Saturday night’s UFC 173 pay-per-view was a wild showcase of the unpredictability of mixed martial arts, and several fighters such as new bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw stole the show.
Not only did he TKO former champion Renan Barao, but both Daniel Cormier and Robbie Lawler also managed to take home monumental victories on their respective paths to a championship.
Here are the fighters who shined brightest on Saturday night.
Bantamweight fighter Dillashaw was not supposed to be in the position he was in Saturday night. With Raphael Assuncao originally scheduled to fight Renan Barao for the divisional title, Dillashaw was an afterthought until Assuncao turned the fight down with a rib injury.
Dillashaw did not waste his opportunity and hit Barao with a huge head kick that clearly hurt the former champion. There was blood in the water, and Dillashaw followed it up with a barrage of punches that forced the referee to stop the fight.
After winning the UFC Bantamweight Championship, Dillashaw told Brett Okamoto of ESPN.com about the respect he has for Barao after such an entertaining fight:
That's who I am. I want to finish every fight. I'm at my best when I'm coming at you. Barao is the best in the world in my eyes. I've been looking up to him. I felt respect in the cage with him. He's the best in the world, and that's what brought it out in me. I had to bring my 'A' game to beat the best in the world.
Any Dillashaw doubters remaining were forced to eat crow.
The fight wasn’t even close. Dillashaw looked like the stronger fighter right out of the gate and was in control for almost the entire fight. While Barao landed a few shots, he never could find any consistency.
As great as the victory was, the most important fight of Dillashaw’s life will be his next one. A rematch against Barao would be a main event that MMA fans would have no problem getting behind now.
As one of the most promising fighters in the UFC today, light heavyweight championship contender Daniel Cormier proved once again that he deserves a title shot after dismantling a legend like Dan Henderson.
For only the fourth time in his career, Henderson was forced to submit. The only other men to make him tap out were Anderson Silva and the Nogueira brothers, and the submission victory makes Cormier’s incredible dominance even more impressive.
Cormier took to Instagram to share a picture of him and Henderson after the fight:
While Cormier was nothing but respectful to Henderson and has showed great class throughout his career, he called out light heavyweight champion Jon Jones after the fight, according to UFC’s Twitter account:
Many fans and experts heaped praise on Cormier after his victory. One of the biggest votes of confidence came from WWE legend Steve Austin:
Not only was Cormier one of the most decorated amateur wrestlers in the world, but he has carried that dominance into MMA by winning his first 15 fights in the sport. With an impressive list of opponents, there is no doubt he deserves a shot at the light heavyweight title.
Where it’s Jones or Alexander Gustafsson, it will be hard for whomever is the champion at the time to successfully defend his title against Cormier when he finally gets his title shot.
There is no questioning the skills of Robbie Lawler, but he struggled to find consistency in his career over the last several years. A loss to Johny Hendricks derailed much of the momentum he had built, but a huge TKO victory against Jake Ellenberger proved he still has what it takes.
Lawler was a late replacement for Tarec Saffiedine, but instead of taking the chance to mail in his effort, he attacked Ellenberger with heavy strikes and dominated the majority of the fight.
Add in the ability to finish the bout, and Lawler is on the right path to another shot at the title.
The UFC would have an instant attraction if reigning champion Hendricks were to take on Lawler in a rematch of their previous fight. Win or lose, Lawler proved Saturday that he deserves the opportunity.
*Stats via UFC.com.