Memorial Day Weekend is upon us. Decent weather is flooding the Northeast, patriotism is hitting a fever pitch, and the UFC is presenting us with a trilogy of fights that pack a serious punch. The rest of the UFC 173 card leaves a bit to be desired, but the three fights at the top of the stack could go blow for blow with dang near any other trio of scraps. I’ll break down those three tilts for you with the all the gusto that this first true weekend of Summer provides. By the way, what is more fitting that having the greatest American mixed martial artist of all time fighting on MDW? War Hendo! On to the preview!
The Meaningful UFC 173 Triumvirate (Vegas Favorite in Italics)
Robbie Lawler v. Jake Ellenberger
Robbie Lawler was about two and a half minutes of takedown defense away from being the UFC Welterweight Champion. It is a tough pill to swallow for “Ruthless”, but he has admitted he made a mistake at the end of that Hendricks fight. In all honesty, I would pay top dollar to watch those two lumberjacks fight again. Lawler’s boxing in the matchup was astonishingly phenomenal. From a guy that we thought was past his prime just a few years ago, to one of the premiere MMA boxers, Lawler’s journey makes for an incredible story.
As for his opponent, Jake Ellenberger, his stock couldn’t be any lower with me right now. For his last fight on FOX, I was with a few friends that I would describe as “casual” fans. I hyped up this matchup between the prodigal MacDonald and thunder-fisted Ellenberger, and low and behold, it was one of the worst “fights” I had ever watched. Injuries have kept him out for nearly a year, and I think this Lawler matchup is his worst nightmare upon returning to action. Robbie is hungry and knows he is just a takedown away from holding UFC gold. If Jake is going to win this, he is going to have to take Robbie off his feet and tire him out with some stifling wrestling. I just don’t see that happening. If Hendricks couldn’t fully negate Lawler’s attacks over five rounds, I don’t see Ellenberger having a chance in just three. Ellenberger has a solid chin, so I don’t beliebe Robbie puts him to sleep, but prepare for a three round drudging as “Ruthless” gets off first and dominates position in the cage. Lawler by decision.
Daniel Cormier v. Dan Henderson
I like both of these guys. They happen to both fit the mold of my favorite archetype of fighter. An All-American wrestler with grenades attached to their fists… Still, Dan Henderson is the fighter that I most revere in the world of MMA. I will proudly proclaim him as the greatest American mixed martial artist of all-time and have no qualms about it. That being said, this is going to be a tough night of work for ol’ Hendo. By chance, I won’t be able to watch this one due to an annual planned evening of backwoods country debauchery, and I don’t regret it for a second. This thing could turn ugly quick.
Hendo looked AWFUL in the early goings of the ‘Shogun’ fight. Before that patented H-Bomb connected, I had zero desire to watch Hendo ever strap on the gloves again. Then, with one thunderous crack to the former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion’s chin, the 43 year old Henderson was instantly thrown back into UFC title contention. He doesn’t move like he used to, the wrestling chops seem to have diminished, but I’ll be damned if Hendo doesn’t take that powderkeg of a right hand to his grave.
Opposing the old dog will be slightly younger, but much more poised for a title run, undefeated Daniel Cormier. If you ask me, Cormier deserves every single portion of his 9-1 odds against Hendo. Since hitting 205, Cormier has looked explosive, spry, and even quick. His wrestling is still at an elite level and he has proven to have potent fists. Truthfully, I think he can beat Hendo in any way he chooses. Toss him to the ground and submit him, knock him out on the feat, or grind him to a decision. If I play the averages, I think DC earns a TKO victory. He will be able to get off quicker as Hendo loads up the right hand. He will wobble the old vet and eventually finish the scrap with ground and pound. DC by TKO.
Bantamweight Championship Fight
Champion Renan Barao v. TJ Dillashaw
I’ll throw it out there, I am far from a Renan Barao fan. His goading of the referee at the end of his latest title defense against Urijah Faber (and the follow-up dance) really rubbed me the wrong way. There has been some brilliant stuff written this week about his lack of marketability (much to Dana White’s chagrin) and I completely understand it. He has zero connection with the majority of the MMA fan community. The language barrier combined with his lack of a… “look” doesn’t endear him to the widespread fan base. As many have said, he needs a true foil to assert him as the alleged pound-for-pound best in the world. It is sad to say, but I just don’t believe that TJ Dillashaw is that foil.
Dillashaw is sneaking into this fight due to Raphael Assuncao’s removal due to an injury. The Team Alpha Male product’s presence certainly helps bolster the promotion of the card, but I doubt it changes anything related to the Bantamweight hierarchy. Don’t get me wrong, TJ is a hell of a fighter. His striking has clearly blossomed under Coach ‘Bang’ Ludwig, and upon watching the Countdown to UFC 173, he seems broken up about Ludwig’s impending departure. Still, TJ isn’t in Barao’s league. If his teammate Urijah Faber couldn’t crack the Barao code, I doubt the less experienced Dillashaw can accomplish the feat.
Barao is incredibly well rounded. His striking has proven to be his claim to fame over the last few years, but he hasn’t been challenged in the grappling department. If TJ has a shot, it is locking up the dangerous Barao and making this a dirty, close fought, wrestling match. While Faber may have gotten too comfortable with his striking in his match-ups with the Champ, Dillashaw
should may revert back to his wrestling roots. If he does so, this could be an interesting tilt. Still, I doubt Dillashaw does just that. With his recent demonstration against Mike Easton, he displayed a varied standing attack that he will probably look to implement against Barao. That is not how you beat ‘The Baron’. Barao will decipher TJ’s attack and eventually put him to sleep much like his Alpha Male brethren. Barao by 2nd Round TKO. Where is Dominick Cruz when you need him…