in less than two minutes for his twelfth career finish.
"El Cucuy" will enjoy four inches of height over Katsunori Kikuno (22-5-2).
Kikuno entered UFC on a five-fight win streak that included four straight first-round finishes. This January, he won his Octagon debut against the much taller Quinn Mulhern, winning the striking battle and staying out of harm’s way when Mulhern pulled guard.
The Japanese karateka has scored twelve knockouts in his career.
I’ve been struggling with this fight for a while. Kikuno may be weird, but he’s anything but a novelty. On the feet, he’s a match for most of the division. Fearsome though Ferguson’s power is, he struggled some with Yves Edwards and more considerably with Michael Johnson.
This has the potential to be a truly excellent striking match.
Ferguson’s length and wrestling could be the deciding factor here. Kikuno has been stifled from the clinch in the past and may struggle to land those rib-crushing kicks on the lankier Ferguson. No matter the result, though, it ought to be excellent.
Ferguson ekes out a win through long-range punching and dirty boxing when Kikuno gets too close.
Prediction: Ferguson via split decision
135 lbs.: Chris Holdsworth vs. Chico Camus
Chris Holdsworth (5-0) -- yet another Alpha Male standout -- tore through TUF 18's house, scoring three straight first-round submissions to make it to the Finale. Once there, Davey Grant bucked the trend, surviving to the second round before eventually succumbing to a rear-naked choke.
He is five inches taller than Camus.
After a submission loss to Dustin Kimura in his second UFC appearance, Chico Camus (14-4) quickly established himself as a legitimate contender, upsetting Kyung Ho Kang and outgrappling Yaotzin Meza in subsequent appearances. He has now won six of his last seven, including a win over Alptekin Ozkilic.
He replaces the aforementioned Kang on relatively short notice against Holdsworth.
I was quite bummed when Kang was forced to pull out -- his size and frantic grappling style would have clashed brilliantly with Holdsworth’s own Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Even though Camus is by no means a pushover, his outlook is certainly a bit dimmer than the South Korean’s would have been.
Holdsworth is a truly elite grappler in a division full of elite grapplers. He fights out of a terrific camp and demonstrated solid standup on TUFr. Camus’ standard grinding style seems doomed to failure and I don’t figure he’ll have more success on the feet.
We’ll probably get some good grappling exchanges out of this before Holdsworth works his way to Camus’ back and scores his second UFC submission win.
Prediction: Holdsworth via second-round submission
155 lbs.: Al Iaquinta vs. Mitch Clarke
Even though Al Iaquinta (8-2-1) fell at TUF 15 Finale to tournament winner, Michael Chiesa, he has carved out a place for himself in the crowded lightweight division with three straight wins. Most recently, he survived having Kevin Lee on his back for almost the entirety of a round to take home a decision win.
The Serra-Longo product is three inches shorter than his opponent.
Mitch Clarke (10-2) struggled early in his UFC career, dropping consecutive losses to John Cholish and Anton Kuivanen. In June 2013, however, he managed to defeat English grappler John Maguire, most likely saving his UFC career in the process.
Six of his wins have come by submission.
This match up confuses me. On paper, it’s a step sideways at best for Iaquinta, who seems ready for at least a Top 20-ranked opponent. The difficulty he had with Lee’s grappling and Clarke’s submission-heavy record seem to indicate danger for Iaquinta, but I don’t see him having any success taking him down.
Iaquinta has steadily improved his boxing to the point where he’s about due for his first UFC knockout. Odds are he stuffs Clarke’s takedown attempts before starching him with an overhand right in a fight that never sees him in danger.
Prediction: Iaquinta via first-round technical knockout
Intriguing title fight and knockout punchers throughout the main card -- sounds like a recipe for success!
See you there, Maniacs.
Remember that 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.
Current UFC "Prelims" Prediction Record 2014: 63-30 (1 NC)