UFC 173: Matches to Make for the Entire Fight Card
Heading into UFC 173, Renan Barao was on his way to becoming the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Following the fight card, Barao is no longer the UFC bantamweight champion.
A massive underdog, Dillashaw dominated the Brazilian from start to finish Saturday. After knocking Barao down in the opening round, he cruised into the fifth round with a massive lead. Nonetheless, he kept the pressure on and finished Barao with strikes in the final stanza.
Who will be the first fighter to challenge Dillashaw? Could it be an immediate rematch with Barao, or might it be a rematch with Raphael Assuncao, who defeated Dillashaw only seven months ago?
Here are the matches that should be made for all the competitors on the UFC 173 fight card.
Matchup: Peter Sobotta vs. Pawel Pawlak Loser
David Michaud didn't get his UFC career started how he'd hoped, but he showed enough promise to suggest he could have plenty more Octagon appearances ahead.
Facing Li Jingliang, Michaud battled to a split-decision loss. The very competitive matchup saw Michaud match Jingliang with two takedowns, and the American landed only six fewer significant strikes than his adversary.
Expect Michaud's next bout to come against the loser of a May 31 matchup between UFC returnee Peter Sobotta and UFC newcomer Pawl Pawlak.
Matchup: Peter Sobotta vs. Pawel Pawlak Winner
Originally expected to meet Danny Mitchell on Saturday, Jingliang was able to adjust to replacement opponent Michaud and he came away with a win.
The Leech didn't dominate Michaud by any means, but he scored important takedowns in the latter portions of the first and third rounds. Those takedowns paid dividends on the scorecards, which saw Jingliang take a split-decision victory.
"I’m the next Bruce Lee. Wait and see" — Li Jingliang following his win at #UFC173— UFCONFOX (@UFCONFOX) May 24, 2014
At 26 years old, Jingliang is one of the more promising Chinese fighters on the UFC roster. So look for him to land a matchup with the loser of an upcoming bout between Sobotta and Pawlak on a fight card to be held in Asia.
Matchup: Douglas Silva de Andrade
At 24 years old, Aaron Phillips may not be quite ready to compete at the highest level in MMA.
On Saturday, he was taken down four times and spent more than nine minutes underneath opponent Sam Sicilia. When a fighter spends that much time on bottom, it isn't easy to win, especially for a fighter like Phillips, who has no submission victories.
Thank you everyone for your continued support, it means the world to me. I will continue to praise God, and work to become better.— Aaron Phillips (@HEADKICKS_MMA) May 25, 2014
Because he is so young, Phillips could learn from this experience and show a ton of improvement next time around. His sophomore UFC showing could come against Douglas Silva de Andrade, who also suffered a decision loss in his Octagon debut.
Matchup: Rob Whiteford
Sicilia wasn't in contention for a Performance of the Night bonus with his decision win over Phillips Saturday, but it was a very important victory for the 28-year-old.
Entering UFC 173 with losses in three of his prior four outings, Sicilia's UFC job may have been on the line over the weekend. So, while his showing wasn't overly exciting, he did what he needed to do to remain with the world's top MMA organization.
Now, with less pressure on him, Sicilia can fight more aggressively. A bout with Rob Whiteford, who also recently rebounded from a loss, is a possibility.
Matchup: Chad Laprise
Anthony Njokuani returned from a nine-month break in action Saturday, but he probably wishes he'd taken another month away.
Anthony Njokuani and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad, day.— Matthew Roth (@MattRoth512) May 24, 2014
Vinc Pichel had his way with Njokuani, scoring nine takedowns over three rounds against the WEC veteran. Losing by a wide margin on the scorecards, Njokuani continued the pattern of alternating wins and losses that he has maintained since joining the UFC roster.
A The Ultimate Fighter: Nations winner, Chad Laprise is expected to make a move to the lightweight division. The talented striker needs an entertaining matchup to build his name, and Njokuani needs a step down in competition. Right now, Njokuani and Laprise seem like a perfect pairing.
Matchup: Ramsey Nijem
After losing to Rustam Khabilov in his first UFC appearance following an unsuccessful showing on TUF 15, Pichel looked like he could be on his way back to regional competition. The UFC kept him around, though, and that has proved to be a good decision.
On Saturday, Pichel picked up his second straight win, as he took Njokuani down at will. Spending nearly five minutes on top, he easily took a decision victory.
Now, Pichel can expect a matchup with an opponent on a winning streak. With back-to-back wins of his own, Ramsey Nijem would be a logical adversary.
Matchup: Katsunori Kikuno
Al Iaquinta came into UFC 173 with some serious momentum, having won three in a row. However, he made a costly mistake by going to the ground with Mitch Clarke on Saturday.
While Iaquinta did spend most of the first round on top of Clarke without much trouble, he clearly had a bigger advantage when standing. Nonetheless, the Serra-Longo Fight Team member took Clarke down early in the second frame and ended up sleeping less than one minute later.
MMA, folks. Al Iaquinta was beating up Mitch Clarke. Didn't look close. Then Clarke snagged a D'Arce choke and Iaquinta went to sleep.— Josh Gross (@yay_yee) May 25, 2014
As Iaquinta looks to get back on track, he could meet fellow UFC 173 loser Katsunori Kikuno.
Matchup: Michael Chiesa
At one point, Clarke was 0-2 inside the Octagon, which usually means a fighter is about to be released.
The UFC gave Clarke another opportunity, though, and the Canadian has made the most of it. On Saturday, he submitted Iaquinta to pick up his second straight victory.
Ohhhh, buddy. The biggest win of Mitch Clarke's career comes against a guy who seemed to have a perfect style to smash him. What a choke.— Jordan Breen (@jordanbreen) May 25, 2014
Locking up a D'Arce choke from the bottom position, Clarke showed he's not a fighter other lightweights should feel comfortable going to the ground with. Also in possession of a submission win over Iaquinta, Chiesa might want to test that theory, and both fighters should be ready to go again soon considering they both competed over the weekend.
Matchup: Tim Gorman
Chico Camus entered UFC 173 with two straight wins, but he faced a tough stylistic matchup in Chris Holdsworth.
Holdsworth was able to exploit Camus' inconsistent wrestling by scoring four takedowns. Although he couldn't finish Camus on the ground, Holdsworth spent more than nine minutes on top. Unable to do much offensively over three rounds, Camus fell short on the scorecards.
Due for a step down in competition, Camus could see Tim Gorman, who was recently defeated by Mitch Gagnon in his UFC debut.
Matchup: Russell Doane
At 26 years old, Holdsworth looks like a TUF winner who could become a serious title contender soon.
Entering UFC 173, he had never seen a third round, submitting all his previous opponents. However, he was able to prove his conditioning against Camus, as he coasted to his first decision victory Saturday.
Holdsworth needs to build some more momentum before getting a shot at a ranked bantamweight. So a matchup with Russell Doane is a possibility.
Matchup: Al Iaquinta
With a win over Quinn Mulhern in January, Kikuno started his UFC career strong. However, he ran into a very talented Tony Ferguson on Saturday.
Carrying his hands low, Kikuno was tagged multiple times by Ferguson. Eventually, the Japanese lightweight went down and stayed down in the final minute of the first round.
#UFC173 Fact: Katsunori Kikuno just suffered the first knockout loss of his 30-fight career.— Mike Bohn (@MikeBohnMMA) May 25, 2014
Usually difficult to put away, Kikuno would now be a good test for Iaquinta, who will be looking to get back into the win column following a UFC 173 loss of his own.
Matchup: Alan Patrick
Having only lost to Michael Johnson, Tony Ferguson is proving to be one of the better non-ranked fighters in the lightweight division.
At UFC 173, Ferguson smashed Kikuno in the first round. The knockout gave him his second consecutive first-round stoppage victory.
Coming off of a win over John Makdessi, Alan Patrick would be a great matchup for Ferguson. The winner of a bout between those two 155-pounders would be deserving of a shot at a Top 15 lightweight.
Matchup: Rodrigo Damm vs. Rashid Magomedov Loser
With a 4-2 record heading into UFC 173, Francisco Trinaldo has been solid in the UFC lightweight division, but he's had trouble generating momentum.
Opposite Chiesa, the Brazilian suffered another setback Saturday. Trinaldo gave up multiple takedowns and spent more than eight minutes in the bottom position. That resulted in a clear decision loss for Massaranduba.
A matchup between Rodrigo Damm and Rashid Magomedov on May 31 could produce Trinaldo's next adversary.
Matchup: Mitch Clarke
It wasn't really the most spectacular win, but Chiesa kept the ball rolling against Trinaldo.
While he dominated the Brazilian on the ground, he landed only 19 significant strikes over three rounds. Still only two fights removed from a loss to Jorge Masvidal, Chiesa needs to build a longer winning streak before he gets a shot at a lightweight contender.
By submitting Iaquinta over the weekend, Clarke proved he could pose a significant threat to Chiesa on the ground. A grappling match between the pair would be highly intriguing.
Matchup: Gray Maynard vs. Fabricio Camoes Loser
Jamie Varner has now lost three in a row, but don't expect his next fight to happen anywhere other than inside the Octagon.
Before UFC 173, a loss of almost any kind would have probably guaranteed Varner's exit from the world's top MMA organization. However, he fought through an apparent broken ankle for almost a full round, which earned him respect from UFC brass and MMA fans alike:
After what he went through Saturday, Varner is going to get another UFC bout, and it could come against Fabricio Camoes should the Brazilian lose in an August matchup with Gray Maynard.
Matchup: Danny Castillo
Because Varner couldn't continue due to injury, James Krause probably won't get the credit he deserves for his UFC 173 win. After all, Krause did cause Varner's injury with a leg kick early on.
Such an honor to fight a guy like @jamievarner. Sorry it ended the way it did buddy. I wish you a speedy recovery.— James Krause (@TheJamesKrause) May 25, 2014
Still, don't expect Krause to get a huge step up in competition due to the nature of his victory. Instead, he'll probably meet another fighter on Varner's general skill level.
A bout with Danny Castillo would provide him with a similar test to the one that Varner presented.
Matchup: Erik Perez vs. Bryan Caraway Loser
Francisco Rivera's run at a bantamweight title shot came to a halt Saturday.
The slugger ran into a more technical boxer, Takeya Mizugaki, and couldn't land the big shot he needed to keep his knockout streak going.
To pour salt in the wound, it appeared he also broke his hand. Once he's ready to return, Rivera could meet the loser of a June 7 matchup between Erik Perez and Bryan Caraway, both of whom also recently lost to Mizugaki.
Matchup: Johnny Eduardo
With some of the more underrated boxing in the bantamweight division, Mizugaki extended his winning streak to five fights over the weekend.
Mizugaki made up for allowing three takedowns by knocking Rivera down and spending a good amount of time on top as well. Had T.J. Dillashaw not dethroned Renan Barao Saturday, Mizugaki would have been one of the leading candidates to get a shot at the 135-pound championship. He's still near the top, but Mizugaki will probably need another win or two.
Coming off of a knockout win over Eddie Wineland, Johnny Eduardo is a more technical striker than Rivera and would be a good opponent for Mizugaki.
Matchup: Carlos Condit
Jake Ellenberger keeps coming up short in the biggest situations.
At UFC 173, he had no answers for Robbie Lawler's striking. Landing 42 fewer strikes than Lawler, he was eventually stopped in the third round.
Having proven he's a high-level welterweight already, Ellenberger isn't likely to see a big step down in competition. Instead, he might find himself in a rematch with Carlos Condit once The Natural Born Killer heals from a knee injury.
Matchup: Matt Brown
One fight removed from an instant classic with welterweight champion Johny Hendricks, Lawler is already in the running for another shot at the 170-pound championship.
Lawler picked up a huge win over Ellenberger on Saturday. By stopping The Juggernaut, he showed he's not ready to give up on his UFC title hopes.
Robbie Lawler is a handful for anyone at 170 lbs. and they've got a lot of options w/ him. He can have my PPV money anytime. #UFC173— Jon Anik (@Jon_Anik) May 25, 2014
I expect the winner of a June 14 bout between Tyron Woodley and Rory MacDonald to get the next crack at Hendricks, though. That could mean Lawler meets Matt Brown in a title shot eliminator that would provide much violence.
Matchup: Michael Bisping vs. Cung Le Winner
If Dan Henderson doesn't realize now that a title is out of reach at 205 pounds, I don't know how he'll ever be convinced.
Yeah, Hendo's right hand gives him the ability to beat any light heavyweight on a given evening. However, at 43 years old, he's not going to land that right hand in enough consecutive fights to earn a shot at the 205-pound championship.
If not retiring, a move to 185 pounds seems like Henderson's best option. Let him test the waters against the winner of an August bout between rival Michael Bisping and Cung Le and see where things go.
Matchup: Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson Winner
It's getting hard to deny Daniel Cormier a shot at UFC gold.
On Saturday, DC became the first fighter to submit Henderson since Anderson Silva did so in March 2008. Cormier is now 4-0 inside the Octagon, and he possesses the wrestling needed to give light heavyweight champion Jon Jones some serious problems.
Following UFC 173, UFC president Dana White didn't seem keen on letting Cormier sit and wait for the winner of an upcoming title fight between Jones and Alexander Gustafsson.
The matchup between Jones and Cormier is one of the more intriguing bouts the UFC can put together right now. It appears Jones and Gustafsson will have their rematch in only a few months, so Cormier has earned the right to sit and wait for the the champion who emerges.
Matchup: Dominick Cruz
Barao's bantamweight title run came to an unexpected end Saturday.
Although he was a gigantic favorite, Barao did not have much success at all against Dillashaw. The Brazilian landed 101 fewer strikes than Dillashaw, who captured the 135-pound belt with a knockout in the final round.
You know how long it's been since Renan Barao lost a fight? Youtube had its very 1st video uploaded to the site 2 weeks after his last loss.— Mike Chiappetta MMA (@MikeChiappetta) May 23, 2014
Since he became one of the best bantamweights in MMA history as UFC champion, Barao might be given an immediate rematch. If not, it'd be interesting to see him meet the man he took the undisputed tag from without ever stepping into the Octagon against him.
Dominick Cruz's return remains a mystery, but should he not come back with a title shot, a bout with Barao could make more sense than anything.
Matchup: Raphael Assuncao
For all of his athleticism, Dillashaw wasn't given much of a chance to dethrone Barao on Saturday. He wasn't even the first option to challenge the Brazilian champion. That was Raphael Assuncao, who defeated Dillashaw not long ago in October 2013.
Unable to fight Barao due to injury, Assuncao should now get another fight with Dillashaw and an opportunity to prove he's the best in the bantamweight division.
*Statistics via FightMetric.com.