The UFC is back this weekend, and so is one of the sport’s top pound-for-pound mixed martial artists, as Renan Barao will seek to defend his UFC Bantamweight Championship for the second time and increase his current win streak to 33 fights when he takes on top contender, T.J. Dillashaw.
The rest of the card is full of intrigue and interest as well, so let’s not waste any more time and crack on with the UFC 173 main card preview:
UFC Bantamweight Championship
(C) Renan Barao vs. (#4) T.J. Dillashaw – 135lbs.
Renan Barao finally got his hands on the undisputed UFC Bantamweight Championship after two defences of his interim version, and Barao wasted little time in stamping his authority over his upgraded gold, finishing Urijah Faber with strikes to make his first defence of the title last time out at UFC 169. After that fight, Faber called for Dillashaw to get his chance at the champ, and from Faber’s lips to Joe Silva’s ears, Dillashaw is in with the big dog on the back of a decision win over Mike Easton this past January.
T.J. Dillashaw is a serious threat to the UFC’s bantamweight division, just not its champ. Dillashaw possesses stellar wrestling, a tight all-round defensive game and, thanks to his work with Duane Ludwig, vastly improved hands. Dillashaw could likely have been champ in another era, just not Barao’s. Barao is legit. The man hasn’t lost in 32 fights and can credibly claim to be the very best fighter in the world. Barao can win this fight a multitude of ways, but I’m betting he takes this one standing.
For a more in-depth preview of Dillashaw’s chances, click here.
Prediction – Barao via KO/TKO
(#6) Dan Henderson vs. (#4) Daniel Cormier – 205lbs.
Daniel Cormier will be getting a hell of a lot tougher examination of his light-heavyweight credentials this time around, having made his 205lbs debut in his last bout against the former barista, Patrick Cummins. Cormier looked as though he adjusted to the weight well and was able to carry his heavyweight power with him down a weight class, but we will learn far more about Cormier in this one. Henderson was also successful in his last outing, a rematch with Shogun Rua, as “Hendo” rearranged Shogun’s nose in a KO victory that stopped the rot of three straight defeats.
Listen, while Henderson should not be treated as lightly as he has been heading in to this fight, this really is Cormier’s to lose. If Cormier sticks to a well thought-out and diverse plan of attack and doesn’t engage in any prolonged fist fights with Henderson, his athleticism, grappling and cardio should see him through.
Prediction – Cormier via decision
(#1) Robbie Lawler vs. (#5) Jake Ellenberger – 170lbs.
Just one round was the difference between Robbie Lawler walking out the new UFC Welterweight Champion instead of Johny Hendricks back at UFC 171, and the “Ruthless” one will be looking to get himself back in the title picture as quickly as possible with a noteworthy victory over Mr. Ellenberger. “The Juggernaut”, or Jake as he is more responsive to, will prove a tough test of Lawler’s, or any UFC welterweight’s, credentials and were it not for a timid showing in his defeat to Rory MacDonald last time out, there would be very real calls for Ellenberger to fight for the title should he emerge here victorious.
While I have said that Ellenberger would prove a tough test for any UFC welterweight, that is only really true until the fight enters the second. Ellenberger is a durable guy with solid wrestling and huge KO power, but the fella’s cardio often lets him down and really dilutes his chances in dogged fights, and that is exactly what I think this one will turn in to. Lawler is in many ways a similar style of fighter to Ellenberger in that he has functional grappling, scary power in his hands and is tough to beat, the only difference here is his gas tank, which can go on for much longer than Ellenberger, proving decisive in this one.
Prediction – Lawler via decision
(#6) Takeya Mizugaki vs. (#10) Francisco Rivera – 135lbs.
Mizugaki has quietly gone about his business, racking up a four-fight win streak and rising to #6 on the UFC rankings. Last time out, Mizugaki triumphed over Nam Phan with a unanimous decision victory, and with Barao laying waste to all recognisable contenders, it may only take one or two more wins to generate some title talk. Rivera will of course be looking to derail that train before it gets going with victory on Saturday, and will enter the Octagon undefeated since 2011, with Rivera last seen TKO’ing George Roop last November.
Mizugaki has the kind of stifling game that works against all but the best, as shown by his high profile defeats, and while Rivera may not be elite, he does have nasty power in his hands that will prove decisive.
Prediction – Rivera via KO/TKO
Jamie Varner vs. James Krause – 155lbs.
Varner may well have been involved in a Fight of the Year contender with Abel Trujillo back at February’s UFC 169, but he was on the losing end and has been for most of his recent fights (1-3 in his last four). Krause also lost last time out, his first defeat inside the Octagon, having been TKO’d by Bobby Green last November.
First off, I expect this one to be fought largely on the feet and a fun scrap between two game fighters. I give Varner the slight edge here through his experience and proven toughness.
Prediction – Varner via decision