UFC 173: The Real Winners and Losers from Barao vs. Dillashaw
In MMA circles, Renan Barao was like Kim Kardashian, only exactly the opposite. He was famous for not being famous.
Exacerbating the polarity, Barao was also demonstrably, massively talented. Coming into UFC 173 Saturday night, the UFC bantamweight champion looked pretty unbeatable in spite of his anonymity, not having lost since his first professional fight, all the way back in 2005. That included a perfect 7-0 in the Octagon.
This was to be, proponents theorized, a bit of a coming-out party for Barao. That was the subtext of the UFC 173 main event. Could Barao do enough to electrify the fighting public?
Of course, the challenger, TJ Dillashaw, wanted nothing to do with that narrative. No one put much stock in his objections, but they existed nevertheless. And we'll get to them momentarily.
Meanwhile, in the evening's co-main event, former Olympic wrestler Daniel Cormier faced Old Man River Dan Henderson. At 43, Henderson is decidedly past his prime and, on paper, he didn't seem to have much for the streaking Cormier, who is hunting a light heavyweight title bout with the great Jon Jones.
But there was plenty of intrigue across the 12-fight slate. And as always, the final stat lines only reveal so much. Here are the real winners and losers from UFC 173.
Winner: TJ Dillashaw
We have a new champion.
Surprised? If not, you're in rare company.
What might have been the most shocking part of TJ Dillashaw's bell-to-bell beating of the ostensibly unbeatable Barao was the seeming ease with which it happened: from the right hand that rocked the champ early to the hands-down dancing to that merciless jab that never seemed to miss.
Dillashaw put the fog in Barao's head early and never let it lift. There was a cockiness to the 28-year-old's movements that would have come off as presumptuous had it not been punctuated by such decisive excellence. With either hand and then with both, the blonde Californian—and seriously, is he the best Team Alpha Male fighter ever now?—hammered the Brazilian like no one had before.
And he did it all on what could have been considered Barao's turf: the stand-up game. At least for now, though, that's Dillashaw's game. And so is the bantamweight division. Hats off to the new champ.
Loser: Renan Barao
Renan Barao was like most of the rest of us. He wasn't prepared for this.
He wasn't prepared for the aggression or the pressure. He wasn't prepared for Dillashaw's heavy jab, or the strength advantage that caused those leg locks to roll off like water away from the proverbial duck.
At least it didn't appear that he was prepared. Sure, Barao fought gamely, weathering that first-round cracking, landing some of those trademark leg kicks and stuffing several of the college wrestler's takedown attempts. It's not like he fought poorly.
It's entirely possible that Dillashaw and his big early right hand are to blame, but Barao was not his usual self Saturday night. And it cost him his belt. MMA fans and Barao himself will have to wait and see how the great Brazilian bantamweight responds.
Winner: The Ultimate Fighter
So you think it's just an MMA Danity Kane, huh?
Tell that to Renan Barao about Mr. Dillashaw, who competed on the show's 14th season.
And while you're at it, tell that to Francisco Trinaldo, who never found his footing against The Ultimate Fighter 15 winner Michael Chiesa.
Why don't you also count Katsunori Kikuno among the believers? The sometimes-electrifying darling of the hardcore set was trucked pretty quickly by the fist of TUF 13 champ Tony Ferguson.
Don't forget about Chris Holdsworth, who won TUF 18 just a few months ago and dominated veteran Chico Camus in his first proper UFC engagement.
Reality show veteran Sam Sicilia won as well, manhandling newcomer Aaron Phillips on the undercard.
Yes, David Michaud lost. He was the exception. But by and large, UFC 173 was a pretty validating night for the show. Maybe it can still serve as a legitimate launching pad for real UFC fighters.
Loser: Rest of Light Heavyweight Division Besides Daniel Cormier
It was a tune-up fight for Daniel Cormier. So when he tuned up Dan Henderson, it made a lot of sense.
The effort may not have set the crowd on fire, but it sure was impressive. Cormier dominated Henderson from beginning to end, rag-dolling his fellow wrestler around the cage until he finally, mercifully closed his metaphorical jaws around Hendo's neck and squeezed until Hendo lost consciousness.
Cormier is 2-0 now as a light heavyweight, both stoppages. And he hasn't broken much of a sweat in the process.
Alexander Gustafsson might have just signed a contract to face Jon Jones next, but Cormier might be the stiffest challenger.
"You better hurry, boy," Cormier told broadcaster Joe Rogan after the fight, addressing a certain Mr. Jones. "Because I'm getting better."
And you know what? I think everyone believes him. And that's terrifying.
Winner: Takeya Mizugaki
When Takeya Mizugaki dropped Francisco Rivera in the first round—but then didn't finish—it looked like it might have been a missed opportunity. Rivera came back and got his offense rolling in the second and appeared fully recovered from the early onslaught.
But Mizugaki showed plenty of fortitude himself, pumping his jab and grabbing and holding top control on "Cisco." After alternating wins and losses for 10, count them, 10 consecutive fights dating back to the WEC days, Mizugaki has now ripped off five victories in a row.
Other than Raphael Assuncao, who has a stronger claim to the next bantamweight title shot?
Loser: Dan Henderson
Dan Henderson, the 43-year-old legend of MMA, is undoubtedly free to write his own ending after an illustrious career. I know that, you that, the global MMA community knows that. No one disputes that.
But after Saturday's humbling at the hands of Cormier, in which his wrestling was exposed for the mummified skill set that it is, Henderson can't actually still think he's a title contender.
Dropping to middleweight won't change that, either. Neither will defeating other aging lions on the novelty circuit.
If he's doing it for the love, great. But he shouldn't pretend a larger goal is realistic, because it's not. And he shouldn't pretend he's a young man anymore, either, with a full complement of world-class skills at the ready. Because he's not.
It's a start.
Li Jingliang didn't exactly flash star potential in the evening's opening bout. But he did enough to grab a split decision over David Michaud in the UFC debut for both men, and was the first Chinese fighter to win in the Octagon since Tiequan Zhang did it in 2011.
The UFC desperately wants to reach into the cradle of martial arts and the world's most populous nation. So far, so bad. Part of the problem is a lack of star power. Maybe Jingliang is someone who Chinese MMA fans can get behind. He certainly looks like the best option at the moment.
Loser: Jake Ellenberger
It wasn't pretty Saturday night for Jake "The Juggernaut" Ellenberger.
Robbie Lawler was bigger, stronger, faster and just plain better. He cut off the cage on Ellenberger and beat him to every punch (and kick, for that matter). Ellenberger was on his horse for most of the bout. At one point, Lawler actually laughed after an Ellenberger takedown. Laughed.
"I wanted to just go out there and showcase what I was capable of," Lawler told broadcaster Joe Rogan after earning a third-round TKO that Ellenberger practically begged the referee to grant. "I was just gonna get back in line and beat people up."
That's what Lawler did. Cheers to him, but jeers to Ellenberger for failing to rebound. A poor loss to Rory MacDonald last year begat this tentative outclassing against Lawler.
You have to wonder where he goes from here. It's certainly not up.
Full Card Results
T.J. Dillashaw def. Renan Barao by TKO, 2:26, Rd. 5 (wins UFC bantamweight championship)
Daniel Cormier def. Dan Henderson by technical submission (rear-naked choke), 3:53, Rd. 3
Robbie Lawler def. Jake Ellenberger by TKO, 3:06, Rd. 3
Takeya Mizugaki def. Francisco Rivera by unanimous decision
James Krause def. Jamie Varner by TKO (ankle injury) 5:00, Rd. 1
Michael Chiesa def. Francisco Trinaldo by unanimous decision
Tony Ferguson def. Katsunori Kikuno by TKO, 4:06, Rd. 1
Chris Holdsworth def. Chico Camus by unanimous decision
Mitch Clarke def. Al Iaquinta by technical submission (D'arce choke), 0:57, Rd. 2
Vinc Pichel def. Anthony Njokuani by unanimous decision
Sam Sicilia def. Aaron Phillips by unanimous decision
Li Jingliang def. David Michaud by split decision
Scott Harris writes about MMA and other things for Bleacher Report and other places. For more, follow Scott on Twitter.