MMA Review: #459: UFC 173: Barao vs. Dillashaw

-Quite fitting I’d be looking at this one on the week that UFC announces a Chris Weidman title defense has been postponed. This show was of course supposed to be main evented by Weidman’s title defense against Lyoto Machida, but he ended up injuring his knee and dropping out, and so Zuffa managed to put together a solid replacement in Renan Barao vs. TJ Dillashaw for the Bantamweight Title. Of course that doesn’t draw quite like Weidman/Machida, so they threw the fans a couple of extra bones too in the form of Robbie Lawler vs. Jake Ellenberger and Daniel Cormier vs. Dan Henderson. All in all a good looking card.

UFC 173: Barao vs. Dillashaw

Las Vegas, Nevada

-Your hosts are Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan.

Welterweight Fight: Li Jingliang vs David Michaud

Chalk this one into the “never really heard of them” box, then. Li was yet another Chinese import with a so-so record while Michaud was taking the fight on short notice and had made a brief appearance on TUF, losing in the pre-house fights on the 16th season, not that you’d have remembered him anyway.

Round One and Michaud connects on a hard combo right away. Another right hand lands cleanly for Michaud. Leg kick answers for Jingliang. Good low kick from the Chinese fighter is answered by a Michaud right hand. Punches connect for both men now in an exchange. These guys are really trading. Crowd are absolutely dead and it’s awful given these guys are actually having an entertaining fight. Good front kick to the body from Michaud and he’s trying to establish his jab, but he’s eating clean counters on the way. Takedown attempt from Jingliang and he gets the back standing as Michaud works to defend. Good job from Michaud to separate. Another takedown attempt is stuffed, but he eats a combo on the way out. Uppercut from Michaud and he stuffs another attempted takedown. Michaud follows by clinching himself and landing a couple of hard knees to the body. Takedown attempt from Michaud and he hits a BIG SLAM and lands some hard punches, but Jingliang reverses position and ends up in side mount. He stands up over Michaud and lands a couple of kicks, then drops some solid ground-and-pound from inside the guard. Triangle attempt from Michaud but Jingliang avoids it as the round ends. Close round to call; probably 10-9 Michaud by a hair.

Round Two and Michaud pushes forward, landing a couple of punches but again taking some hard counters too. Good knee to the body from Michaud as he ties up, and he looks for a takedown but Jingliang defends. Hard combo lands for the Chinese fighter and he follows with a straight right hand. Clinch from Michaud and he forces Jingliang into the fence. Jingliang quickly breaks off and lands with a stiff jab. Exchange continues and both guys are looking pretty sloppy now. Michaud in particular is taking some nasty shots. Good combo from Jingliang, but Michaud grabs him to land some hard knees to the body. Takedown attempt from Michaud and he manages to use some nice technique to trip the Chinese fighter down, landing in side mount. Jingliang gives his back, but almost gets into a dominant position before Michaud reverses and takes the back with both hooks. Short punches from Michaud but he can’t finish and the round ends. 10-9 Jingliang just about.

Round Three and Jingliang opens with another stiff jab. Michaud’s face is all marked up now. Really good combo lands for Jingliang and seems to rock Michaud, causing him to clinch for a moment. Jingliang breaks but Michaud gets back into the clinch and looks for the takedown. Jingliang stuffs it and breaks off. Low single leg from Michaud puts him down though and he lands in full guard. They exchange from there and someone’s badly busted open. Looks like Jingliang. He tries for a kimura, but almost gives his back in the process as Michaud remains in control. Reversal from Jingliang allows him to get up and hit his own takedown into half-guard. Elbows land for Jingliang and now he’s firmly in control. Looks like he might be setting up for an arm triangle, but instead he just opens up with more shots. Reversal from nowhere from Michaud though and he decides to go for a guillotine, but Jingliang easily pulls out and continues the ground-and-pound. Fight ends with Jingliang in side mount. I’ve got it 29-28 for the Chinese debutant.

Judges have it 29-28 Jingliang, 29-28 Michaud and 30-27 for Li Jingliang. No surprise it was a split decision as it was an incredibly close fight. Fight was entertaining enough although it got really sloppy at points and would be a typical fight for detractors to point to and say that the UFC’s become watered down. Personally I get that argument but for me, hey, I’d still rather watch a fight like this one than a round of golf or something.

Featherweight Fight: Sam Sicilia vs Aaron Phillips

This one was a massive disappointment to me as originally Sicilia was set to face Doo Ho Choi – one of the top prospects in all of MMA – but the Korean Super Boy got injured and so the largely unknown Phillips stepped in to replace him. With that in mind I was hoping for the best from the fight which was most likely a brutal knockout for Sicilia.

Round One and Philips comes out bouncing around in a karate or tae kwon do style stance. Good body kick lands for him early on. Looks like Sicilia’s looking purely to land the big right hand. Head kick by Phillips is blocked. Rush from Sicilia sets up a clinch but Phillips breaks off quickly. Good shots to the body from Sicilia set up a knee to the head, but Phillips breaks off and grins at him. Body kick from Phillips hurts Sicilia and has him backing up, and another one forces him back further. Flurry of big right hands answers for Sicilia though and Phillips has to back up. Clinch from Sicilia and they wind up against the fence where Phillips tries to tie up the right arm. Takedown from Sicilia and it looks for a second like he might be going for the Matt Hughes kimura-counter armbar, but he decides against it and takes top position in half-guard. Phillips moves to full guard but gets tagged by some big shots and seems hurt. He manages to kick Sicilia away and stands, but Sicilia stays on him and takes the back standing. Good job from Phillips to turn into him and they wind up clinched again. Knee breaks for Sicilia. Head kick glances for Phillips. Wheel kick misses by a mile though, totally telegraphed. Knee to the body from Phillips is answered by a Sicilia combo. Leg kick fires back for Phillips. Clubbing right lands for Sicilia but he walks into a knee to the body that drops him to his knees. Phillips grabs a guillotine and looks to synch it up, but he doesn’t get proper body control with his guard and it looks like Sicilia’s okay. Sure enough he breaks free into full guard. Hard elbow gets through from the top for Sicilia and he continues to chip away from the top. Trio of big upkicks land for Phillips as Sicilia stands over him though. Round ends with Sicilia on top. That was a great round. Really close round but I think I’d lean slightly towards Phillips.

Round Two and Sicilia catches a kick and nails Phillips with a quick flurry, sending him down to his back where he continues to land shots until Phillips ties him up in the guard. Short elbows land for Sicilia and he does a good job of avoiding an armbar, but Phillips uses it to reverse into top position in half-guard. Reversal attempt from Sicilia but Phillips takes the back and goes right into a choke attempt! He can’t quite get it though and Sicilia ends up on top again and now he takes the back. Both hooks in for Sicilia but he loses one as Phillips rolls. Kimura attempt fails for Sicilia and Phillips escapes into top position again. Sicilia gets half-guard but takes a couple of shots along the way. Phillips passes into full mount, but as he tries to take the back he botches it and Sicilia reverses to take top position in full guard. Sloppy grappling but it’s fun as hell to watch! Armbar attempt from Phillips is avoided and it allows Sicilia into side mount. Once again Sicilia takes the back, but only with one hook. Neck crank attempt follows as does the second hook and Phillips is in trouble. He manages to wriggle onto his side, but almost gets arm triangled before working into full guard. Back to half-guard for Sicilia but Phillips shrugs that off back to full again. Big ground-and-pound begins to get through for Sicilia and he ends the round on top in half-guard. 10-9 Sicilia to even things up.

Round Three and Sicilia tags Phillips with a right hand early on. He’s swinging for the fences now. Kick from Phillips is caught again and Sicilia decides to take him down again, landing in full guard. Armbar attempt is again avoided by Sicilia and it allows him into side mount. Good hip escape puts Phillips back in guard, where he ties Sicilia up. Good shots get through for Sicilia and he forces his way into side mount again. Phillips looks tired to me. Another hip escape allows him to regain guard, but he continues to eat short ground-and-pound and Sicilia works back into half-guard. Phillips tries to kick him away, but Sicilia remains on top dropping short punches and elbows. Just over a minute to go and Sicilia advances into half-guard again. Escape from Phillips allows him to stand, but Sicilia quickly dumps him to the ground again right back into half-guard. Another escape allows Phillips to stand, but he eats some punches against the fence. Single leg puts him back down but Phillips goes for a guillotine. For a second it looks tight, but Sicilia breaks free and ends the round with punches. Clear-cut 29-28 for Sicilia in my eyes.

Official scores are 29-28, 29-28 and 30-27 for Sam Sicilia. Really good fight actually, particularly in the first two rounds, as both guys went all-out and cared more about offense than defense which always makes for something exciting to watch. Third slowed down a little as Phillips got tired and Sicilia realised he could probably win with a more conservative gameplan, but yeah, the first two rounds were dynamite. Always nice to get a fight like that where you’re expecting nothing going in, too! For a late replacement Phillips did really well.

Lightweight Fight: Vinc Pichel vs Anthony Njokuani

This one sounded like a real old-school styles clash, with Njokuani pretty much being a pure striker and TUF 15’s Pichel basically a pure grappler. In those sorts of fights I tend to side with the guy who has the better tools in his opponent’s area of strength and with that in mind I went with Pichel, as he’d at least showed decent striking in the past while Njokuani’s ground game always looks lacking to me.

First round gets underway and Njokuani clearly wants to stay on the outside. Combo glances for him but on the way out he takes an eye poke. Clearly accidental but the crowd seem disgusted and boo really loudly. Joe Rogan goes into a rant about using PRIDE gloves but the way to solve the issue in my opinion would just be to instantly dock points from guys reaching out with the open hand to gauge the distance. Anyway they restart and Pichel looks to close the distance. He manages to back Njokuani into the fence, despite taking a knee to the body. Takedown attempt from Pichel and he elevates Njokuani into a nice bodyslam, landing on top in half-guard. Serious strength there. Njokuani tries to scramble to his feet but Pichel does well to keep him grounded. Njokuani manages to use the fence to stand, and they exchange knees inside. Action slows down enough for the ref to call a clean break, and they both throw kicks that miss. Combo from Njokuani, but Pichel closes distance with a combo of his own and grabs the clinch again. Low blow now lands for Vinc and the crowd are really disgusted with him. Second foul in the round! Ref calls time and Njokuani looks in agony. He recovers though and they restart. Good leg kick from Pichel and he does a good job of striking with the Nigerian, pushing forward with combos. Good pair of knees from Njokuani but Pichel manages to force him into the fence again. Knees from Pichel and one appears to land low again, but the ref ignores it. They break with seconds remaining and trade with some punches to end the round. 10-9 Pichel.

Second round and Njokuani opens with a quick combo and avoids the clinch. Right hand follows as does a kick to the body. Superman punch from Pichel but he walks into a counter. He slips to his back on a kick attempt but Njokuani lets him back up. Really crisp counter right lands for Njokuani. He’s finding his rhythm in this round. Clinch from Pichel though and he takes the back with a rear waistlock and lands some solid knees to the hamstrings. BIG GERMAN SUPLEX from Pichel pops the crowd loudly. He looks to advance to full mount, and then suddenly lands some HUGE punches to the head as Njokuani tries to crawl free! It looks for a second like Njokuani might be out, as he takes some more bombs, but somehow he survives and stands. Another suplex puts him back down, but again he pops back up. Pichel keeps the rear waistlock though and lands knees before turning into a double leg, dragging him to the ground. This time he slides into full mount and then lands more heavy shots as Njokuani gives his back. Njokuani escapes to his feet again but Pichel stays right on him with more offense. He finally manages to break free, but Pichel shoots right back in and delivers a BIG SLAM right down to side mount. Brutal knees to the body follow. Pichel is looking awesome here. Full mount for Vinc and then he takes the back and flattens Njokuani out. He goes for the choke, but can’t get it and Njokuani turns into him. He can’t capitalise though and Pichel stands and goes for another double leg. He lands it and gets top position in half-guard, and ends the round with more ground-and-pound from back mount. Good start from Njokuani keeps it from being a 10-8 for me, but that was a dominant round for Vinc Pichel.

Third round and right away Pichel tries to close distance, using his punches to set it up. Sure enough he manages to get to the clinch, but Njokuani switches position and breaks off. Leg kick and a knee to the body land for Pichel. Jab answers for Njokuani. They continue to exchange strikes with Njokuani landing some solid shots, but he doesn’t seem to be able to really hurt Pichel. Single leg attempt from Pichel and he forces Njokuani onto his back. Njokuani looks to scoot back to the fence and uses it to stand, but he takes knees inside the clinch. Another German suplex plants Njokuani and Pichel takes the mount and then back mount again. He can’t get both hooks in, but remains in control, ragdolling Njokuani as he stands. Another suplex puts Njokuani back down and Vinc works for an arm triangle, looking to pass half-guard in the process. Full mount for Pichel and he takes the back with both hooks as Njokuani rolls. Pichel again tries to set up the arm triangle, but can’t get it. He takes full mount again though and yet again Njokuani’s in trouble. He gives his back and they wind up in a seated position against the fence, and the round ends with Pichel trying another suplex as they stand. 10-9 Pichel for a 30-27 shutout.

Judges all agree and it’s 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28 for Vinc Pichel. Dirty beginning aside this was a tremendous showing for Pichel who basically imposed his will on Njokuani for the full fifteen minutes. The word on him during his TUF run was that he was insanely strong and he showed that here by ragdolling Njokuani throughout. I don’t think he’s a contender in such a stacked division (witness how easily Rustam Khabilov dealt with him for instance….) but for the mid-level guys I think he’s a formidable match indeed. Fight became a lot of fun to watch too once Pichel took over.

Lightweight Fight: Mitch Clarke vs Al Iaquinta

This was a bit of confusing matchmaking to me as Iaquinta had been on a roll since returning in 2013, beating Ryan Couture, Piotr Hallmann and Kevin Lee in impressive fashion, and so I was expecting him to be given a step up. Instead he was faced with Clarke, who hadn’t fought in almost a year after beating John Maguire in a dull outing. To me this looked like a potential Iaquinta squash.

Fight begins and they circle and exchange some feeler strikes before Iaquinta counters a kick with a right hand that drops Clarke hard. Clarke looks stunned but manages to tie Iaquinta up in his guard by going for a kimura on the left arm. He loses it, but still manages to keep Clarke trapped in the guard. Iaquinta appears to be trying to trap Clarke’s right arm under his own back in order to pass guard. Sure enough he works into half-guard. Clarke really locks down onto the leg of Iaquinta though to stop him from passing further. They exchange some strikes from that position as Clarke holds on. He tries an arm triangle from the bottom but it doesn’t really work and he eats a couple of shots. He does get back to full guard though. Good shots from the top for Iaquinta and he stands to drop a big right hand down through the guard. Back into half-guard for Iaquinta and he forces his shoulder down into the throat of Clarke. Good job from Clarke to get back to full guard, but he continues to take some shots from the Long Islander. Nice right hammer fist lands flush for Iaquinta. Reversal from Clarke allows him to his feet and he looks for a takedown of his own, but Iaquinta counters with a front choke attempt and then uses it to dump Clarke onto his back again. Seconds to go and Iaquinta works into a dominant position and ends the round with some heavy shots. One-sided round. 10-9 Iaquinta.

Into the 2nd and Iaquinta begins with a snapping jab. Clarke catches a kick and knocks him off balance with a right, but as he rushes in, Iaquinta meets him with a double leg and dumps him onto his back. This time he lands in side mount. Somehow though he makes the error of leaving his neck free, and Clarke quickly locks up on a brabo choke. Clarke locks up the legs and turns around….and Iaquinta passes out. Holy shit.

Beautiful submission from Mitch Clarke but man, talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory for Iaquinta. The guy literally dominated every second of the first round and then made one silly mistake and got caught. Huge win for Clarke and I guess back to the drawing board for Iaquinta unfortunately. This was one of the bigger (and lesser remembered) upsets of 2014.

Bantamweight Fight: Chris Holdsworth vs Chico Camus

TUF 18’s winner Holdsworth was initially pegged to face Kyung Ho Kang in his first post-TUF outing here, but when the South Korean got injured, Anthony Pettis training partner Camus stepped in to replace him. This looked like a much more favourable match for Holdsworth too as Camus is more of a striker who’d shown ground deficiencies before while Holdsworth has a venomous ground game and can hold his own (no pun intended) on the feet too.

Round One and Camus slips a one-two to land a hard straight right. Holdsworth seems fine though and they continue to circle and throw out some punches. Good jab from Camus as he doesn’t seem to be struggling with the long reach of Holdsworth. Right hand follows. A trade sees Holdsworth tag Camus with a left hand that sends him down for a second, but he pops right back up. Another left hook catches Camus as he comes forward. Brief clinch is broken by Camus. Counter left lands again for Holdsworth. He shoots in on a single leg and manages to transition into a trip, landing in side mount. Beautiful pass to full mount follows. Camus does a good job of scrambling to get back to butterfly guard, but Holdsworth slices right back into half-guard. Camus does a good job of keeping half-guard, but Holdsworth begins to open up with some elbows and punches that get through. Seconds to go and Holdsworth stands over him and avoids a couple of upkicks. 10-9 Holdsworth.

Round Two and Holdsworth walks onto a sharp left jab. Knee answers for the TUF winner. Camus fires back with a hard right hand. Holdsworth still doesn’t seem able to keep Camus at distance using his reach. Camus clinches though and they muscle for position before breaking off. Takedown attempt from Holdsworth and he goes for the outside trip again. He manages to put Camus down on his back, once again landing in side mount. Slick pass to full mount follows. He begins to set up for an arm triangle, but Camus defends excellently and reverses to his feet. Guillotine attempt from Holdsworth and he uses it to pull Camus to the ground. Back into full mount for Holdsworth and he keeps in control as Camus tries to roll free. Arm triangle attempt follows again but Camus defends by doing the ‘answering the phone’ drill and he manages to survive. Some good punches land for Holdsworth and he then secures back mount with a body triangle. Seconds to go and Holdsworth remains in control although he doesn’t come close to the finish. Clear-cut round for Holdsworth, probably a 10-8 in fact as Camus did practically nothing on offense.

Round Three and they exchange some strikes with Holdsworth landing a nice knee inside. Good combo from Camus tags Holdsworth but he evidently has a decent chin as he doesn’t look rocked at all. Slick takedown from Holdsworth as Camus opens up a little too much, and right away he gives Camus some payback with some hard, nasty elbows. Pass to half-guard follows. Into side mount for Holdsworth with ease. This guy’s ground game is tight. He’s all over Camus. Good shot from Holdsworth and he takes the back with no hooks, landing some more punches. He takes the low mount and then tries to secure back control properly, getting both hooks in as Camus rolls. One minute to go and it looks like Holdsworth’s got this fight wrapped up even if he can’t get a finish. He manages to manoeuvre into full mount and looks for the arm triangle again, but Camus has enough about him to defend and escape to half-guard. Fight ends with a small flurry from Holdsworth on top. 10-9 Holdsworth for a 30-26 I think.

Official scores are 30-27 all round for Chris Holdsworth. Dominant showing from the TUF winner although judging on his striking here he’s still very much a prospect rather than a contender right now. No need to rush the guy given he’s so young and still early in his career. With Team Alpha Male though I fully expect him to develop into a very dangerous guy within the next three or four years, especially with such a phenomenal ground game. Fight got slow at points but for fans of technical groundwork it was fantastic.

Lightweight Fight: Tony Ferguson vs Katsunori Kikuno

TUF 13 winner Ferguson had made a triumphant return to action in late 2013, tapping out Mike Rio, and I’ve always thought he was a guy who could develop into a legit title contender, so I was excited to see him again here. DREAM veteran Kikuno meanwhile had beaten Quinn Mulhern in his UFC debut and was looking to follow that up with another successful go-around against El Cucuy. My pick? Ferguson.

Fight begins and Kikuno comes out with a really old stance. Flying kick glances for Ferguson but Kikuno tags him with some punches that have him backing up. More shots land for Kikuno but he’s leaving himself incredibly open to being countered. Literally no defense whatsoever. Couple of body kicks land for Kikuno. Pair of snapping left jabs land for El Cucuy and he tags Kikuno with a hard right-left combo. More shots land and Kikuno’s wobbled. Kikuno’s chin is so high it’s insane. Big combo lands for Ferguson and Kikuno’s on the run. He recovers and keeps coming forward, but another Ferguson right hurts him. Flying knee follows. Kikuno is in deep trouble here. Clinch from Ferguson and he separates with a left. Weird attempt at a rolling leglock doesn’t work for Ferguson but he tags Kikuno with a right again. Brutal combo from Ferguson and Kikuno is all over the place. Tony chases him down and hits a German suplex, taking the back and then going right into an armbar attempt, but he can’t quite lock it up and ends up going for a D’Arce instead as Kikuno reverses. It looks tight, but he can’t fully lock it in and Kikuno escapes to his feet. One minute to go and Ferguson wobbles him with another right. Kikuno comes wading in, but walks right into a CRUSHING RIGHT HAND and that sends him DOWN AND OUT.

Great performance from Tony Ferguson who looked absolutely dynamic on offense, and he also did well to weather an early storm from Kikuno. Not quite sure what Kikuno was trying to do with his Koji Oishi-esque stance but there you go. I still maintain Ferguson will develop into a title contender, too – he’s got literally all the tools to go right to the top. Highlight reel stuff right here.

Lightweight Fight: Michael Chiesa vs Francisco Trinaldo

Match of two of 2012’s top TUF prospects here – Chiesa had of course won Season 15 while Massaranduba had starred on the first TUF Brazil season. As far as how they matched up, I was admittedly biased but I was leaning towards Trinaldo as I felt he was the sharper striker while on the ground it would likely be a wash despite Chiesa likely having the better wrestling.

First round and Chiesa takes the center of the cage as Massaranduba bounces around on the outside. Looks like Trinaldo’s trying to work out how to deal with Chiesa’s reach advantage. No action at all in the first minute. Takedown misses for Chiesa. Trinaldo’s got a really low stance. Single leg from Chiesa but Massaranduba defends. They wind up clinched and Trinaldo lands a hard knee to the body that causes Chiesa to double over and back up immediately. Big left hand connects for Massaranduba and another body shot follows. Brazilian fans are wildly into this. Chiesa looks like Evan Tanner with his hair and beard. Takedown misses for him and Trinaldo cracks him on the way up again. Another takedown attempt is more successful and he muscles the Brazilian down to the ground. Trinaldo immediately looks to work to his feet, but Chiesa shows some sick control and traps his right arm behind his back before landing unanswered punches. Trinaldo has to roll to avoid the shots and ends up mounted. He’s in trouble now and Chiesa works to hold a tight mount while landing some short elbows. Heavy elbows land for Chiesa and he really opens up with some nasty punches too. One minute to go and Trinaldo continues to take punishment. Looks close to being stopped for a second but Massaranduba’s doing just about enough to survive. Never seen him dominated like this before. Chiesa’s mount is SICK. Round ends with Chiesa dishing out more punishment. If it wasn’t for the early body shots that’d be a 10-8, but as it is, 10-9 Chiesa.

Second round and Massaranduba pushes forward aggressively, looking to get through the reach. Good left hand lands for the Brazilian but Chiesa seems fine. You can tell Massaranduba’s wary of the takedown now though. Mild USA chant from the crowd to counter the Brazilian contingent. Left hand from Chiesa is countered by another hard knee to the body from Trinaldo. Left hand has Chiesa hurt a little but Massaranduba takes a huge risk and jumps onto an arm-in guillotine. It looks pretty tight for a moment as he pulls guard for leverage, but Chiesa works his head free to a big pop. Bad move for Trinaldo to end up on the bottom. He locks down on the guard and tries to land some elbows from his back, but Chiesa works to pass. Sweep attempt from Massaranduba and it looks like he might get it, or at least go into a heel hook, but Chiesa turns to defend it and turns into top position in half-guard. Another sweep attempt from Trinaldo follows, but Chiesa’s base looks too heavy and he drops some elbows to the head while looking to set up a possible D’Arce. Really nasty elbows connect for Chiesa as he tries to trap the Brazilian’s arms for good measure. Trinaldo keeps reaching for a possible reversal, but he just can’t move Chiesa off him. Full mount for Chiesa for a second, but Massaranduba sneaks out the back door. He can’t get to his feet though before Chiesa forces him back down and into half-guard. Seconds to go and Chiesa moves to a mounted crucifix, but the buzzer sounds before he can land anything. 10-9 Chiesa.

Third round and Trinaldo clearly needs a finish now. He lands with a left hand but it’s not flush and Chiesa takes it and fires back with a partially blocked head kick. Overhand left glances for Trinaldo. Chiesa shoots and forces him into the clinch, but a low blow lands for the Brazilian and ref Herb Dean calls time. Chiesa recovers super-quickly and they continue. Combo lands for Chiesa but a front kick misses the target. Good left hand lands again for Massaranduba. He’s swinging for the fences now. Nicely timed takedown from Chiesa puts him down into guard though. Short, chopping elbows land for the TUF winner and with less than two minutes to go it’s looking like Chiesa’s fight. Armbar attempt from Trinaldo and it looks quite deep, but Chiesa shows excellent defense and manages to free himself. Fight ends with some more elbows from Chiesa. 10-9 Chiesa for a pretty clear 30-27.

Judges have it 30-26, 30-26 and 30-27 for Michael Chiesa. Guess they gave him a 10-8 first round which is fair I think. Really good showing from Chiesa and somewhat surprising to me as he thoroughly dominated Trinaldo on the ground and despite not looking like the more imposing figure, seemed to be far more physically strong than the Brazilian too. Massaranduba had his moments but they were far too fleeting and at the end of the day he was beaten by a better fighter here. Onwards and upwards for Chiesa then, as he seems to be developing into a very interesting fighter to watch at 155lbs. Exciting fight too.

Lightweight Fight: James Krause vs Jamie Varner

This was Varner’s second PPV opener of 2014 and he was hoping for better luck than in his last one, a wild brawl with Abel Trujillo that saw him knocked brutally unconscious. Krause meanwhile had seen his last fight end in controversy, as Bobby Green had seemingly landed a groin kick on him only for the ref to call it as a TKO stoppage. I was taking Varner here in a close call.

Fight begins and they circle and throw out some feeler strikes. With his slick hair and beard Krause looks like CM Punk here. Varner’s really showing a lot of movement. Low kick from Krause and it looks like Varner’s ankle rolls badly. He skips away but Krause lands another low kick. Left hand from Varner but Krause fires back with a front kick to the jaw that wobbles the former WEC champ. Left hand follows. Varner fires back with a wild right hook but it’s clear his movement suddenly looks odd. A stumble follows as his left ankle folds under again, and Krause charges in and sends him down with some punches. Varner tries to roll, but Krause takes the back and slaps a hook in while landing a couple of punches. Varner tries to stand and does so, but he’s stumbling around like he’s trashed. Looks like he’s blown out his ankle entirely. Combo from Krause but Varner fires right back. No clue how referee Jason Herzog hasn’t noticed what could be a serious injury! Low kick from Krause and Varner wobbles again. He somehow manages to shoot and gets a takedown, but Krause uses a guillotine to reverse into top position. Varner works back into butterfly guard, but Krause gets a guillotine from the top and uses it to control him. Short elbows land for Krause from half-guard. Reversal from Varner and he lands on top in side mount where he lands some elbows and then a nasty series of punches. Krause gives his back and manages to stand, but Varner lands on him in the clinch and then follows with a pair of powerful hooks. As they separate though Varner stumbles backwards again. Stop this fucking fight already! Low kick from Krause and finally Herzog calls time. Apparently though it’s to REPLACE THE MOUTHPIECE. Good lord. Low kick from Krause to the injured leg again. Varner’s got the fucking heart of a LION though as he keeps swinging but ends up falling again. This time Krause grabs a front facelock as the IDIOT REFEREE still ignores the situation. One minute to go and Krause probably knows he’s got this fight won given there’s no way it’ll be allowed to go to a third. He decides to make Varner stand, and Jamie gets up looking badly wobbled. Guy is all over the place. Low kick to the injured ankle again but still Varner is firing back. He goes down again though and this time Krause just holds him down and drops some elbows. Round ends there and there’s no point scoring it as the fight’s over, dude.

Sure enough the doctor stops the fight right away as Varner’s ankle is BROKEN. Disgusting stuff. Can’t fault Varner for trying to fight through it as the guy has insane heart, can’t fault Krause for trying to win and for going after the injured leg, but fuck Jason Herzog for not noticing it, seriously. Is the dude blind or what? He should never referee again in the UFC, that’s for sure. Quite possibly the worst ref job ever I think. Really shameful stuff. This was one of the most bizarre fights of all time, and not in a good way.

Bantamweight Fight: Takeya Mizugaki vs Francisco Rivera

This one was put together when Mizugaki’s original opponent – TJ Dillashaw – was moved into the main event. Good matchmaking too as Rivera was on a six-fight win streak and in need of a step up in competition. I couldn’t see him beating Mizugaki as the Japanese fighter tends to take out anyone who isn’t on the very elite level, but with his tight striking game Rivera did have a decent chance at least.

Round One begins and Rivera wobbles Mizugaki with a left hand right away. He recovers pretty much instantly though and comes wading in with a combo. Counter right glances for Rivera. Another counter left lands for Rivera as it looks like he’s got his timing down. Takedown attempt from Mizugaki is shrugged off. Right hand lands for Mizugaki. Both guys swing wildly and Rivera’s getting the better of these exchanges thus far. Suddenly though a BRUTAL COMBO from Mizugaki drops Rivera hard, and he’s in deep trouble. More shots land for the Japanese fighter from the top as Rivera desperately tries to tie him up in the guard. Mizugaki moves into half-guard, but Rivera manages to slow him down enough to survive. Looks like Mizugaki might be trying to pace himself. Couple of good punches get through but Rivera pops back up to his feet. They remain clinched and the action slows down slightly, as Mizugaki appears to be working for a trip. Rivera returns the favour though and trips him down, only for the Japanese fighter to pop right back up instantly. They switch position along the fence before Mizugaki separates with a right. Big leg kick from Rivera but he eats a counter combo from Mizugaki. Takedown attempt from Rivera as he ducks under a big right, but he can’t get Mizugaki down. Good knees to the body from Rivera and he lands with a hard takedown, dropping some elbows before Mizugaki scrambles and lands a combo to end the round. 10-9 Mizugaki but Rivera was coming back nicely at the end there.

Round Two opens with a Rivera leg kick. A trade of punches follows and Mizugaki lands the harder shot, a heavy right hook. Rivera takes it well this time though. Leaping right head kick from Rivera and they trade shots again for a second before Rivera tags Mizugaki with a good combo. Mizugaki stays right in the pocket though and fires back. This is a serious brawl. Another exchange sees Rivera land a hard left hook. Takedown from Mizugaki but Rivera scrambles and grabs onto a guillotine. It doesn’t look like he’s got any body control though and Mizugaki appears to be okay. He’s not even grimacing. Rivera might be burning out his arms here. Sure enough Mizugaki escapes and takes top position from half-guard, where he drops an elbow right away. Rivera’s taking some really deep breaths now. Good work from Mizugaki on the ground and he manages to take the back with one hook. He works for the choke, but Rivera tucks his chin nicely to avoid. Round ends with Mizugaki in firm control. That was looking like Rivera’s round but it seemed like the guillotine blew his gas tank. 10-9 Mizugaki.

Round Three and Rivera seems to have recovered cardio-wise now. Left kick glances for him early on. Right hand connects for Mizugaki. Good combo from Rivera but Mizugaki fires right back from the pocket. Big exchange sees both men get tagged. Hard left hook from Mizugaki but Rivera takes it like a MAN. Good leg kick from Rivera but a counter right from Mizugaki drops him. The Japanese fighter follows him to the ground into guard, and begins to chip away with some short ground-and-pound. Looks like Rivera’s exhausted again. Action slows down a bit as Rivera ties him up from the guard, and Mizugaki seems content to land some short punches from the top. One minute to go and Rivera looks unable to do anything really. Referee Yves Lavigne decides to call a stand-up, and Rivera wades in with punches but he’s getting tagged by counters from Mizugaki. Crowd pop big for the exchanges again. Looks like Mizugaki’s badly cut over the right eye. Good right hand lands for him though. WILD TRADE follows and that’s the fight. I’ve got this 30-27 for Takeya Mizugaki.

Judges all score it for Takeya Mizugaki, 30-27, 29-28 and 30-27. Pretty clear-cut stuff in the end as Rivera had a couple of bright moments but overall got outworked by Mizugaki, and even though he managed to recover from the early knockdown he never really had the Japanese fighter in trouble. Fight got a bit dull at points particularly on the ground, but the standing portions of this were AWESOME. Good win for Mizugaki too who seems to be recapturing some of the momentum he had coming out of his WEC run finally.

Welterweight Fight: Robbie Lawler vs Jake Ellenberger

This was a surprisingly cool extra added to the card when the main event was changed from Weidman/Machida to Barao/Dillashaw. Ellenberger had been expected to fight Tarec Saffiedine at UFC 172 before the Belgian withdrew with an injury, so I was expecting him to pop up around this time, but after his crazy war with Johny Hendricks at UFC 171 just two months beforehand I expected a longer layoff for Lawler. Not the case as I guess Robbie wanted to get back into the cage quickly in order to gain back some momentum and cement himself as the top contender for the title. With his strong wrestle-boxing game Ellenberger presented a similar challenge to Lawler that Hendricks had done, but as I don’t think Jake’s quite as good as the champ I was behind the Ruthless one.

First round and Lawler shows a ton of movement before throwing a pair of hard head kicks that don’t land cleanly but still have Ellenberger rattled. Brutal body kick from Lawler. Another head kick is blocked but Ellenberger’s looking gunshy. Counter left hand connects for Lawler as Ellenberger circles forward. Right hand glances over the top too. Lawler looks supremely confident. Head kick is again partially blocked by Jake. Right hand glances for Ellenberger and a combo is countered and forces Jake to backpedal. Into the clinch for a second but Robbie breaks with a knee. Ellenberger just looks too tentative. Doesn’t look like he’s committing to his shots at all. Head kick is blocked again. Hard counter right lands for Lawler. Right straight snaps Jake’s head back and another left hand tags him too. Decent right lands for Ellenberger but Robbie seems unfazed. Good right to the body from Ellenberger but the high kick forces him back again. Round ends with another blocked head kick. 10-9 Lawler.

Second round and Ellenberger’s nose is all marked up. Right hand connects for Ellenberger in the opening seconds but Robbie fires back with a combo into the left high kick. Trade follows and Lawler lands a combo. Takedown attempt from Ellenberger is blocked and he eats a knee to the body. Snapping jab from Lawler. Right hook follows. Lawler’s really stalking him now. Good duck-under from Ellenberger and he grabs onto a rear waistlock. Lawler stays standing though and frees himself, eating a glancing head kick on the way out. Beautiful counter left from Lawler and he follows it up with another. Ellenberger’s on the run now. Lawler continues to come forward and he lands the left hand a couple more times. Looks like Jake is hurt bad. Sick combination has Ellenberger covering up. He comes wading in but Robbie easily avoids the shots. A takedown attempt is more successful though and he manages to take Lawler’s back. Lawler somehow decides to LAUGH though and suddenly explodes and reverses to his feet. Holy shit. BRUTAL knee to the body follows for Lawler and Jake drops into the turtle position. He’s getting owned here. Punches from Lawler from the top and he avoids landing to the back of the head too. He spins to the back to land some more punches and then controls Ellenberger with a front headlock, continuing to land. Back up and Ellenberger’s busted up around the nose. Nice takedown from Jake though and this time he lands in the guard. Lawler kicks him away with shocking ease though and stands. Pair of knees to the body separate for him. Body kick into a right hand from Robbie and they clinch again. Round ends there. 10-9 Lawler in another big round for him.

Third round and Edmond Tarverdyan is desperately trying to fire Ellenberger up, but he looks like a beaten man to me. Couple of left hands from Ellenberger but Lawler comes back with a knee to the body. Suddenly Jake opens up with some WILD SWINGS and in the trade he catches Lawler and looks to have him a bit wobbled! Robbie backpedals a bit now, but then as Jake attempts to clinch, he fires back with a HARD KNEE TO THE HEAD. Now Ellenberger looks hurt, and he misses an uppercut and eats a right hook that wobbles him. Lawler continues to stalk him and Jake has a clinch shrugged off. Looks like Ellenberger might’ve hurt his right hand in the earlier exchange. He’s barely throwing it now. Body kick lands for Ellenberger but it doesn’t stop Lawler from walking him down. Big left hand lands for Lawler. Hard straight right hurts Jake again. BRUTAL KNEE follows and a couple of hard shots fold him up, and Lawler quickly finishes him off on the ground.

Scary, scary showing for Robbie Lawler. I mean Jake Ellenberger is no joke and Lawler just dominated him here, showing incredible timing and movement with his striking game – making Ellenberger look rudimentary – and when Jake did manage to get him down Lawler literally laughed it off and just reversed right back up to his feet. Robbie has evolved into an absolute MONSTER and after seeing this on a rewatch and knowing that Johny Hendricks hasn’t been 100% recently I think I might be favouring him in the upcoming rematch. The best bit? When he came over from StrikeForce literally nobody would’ve expected Robbie Lawler to wind up possibly the best 170lber in the world. Just goes to show how unpredictable MMA can be!

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Daniel Cormier vs Dan Henderson

Another added bonus, this one was put together after both men were victorious in major fights earlier in the year – Cormier crushing Patrick Cummins in his 205lbs debut and Hendo making a stirring comeback to take out Shogun Rua in their March rematch. Despite Hendo being the fans’ sentimental favourite I couldn’t see any way he could beat Cormier – the bigger, stronger man and also the better wrestler and striker from a technical standpoint. Still, with his right hand you never know!

Round One and Hendo has the right hand cocked already. Head kick is blocked by Henderson early. Left hook glances to the body of Cormier. They clinch up and DC hits a SICK belly-to-belly suplex down into side mount. That’s insane wrestling skill. Henderson uses his legs to tie Cormier’s right arm up, but Cormier slams his way free. Short ground-and-pound from Cormier, and he works to avoid Henderson wriggling free and escaping, He works into a mounted crucifix, but it’s only for a second as Hendo quickly pops his arms free. Weird move as Cormier seems to move himself into half-guard to land some punches. Henderson grabs onto the neck to control him, avoiding a mount in the process. Cormier keeps working and passes to full mount by using body shots to distract Dan, but Hendo quickly hip escapes to half-guard. More short punches follow but he eats an upkick from Henderson as he stands. Cormier takes it easily and drops down into side mount. Henderson gives his back and turtles up, and from there Cormier clubs at him with punches until he rolls onto his back again. Into side mount again for Cormier but Henderson reverses and escapes to his feet. Front kick glances for Cormier. Wild overhand right misses and Henderson tries to take Cormier down, but DC blocks and they wind up clinched to end the round. 10-9 Cormier even if he didn’t do a tremendous amount of damage.

Round Two and Henderson comes out with a trio of jabs and then narrowly misses the haymaker right hand. Cormier pushes forward though and hits a low single leg, putting Henderson on his back in side mount again. Crowd boo this time, clearly behind Henderson. Elbows and hammer fists land for Cormier and he tries to get knee-on-belly, but Hendo keeps squirming to avoid it. He ends up turning his back and eats some big punches. He tries to scramble, but Cormier seems too big and strong and he forces the legend onto his back again where he continues to land shots. It looks like he might go for a kimura, but Henderson avoids and takes more punches for his troubles. Hard right hand to the body from Cormier. Full mount follows. Henderson manages to avoid damage and hip escapes to half-guard, but Cormier’s still all over him. Back into side mount and he looks to set up the mounted crucifix. He can’t quite get it, but he does land more and more punches and Henderson’s got to be feeling the cumulative damage at this stage. Less than a minute to go and Henderson turns his back again, but he still can’t get up and he takes more shots before the round ends. 10-9 Cormier. Crowd aren’t happy with this but Cormier is a beast.

Round Three and Cormier presses forward throwing a couple of punches. Henderson looks exhausted. Front kick and a left high kick land for Cormier and set up a right hand, and from there he grabs Henderson and THROWS HIM INTO THE AIR LIKE A CHILD!~! Hendo lands on his feet but a LUDICROUS FOOT SWEEP sends him crashing back down and Cormier lands on him in half-guard. That was incredible. DC grinds away with his forearms and then passes into full mount and Henderson is in deep trouble now. He does a tremendous job of hip escaping again though to get back to half-guard, but he’s had literally zero offense in this whole fight. Full mount again for Cormier and he lands punches that cause Henderson to give his back. Good control from Cormier and he continues to land shots to the side of the head. He loses his hooks, but stays heavy on Henderson and as Hendo rolls he eats more punches. Back to side mount and then Henderson gives his back again. This is a wild domination. More shots land and Cormier drags Hendo around like a small child. Ridiculous. From there he finally slaps the hooks in and as Henderson rolls, he locks up a rear naked choke and forces Hendo to go unconscious.

Scary, scary performance from Daniel Cormier. The dude is just a fucking BEAST as he dominated Henderson, treating him like at best a D-level fighter and at worst, like a small child. To see Hendo thrown around like that was something else. I know he’s past 40 now and way past his prime, but to see a wrestler of his calibre dominated like that was still jaw-dropping. And post-fight Cormier proves that he totally “gets it” too as he cuts a MONEY PROMO calling out Jon Jones. That’s my most anticipated fight of 2015 I think. Literally can’t wait for it and can’t pick a winner either! This wasn’t the most entertaining fight as it was so, so one-sided, but it was also a must-see to get an idea of how good Cormier really is at this point.

UFC World Bantamweight Title: Renan Barao vs TJ Dillashaw

As I mentioned in the introduction this was put together to replace Weidman vs. Machida, and while it sounded like a cool fight, I personally couldn’t see any way for Dillashaw to win. Sure, he’d looked fantastic in his last fight, a lopsided decision win over Mike Easton, but Barao had absolutely destroyed TJ’s mentor Urijah Faber in his last outing and Dillashaw seemed very much like a less experienced version of Faber to me. I figured this would be a nice exhibition of Barao’s skills and another successful title defense for him, cementing him as one of the true pound-for-pound greats in the game.

Round One and Dillashaw shows a ton of footwork right away, dancing around on the outside and landing a leg kick as Barao takes the center of the cage. Couple of shots land for TJ as Barao appears to be trying to size up the range. Head kick glances for Dillashaw but a leg kick connects. Body kick glances for Barao. TJ continues to dance around and he’s looking like a difficult target to hit. Nice uppercut lands for Dillashaw and it wobbles Barao’s legs for a second. Dillashaw’s movement looks great. Good leg kick lands for Barao but he eats a combo from TJ that pegs him back. Combo from TJ but he eats a right hand counter from the champ. BEAUTIFUL evasive movement from Dillashaw allows him to dodge a combo and land a right hand of his own. Dillashaw just looks a lot faster than Barao. Suddenly a CRUSHING RIGHT HAND connects for Dillashaw and Barao goes CRASHING DOWN! It looks like he might be out as TJ pounces and hammers away, but somehow he manages to survive and holds on, then rolls for a leglock. TJ avoids that and continues to land shots, and it looks for a second like Barao’s out again. Once again he survives though, but gives his back and Dillashaw locks up the choke! Somehow Barao avoids that, so TJ switches to a neck crank attempt. Barao manages to turn into it and stands, but he’s all over the place. Round ends with Barao catching a head kick attempt. Holy shit. Incredible start for TJ Dillashaw. That has to be a 10-8 on sheer damage alone.

Round Two and I doubt Barao’s even recovered. He comes out throwing some front kicks but Dillashaw remains on the move, bouncing around on the outside again as he did in the first round. Uppercut glances for TJ but Barao lands with a knee to the body. Head kick misses for Barao. Looks like TJ’s cut over the right eye. Overhand right glances for Dillashaw. Good combo connects for TJ coming forward but Barao fires back with a left. Beautiful combo from Dillashaw and he uses some slick head movement to avoid a counter. Good low kick from Barao though. Head kick answers for Dillashaw and is just about blocked. Crowd chanting for TJ now. Spin kick misses for Barao and Dillashaw makes him pay with a quick combo. Takedown attempt from TJ but Barao stuffs it. In the scramble though the challenger grabs a guillotine, but the Brazilian slips free. Good leg kick from Barao but apparently it went low as TJ doubles over and Herb Dean calls time. Replay confirms it was low. Good combo lands for the challenger off the restart. He’s doing a great job of avoiding Barao’s shots too. Good right hand does clip TJ though. Lead uppercut sets up a right cross for Dillashaw and it wobbles Barao’s legs. Lead right hand follows. Dillashaw’s definitely getting the better of all of these exchanges. Inside leg kick from Barao and both men land hard rights. Good combo from Barao and Dillashaw has to retreat, but he wades back in with a heavy body kick. Stiff jab snaps Barao’s head back. Another combo follows and he tags the Brazilian. Round ends there. 10-9 Dillashaw.

Round Three and Dillashaw again shows some incredible movement to dodge Barao’s opening flurry and land a right hand of his own. He isn’t slowing down in the slightest. Good leg kick from the challenger. Head kick follows but doesn’t land cleanly and Barao fires back with a right hand. Sick combination hurts Barao again. He comes back with a leg kick though that knocks TJ slightly off balance. Hard body kick lands for Dillashaw and even his feints are affecting the champ now, causing him to flinch. Another combo lands for TJ. One-two follows as does a head kick. Another combo lands flush and has Barao wobbled badly. Incredible stuff. Barao’s firing back but he doesn’t seem at all confident now. Beautiful step-in jab from Dillashaw snaps Barao’s head back. Another rapid-fire combo follows. Barao tries to fire back but Dillashaw just isn’t there. Head kick lands for Dillashaw but Barao takes it well. One minute left in the round and Dillashaw catches him cleanly with a left again. Another combo lands cleanly and Barao claims an eye poke. Herb Dean tells him to keep fighting though so Dillashaw tags him again and goes for a takedown. Barao manages to stuff it and the round closes out in the clinch. Another one in the books for TJ! 30-26 going into the championship rounds.

Round Four and Barao looks like he’s been badly beaten up. Single leg attempt from TJ is avoided well by Barao. Head kick is partially blocked by Barao but he eats another combo and a body kick. Nice left hand from TJ and he slides out of the way of Barao’s right. Another combo sends Barao on the retreat and he eats a body kick too. TJ begins to tee off with combos now as the champ keeps on backpedalling. Spin kick misses for the champ and Dillashaw makes him pay with a right hand that leads into a combo. Barao fires back though and manages to land to slow the challenger down. More slick footwork from Dillashaw allows him to catch Barao flush with another combo. He’s just making Barao look slow and flat-footed. They clinch up and Barao looks bewildered. Short punches land for TJ and he lands some knees too. Barao fires back with knees of his own and they break. Another combo from Dillashaw and he avoids a spin kick and in the scramble, they hit the floor with Dillashaw on top. Hammer fist lands for him as he looks to pass the guard. Leglock attempt from Barao but Dillashaw avoids nicely. Looks like the champ is completely out of steam. TJ continues to grind on him with his forearm and ends the round with a sharp elbow. 10-9 Dillashaw and Barao needs to pull the Anderson Silva special in the fifth to retain!

Round Five and Dillashaw opens with a leg kick and his movement doesn’t look slower in the slightest despite it being the final round. Good body shot from Barao but Dillashaw circles out and lands with a body kick. Spin kick misses for Barao and TJ makes him pay with a combo. Nasty right snaps Barao’s had back and TJ follows with a glancing head kick. The champion still can’t seem to catch TJ cleanly with anything. More shots land for Dillashaw. Slick head movement allows him to avoid combos from Barao and then he lands with a BIG LEFT HEAD KICK that wobbles the Brazilian! Brutal combo follows and DOWN GOES BARAO!~! This time he follows up with some clean shots and Herb Dean decides he’s seen enough and saves Barao there. Incredible.

That was probably one of the biggest upsets in UFC history as not only did Dillashaw beat a guy who hadn’t lost in nine years (!), but he didn’t do it with a Serra-esque flash knockout – he thoroughly dominated Barao for the entirety of the fight and really, finishing him off in the fifth was just the icing on the cake. Dillashaw was supposed to be a wrestle-boxer and yet he looked like a world class kickboxer here, using head movement and footwork that made Barao – one of the most feared strikers in the weight class – look like a flat-footed amateur. Just a jaw-dropping performance and one of the best examples of a former prospect truly living up to – and surpassing – his potential. No offense to TJ but there’s no way I would’ve picked him to be Team Alpha Male’s first UFC champion, but boom, there you go. Barao apologists could argue that he took the fight on relatively late notice and had a tough weight cut, and also probably never recovered from the knockdown in the first round, but the bottom line is he was dominated by a better fighter. What else can you say? An incredible main event. Post-fight Joe Rogan calls it the most spectacular performance he’s ever seen and who am I to argue with that? Unbelievable.

-Night ends with a look back at the three big fights and a highlight reel.

Final Thoughts….

This was actually a really good show in the end, with an excellent main card showcasing three of the best guys on the roster right now in Lawler, Cormier and Dillashaw. Prelims were pretty good too with Sicilia/Phillips and Chiesa/Trinaldo being the standouts, although a couple of them were a little slower. Still, you can’t go wrong with the main card here and I’d call it one of the best PPV shows that the UFC has put on this year thus far. Two thumbs up for UFC 173.

Best Fight: Barao vs. Dillashaw
Worst Fight: Krause vs. Varner

Overall Rating: ****1/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman: