UFC 173 was another night that the mixed martial arts world won’t soon forget, and T.J. Dillashaw (10-2) is to thank. The unheralded challenger came into his UFC bantamweight title shot against Renan Barao (32-2, 1 NC) overlooked by most fans and pundits. Dillashaw closed as a +710 underdog (bet $100 to win $710) at Several Bookmakers as well, so the challenger was receiving very little respect at the betting window as well. That all changed within the first couple of minutes. Dillashaw was moving extremely fluidly, stringing together a variety of combinations and using the speed advantage he and his corner thought he possessed to flummox the champion. He landed a wicked right uppercut early in the round which didn’t hurt Barao, but certainly sent the message that he wasn’t there just to roll over, and then moments later hurt the champion badly. Dillashaw’s attempts to finish with strikes and then a rear-naked choke proved unsuccessful, but he was undeterred. The challenger dominated the bout throughout, hurting Barao several times before landing a left head kick in the fifth that eventually led to Herb Dean stepping in and stopping the bout.
For the third consecutive week, the bar has been raised for 2014’s upset of the year, as Johnny Eduardo defeating Eddie Wineland shocked everyone, Will Brooks (with an assist from the judges) upped that, and Dillashaw put the cherry on the upset sundae that has been May 2014. You can be guaranteed that Dillashaw won’t be a 7-to-1 underdog in his next bout (or likely any bout for the remainder of his career), and it will be interesting to see if the UFC matches him up with Raphael Assuncao next, as those two have some business to finish, or goes in a different direction. Dillashaw wasn’t the only fighter on the card to finish his bout in the waning moments however. Daniel Cormier (15-0) dominated Dan Henderson (30-12) for the entirety of their bout, tossing around the former PRIDE champion with ease and winning every scramble on the mat. By the end of the second round, the result seemed like a foregone conclusion, Cormier would win a lopsided decision in the 30-25 or 30-26 range. However, the former Olympic captain turned his game up in the third round, continued his grappling onslaught, and snatched a rear naked choke victory with just over a minute left in the fight.
Although his two wins at light heavyweight have come against a completely untested fighter and a 43-year-old, Cormier should be a lock to fight the winner of Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson, which is tentatively scheduled for the end of August. It will be interesting to see if anyone at 205lbs can match the physical strength Cormier used to great effect at heavyweight, and obviously hasn’t lost with his weight cut. Robbie Lawler (23-10, 1 NC) also got in on the late stoppage action, as he stopped Jake Ellenberger (29-8) with a knee and punches at 3:06 of the third round, after battering ‘The Juggernaut’ in the stand up for the majority of the fight. Some expected the hard-fought decision loss to Johny Hendricks to send Lawler back to being the unmotivated version of himself that we saw in Strikeforce, but he looked as good as ever. After the bell rang, he immediately put Ellenberger on his heels and never let up. Ellenberger did have a couple of moments where he presented a threat, but he’s never as effective fighting off the back foot as he is when he’s allowed to be the aggressor, and Lawler never let him get into that mode.
Lawler certainly deserves to be in title contention at 170lbs, but there is a long list of contenders in the division right next to him. Should Tyron Woodley defeat Rory MacDonald, he could very easily get the next shot at the belt. Hector Lombard and Dong Hyun Kim recently got matched together, so that would suggest that the winner of that fight may be one more win away from a title shot. That leaves one unbooked, uninjured top 10 welterweight, Matt Brown. First, Robbie Lawler competing should get you excited if you’re a fight fan, but if you get the chance to see him against a guy like Brown, that’s just something not to be missed. It would have you literally running for your TV, if you will. Takeya Mizugaki (20-7-2) extended his winning streak to five with a unanimous decision over Francisco Rivera (10-3, 1 NC), in a bout that saw both men show flashes of what they are capable of. Mizugaki hurt Rivera early in the first round and almost earned himself a stoppage, but Rivera hung tough and remained dangerous through the midway point of the fight. However, as most had expected, Rivera began to fade late in the second round and into the third and Mizugaki took over. Rivera did show improvement in his wrestling, and his striking is always dangerous, so if he can sort out his cardio to put that last piece in the puzzle he will certainly be a contender. As for Mizugaki, he was originally scheduled to face Dillashaw before the new champion got the call up the main event, so he deserves another top bantamweight. Assuming Assuncao gets the next title shot, Iuri Alcantara could be a suitable opponent, should he get by Vaughan Lee next weekend in Berlin. Failing that, this goes against Joe Silva and Sean Shelby’s winners vs. winners policy, but Michael McDonald would be a very interesting test. In the opening bout of the PPV card, Jamie Varner (21-10-1, 2 NC) made anyone who has ever suffered an ankle injury cringe in the opening moments of his fight with James Krause (21-5), and then proceeded to repeat the process about 15 times over the course of the first round. Krause took advantage of Varner’s injury and picked up the victory, but given the fact that Varner was able to take him down multiple times on one leg, we’re left to wonder how the fight would have played out without the injury. Given the reported severity of the injury, waiting on a rematch doesn’t make sense. Instead, Krause should be presented with a similar challenge of a wrestler who can box in Danny Castillo, as that will determine if he’s improved that area of worry in his game. This coming week will feature the busiest day in UFC history, as 20 bouts are currently scheduled for Saturday between UFC Berlin and the TUF Brazil 3 Finale. The odds for the Berlin card (UFC Fight Night 41) were released as the event was taking place last night, so if you missed them, head over to Several Bookmakers to check the current numbers out. The lines for the Brazil card should be released early in the coming week, so stay tuned to MMAOddsBreaker.com for all the picks and analysis you’ve come to expect.