Haymaker's alternate-reality prognostications for UFC 173
One of the best pound-for-pound fighters on the planet, Renan Barao, defends his UFC bantamweight title against T.J. Dillashaw at UFC 173 on Saturday night in Las Vegas.
The rest of the main card is pretty deep with fight fans' fights, as UFC president Dana White might say. We honestly have no clue what will happen -- Miss Cleo, we ain't -- but here's what could conceivably occur at MGM Grand Garden Arena:
Jamie Varner vs. James Krause
In between the prelims and the main card, the production crew rolls a blue mat into the Octagon, because we're going back in time to the days of the WEC with these next two fights. That was also the last time Varner was relevant in MMA, but he puts on a strong performance here. Actually, they both do.
Though neither Varner nor Krause have any chance of getting kicked upside the head by UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis any time in the near or distant future, they both have a propensity for violence. And they deliver here, a Fight of the Night-caliber scrap. Varner wins by decision and calls out Donald Cerrone to complete their trilogy. Cerrone tweets moments later that he can sneak a Varner fight in next month in Albuqerque before his bout with Jim Miller in July.
Takeya Mizugaki vs. Francisco Rivera
Sean Shelby had a little twinkle in his eye when he booked this bout. Both men are on everyone's all-violence team. Maybe that whole WEC thing was a good idea.
Anyway, this one is also a war, but it doesn’t go to decision. Mizugaki gets the better of the stand up for most of the first two rounds, but how long can you really stand in front of Rivera before you end up on your back, staring up at the lights and then trying to put the referee in a triangle? Not long. Rivera ends things with an overhand right in the second. Talking to Joe Rogan afterward, he tells the touching story about searching for his father, Francisco Rivera Sr., in Mexico. Rivera promptly gets 10,785 tweets from Mexican guys named Francisco Rivera.
Robbie Lawler vs. Jake Ellenberger
When Ellenberger said Ronda Rousey could beat some male UFC fighters, Robbie Lawler mistakenly thought Ellenberger was talking about him and he doesn't come to the Octagon very happy. Lawler starts fast, swinging for the fences, returning to the Lawler of old. You know, the one who almost lost to Melvin Manhoef. Ellenberger uses it to his advantage. When Lawler commits, Ellenberger shoots in and lands a takedown.
Things change in the second round, though. Lawler is calm and starts picking Ellenberger apart on the feet. He lands a left hook to the chin and Ellenberger goes down. Lawler pounces and finishes the fight by TKO. Ellenberger would go on to regret having his podcast co-host Adam Hunter in his corner over an actual MMA coach. But at least his pre-fight vignette was funny.
Afterward, Lawler talks to Rogan and rattles off about a dozen clichés in a row about fighting and working hard. He manages to sound like a 57-year-old minor league baseball manager, which is to say he doesn't really say much at all.
Daniel Cormier vs. Dan Henderson
Cormier goes from fighting a barista in his last fight to an AARP member here. Henderson is so old that when he started fighting in 1997, T.J. Dillashaw was only 5-foot-6. Oh, wait. He still is.
Cormier promised to stand and trade with Henderson. He was lying. He gets into a clinch right away and pushes Henderson against the cage. Cormier wants nothing to do with the H-bomb and why would he? Did you see "Shogun" Rua's nose after that fight in March?
Cormier ends up winning by unanimous decision and earns a title shot that will probably take place sometime in early 2016.
Henderson is visibly frustrated afterward, but he begins to feel better when he and Cormier break bread, err, biscuits somewhere in North Las Vegas. The two share some Budweiser and talk Olympic wrestling. All is right with the world.
Renan Barao vs. T.J. Dillashaw
Depending on which one of the people shouting into mics you listen to, Barao is either a monster, an animal or an alien from another planet. We think he looks a little more Gollum from Lord of the Rings. Better dancer, though.
This one goes just about how you would expect. Barao rocks Dillashaw early in the first round and finishes it seconds later. He doesn't give Dillashaw an opportunity to give referee Herb Dean a thumbs-up sign, either. There will be no controversy. But there will be some dancing. Barao gives new meaning to the grappling term "good hips."
Afterward, UFC president Dana White calls Barao the best fighter that has ever lived seconds before Barao says he's only the second best fighter in his own gym. The casual MMA fan base shrugs collectively.