UFC 173: Barao vs. Dillashaw – Preview, Odds and Predictions for the Main Card

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UFC 173: Barao vs. Dillashaw
Saturday, May 24, 2014 | Las Vegas, NV
Pay-Per-View Main Card: 10 p.m./7p.m. ET/PT
Fox Sports 1 Prelims: 8 p.m./3:30 p.m. ET/PT
Fight Pass Early Prelims: 6:30 p.m./3:30 p.m. ET/PT

The Ultimate Fighting Championship is returning to their home city of Las Vegas, NV this weekend with UFC 173: Barao vs. Dillashaw. As the only pay-per-view the promotion is putting out in May, the event depended heavily on its originally scheduled headliner: a considerably more exciting matchup between the still rather under-respected middleweight champion, Chris Weidman, and former light heavyweight champion, Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida. A nagging knee injury forced Weidman to withdraw from the card, pushing their matchup back to July, but fortunately for the injury-plagued organization, they had a title fight set up as their co-main event. A slight reshuffle of the card was all it took, and here we are.

Though certainly far from the best card Joe Silva and Sean Shelby have put together this year, the talent the UFC has – even at its thinnest points – often still dwarfs other mixed martial arts promotions. Before UFC 173 even begins its televised preliminary card broadcast, bantamweight slugger Sam Sicillia [12-4] will welcome undefeated newcomer Aaron Phillips [5-0] (who trains under “Crazy” Tim Credeur at Gladiators Academy in Lafayette, LA), and Ultimate Fighter alum Vince “From Hell” Pichel [8-1] will try to put together a win streak against Anthony “The Assassin” Njokuani [16-7], an 11-year veteran of the sport who has alternated wins and losses since moving over from World Extreme Cagefighting back in early 2011.

Once it hits live TV, fans should recognize some of the fighters pretty easy, as three of the four fights shown on Fox Sports 1 feature past TUF winners (with 5 TUF alums making appearances there, overall). Opening up the free televised portion of the card is a neat little matchup between the hot-streaking Serra-Long Fight Team product, “Raging” Al Iaquinta [8-2-1] and the Canadian Mitch “Danger Zone” Clark [10-2], whose last fight against John “The One’ Maguire sent the very versatile Brit out of the promotion and back overseas. Next up, TUF 18 winner Chris Holdsworth [5-0] faces the game and battle-tested Roufusport product Chico “King” Camus [14-4] in his first fight since winning the reality show competition. It’ll be interesting to see how the Team Alpha Male member fares against tougher, more experienced opposition. Another TUF champion, Tony “El Cucuy” Ferguson [14-3], will look to make it two in a row after his first-round submission of South Florida’s Mike “The Wolverine” Rio back in October when he takes on gifted Japanese striker Katsunori Kikuno [22-5] in a fight that will likely put the victor one or two more wins away from possibly entering the division’s top 15. Serving as the prelims headliner is a very solid bout between TUF 15 winner Michael “Maverick” Chiesa [10-1] and TUF Brazil 1 cast member Francisco “Massaranduba” (say that seven times fast) Trinaldo [14-3]. Like the fighters before them, these guys are hoping a big win will be able to move them up the ladder enough to the UFC’s official rankings, however they’ll probably need another notable victory before that happens.

Once that’s all through, the main course will be served on pay-per-view. Here’s a look at all five fights on the card.

Jamie Varner (right) undoubtedly hopes to win one more title before hanging up his gloves. A win over James Krause on Saturday will help get him there. (Photo: Josh Hedges/WEC Productions LLC/WEC Productions LLC via Getty Images)

Jamie Varner (right) undoubtedly hopes to win one more title before hanging up his gloves. A win over James Krause on Saturday will help get him there.
(Photo: Josh Hedges/WEC Productions LLC/WEC Productions LLC via Getty Images)

 Lightweight (155 lbs.) Fight – 3 Rounds
Jamie “C-4” Varner [21-9-1, 2 NC] (-175)
vs.
James “The James Krause” Krause [20-5] (+150)

No, that wasn’t me having an aneurism while writing out Krause’s nickname; that’s what he calls himself. I know, as a fan and a (low-level) MMA journo, I should be most excited about the actual matchup between former WEC champion Jamie Varner and Krause, a promising up-and-comer who’s recorded submission wins over #10-ranked lightweight Michael “The Menace” Johnson and Sam “Hands of Stone” Stout, but if I’m being honest, my absurdist humor leanings have me absolutely giddy over hearing Bruce Buffer scream with inordinate enthusiasm, “JAMES ‘THE JAMES KRAUSE’ KRAUSE!!!” It’s just so unbelievably stupid. I can’t wait.

Neither fighter is new to the sport, and both of them have faced top competition. That being said, Varner has inarguably faced more of it, and by a landslide. His championship experience will undoubtedly play a role in the matchup. Both fighters are well-rounded proven finishers coming off stoppage losses, so expect a bit of tentativeness in the early goings.

After 29 fights spanning 11 years, Jamie Varner suffered the first knockout loss of his career in his last outing when Abel Trujillo put him out cold midway through the second round of their fight back in February. Conversely, Krause has never had his clock cleaned concussively, so he may be a little more gung-ho as a result. Varner’s a gamer, however, and counting him out of any fight is always a bad idea (just ask Edson Barboza). That said, at 6’2” and sporting a 74 inch reach advantage, Krause will simply tower over the former WEC lightweight kingpin, who stands at a comparatively diminutive 5’8”. He also hits faster and more often than his opponent. Considering Varner’s wrestling acumen, all of the above information may not enter into it, as Krause’s dreadful 14% takedown defense will likely see him planted on his backside on more than one occasion.

Jamie Varner defeats James Krause by unanimous decision.

Francisco Rivera is riding a five-fight win streak into Saturday's event, knocking out all but one of them. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Francisco Rivera is riding a five-fight win streak into Saturday’s event, knocking out all but one of them.
(Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Bantamweight (135 lbs.) Fight – 3 Rounds
#6 Takeya Mizugaki [19-7-2] (-170)
vs.
#10 Francisco “Cisco” Rivera [10-2, 1 NC] (+145)

If you’re at all a sucker for upper-pectoral star tattoos, boy, is it your lucky night! Right after Jamie Varner leaves the cage victorious in his matchup against Pascal “The Ludicrously Nicknamed” Krause, Francisco Rivera will enter the cage sporting some eerily similar ink. Riding a five-fight win streak (it would have been six, but his first-round TKO stoppage of Roland Delorme at UFC 149 was overturned when he was popped for a banned over-the-counter stimulant), Rivera is absolutely mercing his opposition, defeating all but one of them by knockout.

Japan’s Takeya Mizugaki has looked pretty good since gaining his bearings in the UFC, defeating four of his last five opponents along the way to securing a spot at #6 on the promotion’s official rankings. That he’s beaten both the former #10-ranked Erik Perez and #14-ranked Bryan “Mr. Meisha Tate” Caraway within the last two years – combined with the fact that he went through the WEC, fighting top opposition such as Scott Jorgensen, Miguel Torres and Urijah Faber (despite losing to all three) – probably explains why he’s the odds-on favorite to win this matchup. He’s durable, experienced and he knows how to eke out a decision if need by (which is more often than not).

Rivera’s building steam, however, and if he can keep Mizugaki from tying him up and tiring him out, he’ll likely crack the Miura, Kanagawa native hard enough to shut out the lights before the final bell is rung.

Francisco Rivera defeats Takeya Mizugaki TKO.

Jake Ellenberger's been out for almost a year. How much the layoff will affect him on fight night is a definite point of interest.  (Photo: Al Powers for ESPN)

Jake Ellenberger’s been out for almost a year. How much the layoff will affect him on fight night is a definite point of interest.
(Photo: Al Powers for ESPN)

Welterweight (170 lbs.) Fight – 3 Rounds
#1 “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler [22-10, 1 NC] (-225)
vs.
#5 Jake “The Juggernaut” Ellenberger [29-7] (+190)

 Of all the fights on this card, this is the one with the most potential for entertaining violence. Coming off possibly the greatest year of his 13 in the sport, Robbie Lawler is no doubt looking to make a quick U-turn and head right back into title contention with a victory over Jake Ellenberger, who we haven’t seen since his decision loss to Rory MacDonald back in late July of last year. In the interim, Ellenberger’s been keeping busy both in the gym and out, and the newest addition to the MMA Roasted podcast may find himself knocking on title contention’s door himself with a win over the #1-ranked “Ruthless.”

On paper, this is an extremely close matchup. These two longtime competitors are roughly the same height, they sport comparable reaches, both come from wrestling backgrounds and both have one-punch knockout power. Although Ellenberger has the advantage – percentage-wise – in submission success, striking and takedown defense, and takedown accuracy (a hugely impressive 93% success rate), Lawler appears to be the busier and (slightly) more accurate striker.

He also eats 50% more strikes than Ellenberger. This didn’t appear to be a problem for him when he faced arguably the single most devastating one-hitter-quitter in the division – welterweight champion Johny Hendricks (it still feels weird writing that, by the way) – but the fight those two men fought won’t be the one Lawler and Ellenberger produce on Saturday. Lawler will be forced to stave off more takedowns, get hit more frequently and have less success landing his own strikes against Ellenberger, who will remind everyone that Hendricks, Woodley and Lawler aren’t the only fighters in the welterweight division’s top ten with explosive striking.

That being said, Lawler’s been more active, and knowing he was one round away from winning the title against Hendricks should have lit an absolute inferno under his posterior. This one’s going to be a mean one, folks. Don’t blink.

Robbie Lawler defeats Jake Ellenberger by TKO.

At 43, Dan Henderson (the one flying through the air) probably has just one more run at UFC gold. A loss to Daniel Cormier on Saturday may squash his hopes for good. (Photo: UFC/Zuffa LLC.)

At 43, Dan Henderson (the one flying through the air) probably has just one more run at UFC gold. A loss to Daniel Cormier on Saturday may squash his hopes for good.
(Photo: UFC/Zuffa LLC.)

CO-MAIN EVENT
Light Heavyweight (205 lbs.) Fight – 3 Rounds
#4 Daniel “DC” Cormier [14-0] (-900)
vs.
#6 Dan “Hendo” Henderson [30-11] (+600)

When terms like “iron jaw” or “solid beard” are applied to a fighter, it’s almost invariably meant as a compliment, meaning that the combatant in question can, to borrow a classic Timex slogan, “take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’.” The subtext of this, however – the thing that earning this descriptor hinges on – is that the fighter in question gets hit; a lot. A fighter’s shelf life is often directly proportional to how much damage they’ve accumulated over the years. Some last longer than others, but eventually the wear and tear on a fighter takes its toll and strikes which they would have otherwise shrugged off a year or two before put them out cold on the canvas, a common occurrence equally commonly followed by a cacophony of couch warriors calling for the fighter to hang up his or her gloves for good. It’s all well-intended, of course, but it’s tiresome nonetheless.

To wit, Dan Henderson’s legendary granite chin has shown some cracks lately. At 43 years old, the 17-year veteran of the sport is undoubtedly making his last run at the light heavyweight title. He’s already a mandatory inclusion in the much gabbed-about “MMA Mount Rushmore,” but successfully winning the modern UFC belt will forever place him in the G.O.A.T. debate. This is the man who knocked out Fedor, who beat “Shogun” Rua not once, but twice. He’s fought at three different weight classes – concurrently holding the Pride belts at both middleweight and welterweight – and has an amateur and Greco-Roman wrestling record that would make even the most lauded gold medalists blush.

Undefeated American Kickboxing Academy standout and fellow former Olympian Daniel Cormier is no spring chicken himself, and at 35 years old it’s certain he’s just as aware of his waning window of opportunity. He’s only been fighting professionally since late 2009, however. Nobody talks about his chin, either, but that’s because, thus far, few have been able find it. Up until a couple fights ago, he has fighting bigger, stronger dudes – stone cold killers like Soa “The Hulk” Palelei, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, Roy “Big Country” Nelson and former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir – and had dominated every single one of them. His training partner? UFC heavyweight champion “Cardio” Cain Velasquez.

Every fighter has a puncher’s chance, of course, and few fighters pack a wallop like Henderson does with his oft-revered “H-Bomb.” Still, Cormier is savvy enough to avoid it. Look for him to crowd Henderson in the early goings, tiring him out along the cage before separating and looking for the knockout in the third round. Whether or not he’ll get it is another question, though for the first time in what seems like forever it won’t be considered an impossibility.

Daniel Cormier defeats Dan Henderson by unanimous decision.

Like his Nova Uniao teammate Jose "Scarface" Aldo, Renan Barao has only lost once in his entire career. He's among the best in the game today. (Photo: UFC/Zuffa, LLC.)

Like his Nova Uniao teammate Jose “Scarface” Aldo, Renan Barao has only lost once in his entire career. He’s among the best in the game today.
(Photo: UFC/Zuffa, LLC.)

MAIN EVENT
Bantamweight (135 lbs.) Title Fight – 5 Rounds
(Champion) Renan “The Baron” Barao [34-1, 1 NC] (-800)
vs.
#4 T.J. Dillashaw [9-2] (+550)

Three weeks ago, I began a three-part series – starting with the flyweight and working my way up to heavyweight – that went through all nine of the UFC’s current divisions and shared my views on what I thought each upcoming title challenger’s chances was against his or her respective champion. In the first entry, I opined on the three lightest weight classes, and when I got to the matchup between bantamweight top dog Renan Barao and challenger T.J. Dillashaw, I had this to say when I gave Dillashaw an 8% chance of defeating the champ (the lowest of all percentages given in the entire series):

Introduced to UFC fans as Jose Aldo’s primary training partner at Nova Uniao, Renan Barao was a largely unknown prospect despite boasting possibly the most impressive record of anyone in the lighter weight classes. It wasn’t long before he proved those numbers unpadded, ripping a 5’7” hole in a bantamweight division that had begun to stale as a result of Dominick Cruz’s dominance. One by one, he knocked off possible contenders such as Cole Escovedo, Brad Pickett and Scott Jorgensen on his way to a fight against fan favorite (and Cruz rival) Urijah Faber for the interim bantamweight belt. After winning a lopsided decision, he has since crushed every bit of opposition thrown at him, submitting Michael McDonald via 4th-round arm-triangle and TKOing Eddie Wineland before defeating Urijah Faber once more (by controversial referee stoppage). He currently sits directly behind his campmate Aldo at #3 on the pound-for-pound rankings.

He was originally slated to fight fellow Brazilian Raphael Assuncao – or at least it appeared that was the most logical bout – but a fractured rib sustained by Assuncao at UFC 170 prevented him from being able to take the bout. Instead, Barao will face The Ultimate Fighter 14 runner-up and Team Alpha Male member T.J. Dillashaw, who is one fight removed from losing a close split decision to Assuncao.

Aside from the loss to Assuncao and to John Dodson (who has since dropped to flyweight), Dillashaw has looked quite good, submitting Vaughan Lee, knocking out Issei Tamura and Hugo “Wolverine” Viana and decisioning the physically imposing Mike “The Hulk” Easton. The 28-year-old Californian, whose wrestling base and penchant for picking up techniques quickly make him an ideal fit for Team Alpha Male, always seems to fall short in pivotal matchups, as is evident in both his high school and wrestling careers and in The Ultimate Fighter.

Unfortunately, Barao is quite the opposite, and he’s appeared looser and more relaxed in every progressive outing we’ve see him in. His takedown defense should give Dillashaw fits, causing him to resort to striking with him on the feet – a very bad place to be with someone who probably holds his own (and likely more so) against Aldo in the training room. There truly is no place this fight can take place that Dillashaw holds any marked advantage over Barao. Expect this to end inside five rounds.

Maybe if Dillashaw were given another year or two to sharpen his striking skills under the tutelage of outgoing Team Alpha Male head coach Duane “Bang” Ludwig and incoming head coach Martin “Hitman” Kampmann he’d have more of a shot, but as it stands, he’s one misstep away from being made into mincemeat by a man who may be leapfrogging his teammate Jose Aldo pretty soon on the way up the pound-for-pound ladder.

Renan Barao defeats T.J. Dillashaw by TKO.

 

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Jesse Scheckner

A freelance MMA, entertainment and business journo born, raised and residing in Miami, FL, Jesse Scheckner is a former semi-serious musician, cinephile and recovering ne’er-do-well who still believes Mickey Rourke’s finest performance in film has yet to come. He is TuffGnarl.com's editor-in-chief, a feature staff writer for MMASucka.com and the 2014 MMA Media Correspondent winner at the Florida MMA Awards. Follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner to talk about the stuff he writes about with him.

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