10 Thoughts on UFC 173:
1. Congratulations to T.J. Dillashaw, who just pulled off one of the most singularly amazing performances in professional sports ever witnessed. No matter what he does now or where he goes from here, Dillashaw’s performance will forever go down as one of the single most impressive, awesome and phenomenal performances in combat sports ever. It can’t be overstated, it was an absolute masterpiece what he did at UFC 173 against Renan Barao. He not only had an amazing game plan, which says a lot about what he did in his training camp, but he also executed it to near perfection. Not many gave him enough credit, or much of a chance of even surviving five rounds against Barao, let alone beating him. Dillashaw did what he said he would do and shocked a lot of people. And to his credit, Dillashaw had that fight won by the fourth round and didn’t let up one bit, pushing the pace and keeping the pedal down, which led to him earning a finish. He didn’t just beat Barao, who hasn’t lost in forever, but he finished him. Truly a stunning performance that has to go down in history as one of the greatest upset wins of all time, as well as one of the best performances from a challenger in an MMA title fight.
2. Team Alpha Male finally breaks through. Finally, finally, FINALLY, someone from Team Alpha Male won a UFC championship. These guys have consistently been such great fighters, really quality athletes and likeable personalities, but they just haven’t been able to get over that hump. Urijah Faber, Joseph Benavidez, Chad Mendes, they have all had opportunities, but haven’t been able to capitalize. How cool was it to see how happy these guys were during the fight and after Dillashaw won? MMA is in individual sport, but you can tell these guys shared the victory (just like they would have shared a loss) as a team. Dillashaw showed the blueprint to beat Renan Barao (looking eerily like Dominick Cruz?) and perhaps he opened the door for his teammates (Chad Mendes vs. Jose Aldo) to breakthrough as well.
3. Renan Barao will be back. With all of the well deserved praise for Dillashaw out of the way, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Barao is in the echelon of guys like Jon Jones, Jose Aldo, Anderson Silva, and the retired GSP. He was a great champion for a while and defeated all challengers impressively, simply dominating the Bantamweight division. It’s part of what makes Dillashaw’s win so impressive. But his win was a lot like what Junior Dos Santos did to Cain Velasquez. A very worthy challenger who caught the champion with a big shot and ended up taking the belt. What happened after that? Cain fought his way to a rematch and the rest is history. Barao will either get an immediate rematch, or fight in a tune up/title eliminator and find his way back to a title fight. He got outclassed on Saturday night, but he is simply too damn good to not be in the title picture. He’ll be back and with a vengeance. It’s immensely difficult to become a champion, but like GSP was so fond of saying: it’s even harder to stay champion. Dillashaw’s job just got much, much harder.
4. Daniel Cormier gives us a lesson in top control. We haven’t ever seen Dan Henderson get schooled like that. Yes, we’ve seen him lose, but not by getting totally dominated in wrestling. Henderson is an elite level wrestler and he looked hopelessly outmatched by Cormier from the first take down. Cormier looked like GSP or Cain Velasquez in terms of his top control, and better at times. He stifled Henderson’s every attempt to get up and implemented a ton of GNP in the process. Henderson is usually so good at finding his feet, but Cormier brilliantly prevented that from happening on almost every single attempt from Henderson to get up. Those slams of Henderson were absolutely ridiculous, something we might see in a WWE match, but rarely in MMA and never against a guy the caliber of Henderson. If Jones gets by Gustafsson again, and if Cormier meets him in a title fight, and if Cormier gets Jones on his back, he’s going to be in trouble. That’s a lot of ifs, but it could definitely happen.
5. Dan Henderson can still fight…for now. Yes, he got completely dominated by Daniel Cormier. But put Henderson at middleweight, which is probably where he should be, and give him the right matchup. 199 at weigh-ins? Yikes, did the guy even cut weight or was he eating everything in sight? He is getting more and more one-dimensional, but he could literally beat anyone on a given night. He won’t be so undersized at middleweight, but he has to be very, very careful here. He won’t have the same speed advantage and guys at middleweight are very explosive and athletic. He can still fight, but the odds of him winning a fight seem to drop with every passing event. He’s clearly a fan favorite (he got more cheers than Cormier, even after losing) but no one wants to see him get rag-dolled and pummeled every fight.
6. Did Robbie Lawler just become even more dangerous? He showed something in his performance against Ellenberger that we didn’t see too much of against Johny Hendricks. He was patient, methodical and showed a lot of respect for Ellenberger’s hands. His defense in that fight was just as impressive as his offense. If he fought that systematically against Hendricks in their title fight, he may have won the belt. He was clearly dangerous before he fought Ellenberger because he is so dynamic and willing to brawl and just out-tough guys. If he is able to channel his strikes and set up his offense at the right moments, it would be like unleashing lightning in a bottle. This is what was missing in his fight against Hendricks, even if we still got the maniacal smiles from Lawler at various moments in the fight. If he continues this amazing streak, we could be looking at the next welterweight champion.
7. Will the real Jake Ellenberger please stand up? One fight, the guy is like human thunder, and once unleashed in the cage, he storms over anyone in his path. Another fight, he looks super tentative and doesn’t look like he wants to mount any offense. He said he wanted it more than Lawler, but it didn’t show in the fight. He could beat anyone on any given night, but he just can’t seem to string together any consistency. Much like in the MacDonald fight, Ellenberger looked very reluctant to unleash his patented barrages. That was the Ellenberger we were never supposed to see again, but he popped up against Lawler almost from the opening bell to the stoppage. Something is wrong here and Ellenberger needs to fix it fast.
8. Mizugaki gets win #5. Time to start talking about title shot for this guy. He’s not the flashiest or most exciting fighter, he doesn’t annihilate guys or floor them with huge shots, but he is consistent. Five in a row, all by decision or split decision. He doesn’t make a strong case to deserve a crack at someone like Barao or Dillashaw, but five in a row in that division at this time is hard to keep ignoring. He’s getting very close to a title shot and is maybe one or two more wins away from cementing it. Tough luck though, because even if he earns it, T.J. Dillashaw looks like he would convincingly beat anyone in the division right now.
9. Victories are marred when injuries are a factor. Krause celebrated his win over Varner, but in his post fight speech he credited Varner for being brave/psychotic and didn’t pump himself up too much. Good for him. No win that happens as a result of the opponent being injured and unable to continue should be celebrated because it’s not a total and clean win. Tyron Woodley would beg to differ with his finish of Condit since he “caused” the injury to happen, which ended the fight. But Woodley didn’t win as much as Condit couldn’t continue. Those are two different things. The rules in MMA may need to be looked at, because some of the moves and attacks from fighters dramatically increase the risk of not only an injury, but a potentially career-ending one. Jon Jones loves to throw front kicks at knees, and recently yanked Glover Texeira’s arm/shoulder/elbow out of alignment. Moves like that are legal and there’s nothing wrong with them, but maybe there should be. If a fighter is even mentioned as being possibly dirty, and he’s fighting completely within the rules, then maybe the rules need to be changed.
10. Jamie Varner deserves another chance. It was a freak accident/injury that forced him to bow out of the fight. But Jamie Varner is tougher than a bag full of nails. Fighting through almost an entire round with a broken leg? Who the hell even considers doing that? And not only fighting through the round, but making it damn competitive, throwing big punches, shooting for takedowns…the potential for further injury was very high, but Varner’s desire to fight and win is clearly rock solid. Dana White said Varner earned a ton of respect from him, and most likely fight fans as well. Best wishes to him for a full and speedy recovery.