Last night (May 24, 2014), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returned to MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. with UFC 173: "Barao vs. Dillashaw" on pay-per-view.
The card was headlined by a 135-pound title fight between UFC Bantamweight Champion Renan Barao and Team Alpha Male standout, T.J. Dillashaw. In what was likely the biggest upset of the year, Dillashaw dominated Barao for four rounds before finishing the champ in the fifth and final frame.
The co-main event featured former-Olympians Daniel Cormier and Dan Henderson in light heavyweight action. Henderson was thoroughly dominated by the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix winner, who ended the fight with a rear-naked choke in the third stanza.
Overall, UFC 173 was extremely enjoyable. So let's go ahead and talk about last night ...
Dillashaw defeats Barao in dominant fashion ...
I have no problem saying that I didn't expect T.J. Dillashaw to defeat Renan Barao. None of us did. He entered the bout as a +765 underdog at some sports books, essentially a warm body for the champ to run through while awaiting a more suitable opponent. For the sake of full disclosure, Barao was a -1000 favorite at fight time.
While I'd disagree with Joe Rogan that it was the greatest performance ever, it was definitely incredibly impressive. From the opening bell, Dillashaw didn't show any respect toward Barao's vaunted striking prowess (watch full fight video highlights here).
It was a different Dillashaw.
He dropped the champ early and from there, it just seemed like Barao was confused and a step or two slower than the challenger. He rarely threw leg kicks -- the strikes that were responsible for softening up countless opponents.
In the lead up to this fight, I just didn't see an avenue for Dillashaw to win. Sure, he had a winning record in the Octagon, but his biggest win was against Mike Easton, who isn't exactly a world beater. After this fight? I want to see Dillashaw do it again against the rest of the division.
The king is now dead. Long live the king.
Cormier finally gets his UFC moment ...
It's not that Daniel Cormier's UFC career had been disappointing because it hadn't. It's that he entered the promotion with such high expectations, that anything short of dominating would be considered a failure. His wins at heavyweight, while against top competition, just didn't end in spectacular fashion.
Even his one chance to prove he's an elite fighter went up in smoke when Rashad Evans was forced to pull out because of an injury.
UFC 173 was DC's official coming out party. He dominated Dan Henderson at every aspect of the game (watch full fight video highlights here). His submission was on point, his top game was smothering, and his stand up looked crisp. But, what was most impressive was his wrestling.
There's never been a fighter who has just tossed around Henderson like he was a sack of potatoes. I don't know if UFC matchmaker Joe Silva was impressed enough to give him a title shot, but it's definitely put Cormier in the discussion.
If I'm the rest of the 205-pound division, I'd be terrified. DC finally got his groove back.
"Ruthless" lives up to his nickname ...
I'm fascinated by the new version of Robbie Lawler. Like Matt Brown, I once wrote him off as nothing more than a fun fighter who wouldn't ever become a top-tier contender. Sure, they could be counted on to put on an exciting fight to open a card, but they'd never be considered among the best in the division.
The past few weeks have proven that notion incorrect.
Lawler has finally put all the skills together to become a complete fighter. He still hits like a truck, but he's moving so much better around the cage that it's difficult for his opponents to find their range. And since he never was the kind of fighter to trade unnecessary punches, his chin has held up throughout the years.
He's in an interesting position at the moment. The win over Jake Ellenberger was impressive enough that it could vault him to another welterweight title shot, and I'm not sure anyone would complain after the first meeting with Johny Hendricks.
But, I'd like to see him fight the aforementioned Brown. That's a bout that could easily headline a FOX card and possibly take the "Fight of the Year" honors.
Additional Thoughts ...
- I'd like to think that Renan Barao just really underestimated T.J. Dillashaw. That's the only thing that makes sense this morning. But, as I said above, he wouldn't be the only one.
- Is it too late for Team Alpha Male to give Duane Ludwig a bunch of money to stay on as coach?
- It's probably time for Old Man Henderson to hang 'em up.
- I was gonna make a comic book reference about how Jake Ellenberger has fallen off, but most of you don't know about the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak.
- Francisco Rivera is a guy who a lot of people are really high on, but I just don't see it. Maybe it was a just a bad showing, but the guy who was in the cage last night is not one that I want on my television.
- Jamie Varner is absolutely one of the toughest men in the lightweight division. His ankle was totally destroyed, yet he still found the strength to try and finish the fight in the first round. That being said, the referee needs to be questioned as to why he allowed a fighter who continually collapsed without getting hit to keep fighting.
- Michael Chiesa sure has improved a lot since his time on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 15. I don't know what his ceiling is, but his grappling was impressive. Hopefully, he can start rounding out so we can see what the future really holds for the TUF champion.
- Katsunori Kikuno learned a valuable lesson last night. NEVER, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, BLOCK PUNCHES WITH YOUR FACE. EVER.
- Chris Holdsworth did his thing. He's a high level grappler, but if he wants to break through, he needs to develop the rest of his skill set because at the moment, he's insanely one-dimensional.
- Hats off to Mitch Clarke for that surprising submission. He was getting handled pretty easily up until that moment, which is to say that while the ending was impressive, the rest of his performance was not.
- Vinc Pichel's win over Anthony Njokuani proved that mixed martial arts (MMA) referees just don't care about fouls in the sport. Multiple low blows, an eye poke, grabbing the fence. Those all led to a dominant second and third round.
- Overall, it was a fun night. The top of the card didn't disappoint and with a new bantamweight champion, the division is now wide open.