Dillashaw Defeats Barao at UFC 173

UFC 173: Barao vs. Dillashaw

T.J. Dillashaw Lights Up the World

Joe Rogan called it the best performance he'd ever seen.

Renan "Barão" Pegado was generating buzz as the greatest pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Barão (Portuguese for "Baron") lost the first pro fight of his career, in April 2005. Since then, he was 32-0 (or thereabouts, depending on your source), including 9-0 in the WEC and UFC. During Barão's nine-year unbeaten streak, he won 8 knockouts, 10 decisions, and 14 submissions. None of his victories in the UFC were even close. Barão was as dominant as any champion in any weight class, with no holes in his game.

So when No. 4 bantamweight contender T.J. Dillashaw showed up Saturday night and won every round before finishing off the champ with a fifth-round TKO, it stunned the mixed martial arts world. Dillashaw was a +600 underdog, but he outclassed Barão in every area at UFC 173. As MMAjunkie's Ben Fowlkes wrote, "the [T.J. Dillashaw] who showed up to fight in the main event bore nothing more than a superficial resemblance to the one who’s fought under that name in the past. The other guy was good. This one was great."

Dillashaw looked against Barão the way Barão looked against Urijah Faber and Eddie Wineland. It remains to be seen if Dillashaw is a one-night wonder — a good fighter who had the best night of his career on the most important night of his career — or a legitimate sensation who has suddenly come into his own. This sets up a presumed rematch with Raphael Assunçao, who won a controversial split decision over Dillashaw last fall.

Barão was the unbeatable overlord of the bantamweight division, and with his shocking defeat, it's suddenly the most interesting weight class in the UFC. Will Dillashaw become a dominant champ? If so, might a flyweight like Demetrious Johnson or John Dodson — the latter of whom stopped Dillashaw in the first round 2½ years ago — move up to challenge him? If not, does this open the door for Dillashaw's friend and training partner Urijah Faber, the perennial top contender who couldn't get past Barão? What about returning champ Dominick Cruz, who needed surgery and hasn't fought in nearly three years?

It was a stunning, inspiring, dominant win for T.J. Dillashaw, and it invigorates the whole 135-pound weight class.

Cormier Controls Hendo, Lawler Tops Ellenberger, Varner Guts It Out

In the co-headliner, undefeated Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix champion Daniel Cormier dominated former PRIDE and Strikeforce champion Dan Henderson. Cormier and Henderson were both Olympic wrestlers, but Cormier — a former heavyweight who cuts to 205 — physically dominated the smaller Henderson, who weighed in at 199 and may return to middleweight. Cormier rag-dolled Hendo, tossing him around with abandon, but never appeared to seriously threaten with a knockout or submission. Cormier is a dominant fighter, but in the UFC, he's also been a decision-grinder. That can be okay in the mile-a-minute lighter weight classes, but it's not what we expect out of heavyweights and light heavyweights. Cormier deserves a shot at the winner of Jon Jones/Alexander Gustafsson, but he's not going to win any fans unless he starts finishing fights.

The other big stories from this card were Jamie Varner and Robbie Lawler. Varner stole the show and won over the crowd in defeat, breaking his left ankle about a minute into his match with James Krause. Varner literally fell several times, just from putting weight on the injured foot, but he soldiered through the first round, trading punches and scoring a takedown, before the doctor ended the fight between rounds. Fighting with torn ligaments and two broken bones (according to Sunday's reports), Varner earned cheers from the crowd. Varner's popularity would have been unthinkable at the height of his feud with fellow lightweight Donald Cerrone, when WEC crowds booed every appearance by Varner and every mention of his name. He tried to embrace the heel role, but it never fit. Fan favorite suits him better, and Varner has been among the most exciting lightweights in the UFC since his return.

Lawler won an easy third-round TKO over Jake Ellenberger, and it has obvious title implications for both. In Lawler's case, it erases any notion that his recent performances have been flukes, and re-establishes him as a serious contender in the welterweight division. Lawler lost a competitive five-round decision to Johny Hendricks in March, but he may find himself in another title fight sooner than later.

For Ellenberger, this has got to be the last time he's taken seriously as a top contender. Ellenberger is a solid 8-4 in the UFC, but he can't handle top competition. Ellenberger has never beaten anyone who is ranked in the UFC's top 10, and he's 2-3 over the last two years. His best win was over 12th-ranked Mike Pyle, 4½ years ago. Ellenberger also has victories over big names like Diego Sanchez and Nate Marquardt, but when they were past their primes, and he knocked out Jake Shields in 2011. Ellenberger is only 29, so the time may come when he's ready for elite opponents. But right now, he shouldn't be facing ranked fighters.

Bellator 120 - Rampage vs. King Mo

Earlier this month, Bellator's first-ever pay-per-view lost its headliner when Eddie Alvarez suffered a concussion in training and had to drop out of his rubber match with Michael Chandler. Bellator Season 9 Lightweight Tournament winner Will Brooks moved up from the undercard and won a puzzling decision over Chandler for the interim lightweight title. It was Chandler's worst fight in Bellator, but most fans felt Chandler won the first, second, and fifth rounds (I scored it a 47-47 draw, with Brooks winning the third round 10-8). Alvarez is under contract for at least one more fight with Bellator, but it's unclear whether he'll face Brooks or Chandler.

The new main event, featuring former UFC light heavyweight champ Quinton Jackson and former Strikeforce light heavyweight champ Muhammad Lawal, was equally controversial. MMA decisions are scored on effective striking, grappling, aggression, and cage control. Lawal won on grappling and cage control, while Jackson won on striking and perhaps aggression. Certainly Jackson did more damage, and King Mo never made a serious submission attempt or came close to finishing the fight. Nearly everyone scored the first round for Lawal and the second for Rampage, but the third round — a microcosm of the fight — invited scorers to award the bout to Lawal (for control) or Rampage (for damage). Most fans sided with King Mo, but the judges gave Jackson a unanimous decision. Apparently I'm in the minority on this, but I had a bigger problem with the decision for Brooks than the one for Rampage.

The other headline maker was Tito Ortiz, who ended a three-fight losing streak by choking out Bellator middleweight champion Alexander Shlemenko. Tito had a massive size advantage (Shlemenko weighed in at 201.9, about the same size as Tito's head), so it's not clear how meaningful this was, but it's still a win over a dangerous opponent most thought would defeat him. Ortiz won by arm triangle, his second straight submission victory after 10 years without submitting an opponent.

Tito Ortiz's submission victories:

Jeremy Screeton, Dec 1998, WCNHBC1: Strikes
Yuki Kondo, Dec 2000, UFC 29: Neck Crank
Ryan Bader, Jul 2011, UFC 132: Guillotine
Shlemenko, May 2014, Bellator 120: Arm Triangle

Watch out, 205. Here comes the Huntington Beach Strangler.

May 2014 UFC Rankings

The rankings below do not count as part of the UFC's official rankings, but they are exclusively for the UFC, so you won't see names like Eduardo Dantas or Cristiane Justino on these lists.

Heavyweight (206-265 lbs)

1. Cain Velasquez
2. Fabricio Werdum
3. Junior Dos Santos
4. Travis Browne
5. Antonio Silva
6. Alistair Overeem
7. Josh Barnett
8. Mark Hunt
9. Stefan Struve
10. Stipe Miocic

Make it Happen: Overeem vs. Hunt

It's hard to keep of track of who's healthy and who isn't in this division, and it doesn't help that Overeem ducked JDS, but there are some really appealing striker-vs-striker matchups in this weight class.

I Don't Understand: Ultimate Fighter Latin America

Velasquez/Werdum should have happened in 2013. Now fans probably won't see it until 2015 because we have to wait for them to film a reality TV show. Keeping your champions and most exciting fighters out of the cage is not fan-friendly, and the sport shouldn't take a back seat to television programming.

Light Heavyweight (186-205)

1. Jon Jones
2. Alexander Gustafsson
3. Daniel Cormier
4. Rashad Evans
5. Glover Teixeira
6. Anthony Johnson
7. Phil Davis
8. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
9. Dan Henderson
10. Ryan Bader

Make it Happen: Teixeira vs. Davis

Both fighters are coming off losses at UFC 172, but they have bright futures in mixed martial arts. This is a top-10 matchup that puts one of the UFC's rising stars back on a win streak.

Thank You, UFC, For: Johnson vs. Nogueira

Johnson earned a top-10 opponent with his win over Phil Davis at UFC 172. The Nogueira brothers have had some trouble staying healthy, but assuming Little Nog makes it to fight night, this is a great follow-up test for Rumble.

Middleweight (171-185)

1. Chris Weidman
2. Vitor Belfort
3. Ronaldo Souza
4. Lyoto Machida
5. Luke Rockhold
6. Chael Sonnen
7. Tim Kennedy
8. Michael Bisping
9. Mark Muñoz
10. Francis Carmont

Make it Happen: Belfort vs. Jacare Souza

Weidman/Machida is set for July 5. The next title fight probably won't take place until winter, maybe even early 2015. Belfort and Souza have both done enough to earn title shots, and both need a fight. This is the one that makes sense.

Thank You, UFC, For: Muñoz vs. Gegard Mousasi

Similarly-ranked fighters, and an intriguing striker-vs-grappler matchup.

Welterweight (156-170)

1. Johny Hendricks
2. Carlos Condit
3. Robbie Lawler
4. Tyron Woodley
5. Matt Brown
6. Rory MacDonald
7. Hector Lombard
8. Tarec Saffiedine
9. Demian Maia
10. Dong Hyun Kim

Thank You, UFC, For: Lombard vs. Kim

A lot of people wanted to see Lombard vs. Brown, but this is a good matchup, and I think Brown vs. Lawler makes more sense at this point.

Thank You, UFC, For: Woodley vs. MacDonald

Top contender's bout.

Lightweight (146-155)

1. Anthony Pettis
2. Josh Thomson
3. Benson Henderson
4. Gilbert Melendez
5. Khabib Nurmagomedov
6. Nate Diaz
7. Rafael Dos Anjos
8. Donald Cerrone
9. Jim Miller
10. Myles Jury

It is my policy not to list fighters unless they have competed in the last 12 months, or have a fight scheduled. This applies to Dominick Cruz and Cat Zingano, and at 155, it's relevant to T.J. Grant — but not to Nate Diaz. Nate fought and won six months ago, and he hasn't announced his retirement or been cut from the UFC. Dana White is mad at him, but continuing to list Grant and Cruz in the rankings, while singling out Diaz for omission, is ridiculous.

I Wish Upon a Star: UFC vs. Bellator Lightweight Grand Prix

Eddie Alvarez, Will Brooks, Michael Chandler, and Marcin Held on one side of the bracket, four of the UFC's best on the other. An impossible dream, but holy cow, what a tournament.

Featherweight (136-145)

1. Jose Aldo
2. Chad Mendes
3. Frankie Edgar
4. Cub Swanson
5. Ricardo Lamas
6. Dustin Poirier
7. Chan Sung Jung
8. Dennis Bermudez
9. Dennis Siver
10. Jeremy Stephens

Make it Happen: Tatsuya Kawajiri vs. Hatsu Hioki

Two well-regarded Japanese fighters who haven't looked so good in trips across the Pacific. Let them fight each other, and give the winner an opponent in the top 10. Preferably one who doesn't lay-and-pray.

Make it Happen: A title shot for Cub Swanson

Swanson has to get past Jeremy Stephens on June 28, and Stephens has been on fire since dropping to 145. But Swanson, a WEC veteran, has been waiting a long time. He's won five in a row, including victories over Poirier and Siver, with four of the five by knockout or TKO.

Men's Bantamweight (126-135)

1. T.J. Dillashaw
2. Renan Barao
3. Urijah Faber
4. Michael McDonald
5. Raphael Assuncao
6. Takeya Mizugaki
7. Johnny Eduardo
8. Eddie Wineland
9. Francisco Rivera
10. Iuri Alcantara

Make it Happen: Dillashaw vs. Assunçao

Assunçao beat Dillashaw last fall and hasn't lost since. It was a close, controversial decision, and it's clearly time for a rematch.

Make it Happen: Barão vs. Mizugaki

Barão's stunning loss suddenly makes this weight class fascinating. He's earned a quick path back to the belt, and I like this as a top contender's bout to fight the winner of Dillashaw-Assunçao. But if Dillashaw loses, you almost have to give Urijah Faber a shot at the UFC title. He couldn't beat Barão, but we know he can beat Assunçao. If Dillashaw defends the belt, at some point I would love to see a rematch between T.J. and UFC flyweight contender John Dodson, who beat Dillashaw to win Season 14 of The Ultimate Fighter.

Flyweight (116-125)

1. Demetrious Johnson
2. Joseph Benavidez
3. John Dodson
4. Ian McCall
5. Ali Bagautinov
6. Zach Makovsky
7. Brad Pickett
8. Jussier da Silva
9. John Moraga
10. John Lineker

Make it Happen: Johnson vs. Dodson

If Dodson beats Moraga on June 7 and Johnson defeats Bagautinov a week later, this fight has to happen. Their first match was awfully close, and there aren't a lot of deserving contenders in this weight class. Dillashaw's bantamweight title should only increase Dodson's stock and marketability.

Thank You, UFC, For: Makovsky vs. Da Silva

Now I can pretend that Sean Shelby listens to me.

Women's Bantamweight (126-135)

1. Ronda Rousey
2. Alexis Davis
3. Sarah Kaufman
4. Miesha Tate
5. Liz Carmouche
6. Jessica Eye
7. Bethe Correia
8. Sara McMann
9. Amanda Nunes
10. Jessica Andrade

Make it Happen: Kaufman vs. Tate

They haven't fought in five years, with Kaufman winning a UD in Strikeforce. Kaufman can make her case for a rematch with Rousey by beating Tate.

I Don't Understand: why Cris Cyborg and Marloes Coenen aren't in the UFC

I know they're both more comfortable at 145, but I think the reason has more to do with protecting Rousey than it does with weight cuts. Rousey vs. Cyborg would do huge pay-per-view numbers.

Upcoming Events

For those who care, undefeated former Bellator welterweight champion Ben Askren makes his ONE FC debut on Friday in Singapore, against Azerbaijani middlweight Bakhtiyar Abbasov, who is on a nine-fight win streak against no one you've ever heard of.

The Ultimate Fighter Brazil 3 Finale
UFC Fight Night - Muñoz vs. Mousasi

These events take place the same day, May 31. The TUF Brazil card lost a strong headliner when Junior Dos Santos got hurt and dropped out of his match with Stipe Miocic. Fabio Maldonado, on a three-fight win streak at 205, stepped up to face Miocic, but he's a heavy underdog (+400) and doesn't nearly match JDS's star power.

Middleweights Mark Muñoz and Gegard Mousasi headline the Fight Night card. I'd take Mousasi straight up, but he is a surprisingly heavy betting favorite (-300), and I like Muñoz at these odds (+220). Francis Carmont (-170) is a slight favorite over C.B. Dollaway (+130), and Iuri Alcantara is a massive favorite (-390) over Vaughan Lee (+270). That's another one where I'd take the underdog. Lee is 3-3 in the UFC, but his losses were against T.J. Dillashaw, Raphael Assunçao, and Chris Cariaso. Alcantara is 2-1-1 at 135. The loss was to Urijah Faber, but one of the two wins was a split decision, and neither came against a ranked opponent. Alcantara shouldn't be a 4:1 favorite.

If you put some small action on Muñoz and Lee, you'd walk away a winner if either one pulls the upset.

The Brazil card will air on FoxSports1; the Fight Night in Germany is on UFC Fight Pass.

UFC Fight Night - Henderson vs. Khabilov

Rustam Khabilov is 17-1, including 3-0 in the UFC, but Benson Henderson represents by far his toughest competition, and Henderson is a really tough out. Diego Sanchez meets Ross Pearson in a for-the-fans co-headliner that promises plenty of fireworks, but no title implications. More significantly, John Dodson faces John Moraga in a matchup of top-10 flyweights, Rafael dos Anjos takes a quick turnaround against Jason High, and Erik Perez meets Bryan Caraway at 135.

The lines aren't set yet, but a parlay with Henderson, Dodson, and Dos Anjos might be interesting. If four-fight parlays don't worry you, you could even add Perez to the mix.

UFC 174

The next big UFC event is UFC 174, in Vancouver on June 14. The main card features a flyweight title fight between Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson and Ali Bagautinov, plus a welterweight top contender's bout with Tyron Woodley vs. Rory MacDonald. We also get a pair of upper weight class slugfests: Ryan Bader vs. Rafael Cavalcante at 205 and Andrei Arlovski's return to the UFC, in a heavyweight tilt against Brendan Schaub.

Mighty Mouse is a prohibitive favorite (-500), but the other odds aren't out yet. I like Bader over Feijao and Schaub over Arlovski, but the welterweights are a toss-up. If I were going to bet, I'd bet on the underdog. A DJ-Bader-Schaub parlay might be worth looking into when the lines come out. Substitute Roland Delorme (vs. Michinori Tanaka) or Germaine de Randamie (vs. Milana Dudieva) if you're worried about Feijao or if the line on Schaub is too steep.

UFC 175

It's not until July 5, but this is a seriously loaded card. Chris Weidman makes his first middleweight title defense against former light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida. Ronda Rousey defends her belt against Alexis Davis. And the Chael Sonnen/Wanderlei Silva grudge match reaches its conclusion, with other fights featuring former featherweight champion Urijah Faber, TUF 17 and YouTube sensation Uriah Hall, and seven-foot skyscraper Stefan Struve.

It's easy to guess who most of the favorites will be, and they'll be favored for good reason. But if you're any kind of MMA fan, don't miss this one.

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