Going into UFC 173 the debate was about Renan Barao and whether or not you could market him ably. A finisher who’s never dull, Barao is hampered by the fact that he’s a bantamweight and not charismatic to the degree you’d think from an MMA PPV headliner. Throw in an inability to speak English for the moment and the fact that he could lose to a dangerous opponent didn’t feel like something you should take seriously.
And then TJ Dillashaw left all his fucks in a shallow grave en route to the MGM Garden and took the first UFC title for Team Alpha Male. Something Urijah Faber couldn’t do in three separate occasions and Chad Mendes couldn’t do in his one shot. Dillashaw, the Barry Windham of the TAM corps, banked on the potential everyone saw in him. For a guy with a wrestling background to be the best MMA fighter in the world and never have won a state wrestling title, nor a match at the NCCA tournament, is something special.
As always it’s time to play matchmaker, stepping into the shoes of Joe Silva and Sean Shelby to figure out who should go where for the most intriguing fighters on this card.
TJ DIllashaw vs. Raphael Assuncao – Assuncao was supposed to be facing Barao for the title tonight but couldn’t take it because of injury. Dillashaw came and stormed the barn, wrecking Barao for five rounds and taking his title. There are only two men who have taken a fight from TJ Dillashaw. One is flyweight contender John Dodson … and the other is Assuncao. Instant marketing gimmick and what a potentially great main event for a Fox card. A wildly contested fight that DIllashaw lost and yet he got the title shot Assuncao should’ve. Assuncao rightfully can say if he’d been in the cage that night he would’ve won. And now … now Dillashaw has to prove he’s truly better. Hell of a marketing angle and what a wild, wild fight it would be.
Daniel Cormier vs. the winner of Alexander Gustafsson vs. Jon Jones – DC took perhaps the best North American fighter of his generation and destroyed him like he was a jobber. What a one two punch for Jon Jones, perhaps unprecedented in MMA right now, if he can get through the Swede and then the Teddy Bear. The only comparison I can think of is Chris Weidman facing Anderson Silva twice … or the fact that he might be facing Jacare Souza after Lyoto Machida. At this point DC notched his title shot. If Jones gets hurt don’t be shocked if DC gets a tune up/stay busy fight someone like the Feijao/Ryan Bader winner but I think he waits for Jones.
Robbie Lawler vs. Johny Hendricks – You can argue that Lawler won the Hendricks fight based on damage. It was insanely close, as well, and he looks like one of the best fighters in the world right now. A rematch, especially with Hendricks layoff and Lawler’s super impressive performance, makes a ton of sense. The winner of Hector Lombard/Dong Hyun Kim could make some sense and Matt Brown could make sense as well if he doesn’t get a title rematch.
Takeya Mizugaki vs. Johnny Eduardo – Mizugaki is properly one fight away from a title shot right now with a win over the #10 guy in the world. Throw in Eddie Wineland’s upset and the winner of tonight’s event most likely getting Raphael Assuncao UFC 173’s final endgame leaves Mizugaki potentially one fight away from a title shot. The problem is that the top of the division is littered with guys who’ve lost recent title shots and thusly you can’t throw Mizugaki in a title eliminator against one of them. Eduardo winning makes for a wild mix up of the division and putting this in a TM wins and he’s in type of fight makes a ton of sense.
James Krause vs. Justin Edwards – That was a win for Krause … but it wasn’t a real win. Varner broke his ankle early and that fight should’ve been stopped when he kept falling down unprovoked. We get to call it a win … but it’s not like the best win in the world. Krause so far has looked really good, though, and Justin Edwards would be a fun fight. Krause is an odd matchup for anyone next because he won because of injury, more or less. It’s hard to assess where he should go next. Edwards is an interesting matchup on any number of levels and I think someone along that line makes sense.
Chris Holdsworth vs. Vaughn Lee/Iuri Alcantra– I’m not sure if Holdsworth is going to be a Top 10 fighter in the near future … but he most likely will be with some time and grooming. Camus is a tough heat check fight and he passed with fighting colors. Camus’s usual low fight IQ apparently wasn’t on display as he defended Holdsworth beautifully a number of times and can take solace in that he lost on the scorecards and didn’t get finished. Right now the task will be to slowly develop Holdsworth, not throwing him into the deep waters until he’s ready. He’s not right now … but he will be. It’ll probably sooner than we think, too, but his striking is a major liability at this point in time. This is a reasonable step in the right direction.
Tony Ferguson vs. Joe Lauzon – Ferguson’s a great combo puncher, maybe the best in the division. I love the way he is incredibly smooth in stringing together combinations. This was a nice fight but now it’s time to move him up into one with relevant implications. Mitch Clarke could make sense in this slot too, given what he did to Al Iaquinta, but I think Ferguson gets someone with a number by their name for his next fight and Lauzon is currently #15 in the world. Lauzon’s a gatekeeper to the Top 10 right now and Ferguson needs that test. Bobby Green wouldn’t be a bad alternative, either.
Michael Chiesa vs. Mitch Clarke – Chiesa has the semblance of a Top 10 guy … but he’s not ready for anyone ranked right now. He looked great against Jorge Masvidal last July and he’s improved steadily since then but I’d like another fight under his belt against someone who isn’t ranked before getting that move into the Top 15.
Renan Barao vs. Mike Easton – Barao took a lamping of the highest order. He didn’t lose a close fight or just get caught. He got his ass kicked for four rounds and then finished in the fifth, never in the fight in any meaningful aspect. He needs a huge step back and needs some wins before he’ll be back in the title picture. Easton’s a nice start.
Jake Ellenberger vs. Erick Silva – Ellenberger’s Top 10 ranking is based off the fact that he lamped Jake Shields in 2011. Since then he hasn’t beaten anyone currently in the Top 10. Ellenberger peaked then and two must win fights have been losses for him. He’s marginally Top 10 at best. Silva’s the best first round fighter at 170 … but too bad fights are longer than that. It may only last a couple minutes … but it’ll be a fun first, for sure. Kelvin Gastelum, if he gets past Nico Musoke, could make sense in this slot as well. Ellenberger’s ceiling is past him and he’s at best a gatekeeper to the elite at best right now. The Kampmann fight seemed to take more out of him then we think, potentially, as whenever he gets hit hard he freezes. It showed in the McDonald fight and this one; Ellenberger might’ve lost that “bite down on the mouth guard and hammer the snot of dudes” instincts after that loss.
Dan Henderson vs. Phil Davis – I’m presuming Henderson stays at 205 but he weighed in at under 200 for this fight. 185 is a makeable weight, potentially 170 if Mike Dolce is to be believed, and I think he goes to middleweight for some fights. Since he didn’t say that he was going back down I’m projecting him at 205 and Davis makes a ton of sense. Rumble Johnson would be a humiliation I think the UFC spares Hendo and the loser of Bader/Feijao might make some sense here as well.
Francisco Rivera vs. Michael McDonald – Rivera lost a tough fight but he was potentially one win from a title shot, since he was scheduled to face TJ Dillashaw. He won’t be far from that same spot and McDonald hasn’t fought since being choked out by Urijah Faber. McDonald is young and needs to get back into the mix and this fight makes sense since the division isn’t as deep as it could be. Both guys need a win against someone in the Top 10 right now and they’re both available.
Al Iaquinta vs. the loser of Rodrigo Damm vs. Rashid Magomedov – Iaquinta looked like a guy ready to move into a Top 10 level opponent and dominated Mitch Clarke for most of that fight. But unfortunately sometimes you just get caught and that’s what happened. Clarke pulled off a beautiful submission and put him to sleep for the second time in his UFC career. Iaquinta reminds me a lot of his teammate Chris Weidman but nearly as talented … and without nearly the brilliant fight IQ Weidman has. You can see the talent, and see his upside potential, but a bunch of stumbling blocks in his path are very good for his career. Lightweight is so deep that he can rebound around guys of his same level fairly quickly. The loser of Damm/Magomedov will be around that same path and is a nice rebound fight for him.
Sam Sicilia vs. the winner of Maximo Blanco vs. Andy Ogle – Sicilia is never going to be a Top 10 fighter, most likely, and probably will never fight for a UFC title. But he’s a fun fighter who has big power and can lamp dudes on the regular. Guys like that can stay in the UFC for a long, long time. The winner of Blanco/Ogle would be in the same slot and you could do a lot worse as a prelim fight.
Jamie Varner vs. Spencer Fisher – Fisher hasn’t fought since last year and broken ankles take a long time to heal. Varner’s on the cusp of being cut … but is so wildly entertaining that he’ll get another fight (especially since he lost via injury). I could see Fisher coming back for one more fight (he never announced a retirement) sometime at the end of the year.
In Requiem :
As some people already know two weeks ago I placed my resignation in to Widro for Inside Fights on May 10th. Our understanding was that UFC 173 would be my final event and it’s over. Thus I figured I would say goodbye at the column I enjoyed writing the most on a regular basis.
It’s been a blast but its proper time to move on. I’ll still be writing for Inside Pulse, staying on for my movie column and other writings there, but my time with IF is done. I’d like to thank our readers, and the staff of guys I’ve worked with over the past couple years, for an interesting experience to say the least. It was a lot of things but never dull.
I’d also like to think Jon Widro for allowing me the opportunity to walk away from it all and give a goodbye on my terms instead of just vanishing altogether. He didn’t have to, and IF will go on like it has when Jeremy Botter and Shawn Smith (my predecessors in charge of the site) both left, but he allowed me that little dignity to plan my exit. I’ll always be grateful for it.
It’s been a fun ride, and I’ll probably pop up some time to write about MMA sometimes down the road … but right now I just want to write about movies for a bit.
Sometimes you need to know when it’s time to walk away and now is the time for me. Writing for this site has been a blast… but as Kenny Rogers once sang sometimes you need to know when to walk away. Now it’s my turn to do so and it is with a heavy heart.
Thanks for reading over the years and you can follow me on Twitter at @ScottSawitz if you’d like.
Tags: Five for Fighting, Mixed Martial Arts, UFC 173