"Welcome to the haunted UFC card," Joe Rogan said to kick off the official weigh-ins for UFC 177. Truer words have never been spoken.
In a crazy turn of events, the lineup for the promotion's return to Sacramento, California, underwent a drastic shake-up when the card lost two high-profile tilts, one of which was the main event rematch between bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw and Renan Barao.
The Baron was forced to stop cutting weight for medical reasons and was removed from his bout with the Team Alpha Male standout. This forced the promotion to make an 11th-hour call, and the UFC tapped promotional newcomer and former Bellator champion Joe Soto to step in for a title opportunity.
News of this last-minute change put the MMA community in an uproar, as a card already deemed thin by all measurable standards seemed to barely be holding onto a pulse. Nevertheless, the show was to go on, and Dillashaw was set to make his first official title defense against a man who had never stepped foot inside the Octagon.
While these circumstances set the stage for career-defining upsets, and the unpredictable nature of the sport never fully closes the door on that possibility, there was no Rocky story to be written in "The City of Trees."
The 28-year-old California native put on the performance of his young career when he dethroned Barao back in May, and he came into the Octagon in front of his adopted hometown crowd looking to validate his reign as champion...no matter who he was facing.
While it wasn't the steamrolling most expected (yours truly included), Dillashaw worked an effective game plan, earning his first successful title defense via knockout in the fifth and final round. That said, Soto proved to be more game than anyone gave him credit for, but he was facing some ridiculous odds in taking a shot at the bantamweight champion in his promotional debut.
When it was all said and done, everything that went into Saturday's card at the Sleep Train Arena was one of the oddest affairs in recent memory. Let's take a look at the good, bad and strange from UFC 177.
Coming into his first official title defense at UFC 177, the one thing on T.J. Dillashaw's mind was proving his place as bantamweight champion was a legitimate one. Three months earlier, the Team Alpha Male standout had shocked the MMA world by dethroning the seemingly invincible Renan Barao. On Saturday night, he wanted to prove it wasn't a fluke by defeating The Baron again.
Things wouldn't play out that way, though, and the champion would go on a roller-coaster ride before he ever stepped foot inside the Octagon. Barao would withdraw from the bout due to issues with his weight cut, and the UFC would tap former Bellator champion Joe Soto to take his place.
The switch put the champion in a tough place, but Dillashaw was determined to make UFC 177 the first step of his title reign. And that is what he did.
While he didn't come out and mop the floor with Soto like most expected, Dillashaw dominated the fight for four rounds until he scored a knockout finish in the fifth. It was an effective showing by a fighter who is only getting better each time out. With the win, Dillashaw has now won seven of his eight showings under the UFC banner, and it will be interesting to see what's next for the champion.
Turning to the women's side of the bantamweight division, Bethe Correia just might have the best gimmick going in MMA. The scrappy Brazilian bantamweight set her sights on getting a title shot against Ronda Rousey by targeting Rousey's Four Horsewomen crew. After putting a lopsided beating on Jessamyn Duke, Pitbull took a crack at the veteran of the group in Shayna Baszler on Saturday night. After the Queen of Spades took the opening round with her grappling, Correia cut loose in the second and unleashed the fury.
She whaled on a defenseless Baszler against the cage until the referee decided he had seen enough. With the win, Correia not only keeps her undefeated record intact but put herself into the conversation of a possible title opportunity against Rousey.
*** The lightweight division is a talent-rich collective, and Tony Ferguson has been eager to break into deeper waters for some time now. El Cucuy had won three of his last four coming into his tilt with Danny Castillo, and with the co-main event showcase, the 30-year-old Californian had the perfect opportunity to make a statement.
Unfortunately for both men, there wasn't all too much action to be had, and the majority of the bout was spent locked in a stalemate on the ground. When the final bell sounded, Ferguson got the split-decision nod on the judges' scorecards and picked up his fourth victory in five outings.
*** Carlos Diego Ferreira got fight fans excited by his lightning-quick submission victory in his UFC debut, and that buzz should amplify considerably after he pounded out Ramsey Nijem on Saturday night. The Brazilian grappling ace was giving The Ultimate Fighter alumnus trouble on the ground, which prompted Nijem to bring the fight back to the feet.
That proved to be the wrong move. Ferreira caught Nijem rushing in and leveled him with a right hand. He pounded out the stoppage shortly after to pick up his second win under the UFC banner.
*** It had been a rough road through the UFC for Yancy Medeiros coming into UFC 177. The 26-year-old Hawaiian had battled a host of established veterans and failed to notch a victory in his three showings inside the Octagon. Coming into his bout with promotional newcomer Damon Jackson, Medeiros desperately needed a victory, and he got one in spectacular fashion. With Jackson trying to get the fight to the ground, Medeiros locked in a reverse guillotine that forced Jackson to tap and brought the fight to an end.
*** There wasn't anything pretty about it, but Derek Brunson got things back on track by outgrappling Lorenz Larkin en route to the unanimous-decision victory. The Strikeforce veteran landed some strikes early, but it was all Brunson when the action hit the canvas. While Brunson didn't do much damage from top position, he controlled the action to pick up his fourth victory in his last five showings.
*** Chris Wade made about as impressive a UFC debut as humanly possible as he choked the life out of Cain Carrizosa in the first round of their tilt Saturday night. While Carrizosa came out aggressive, Wade quickly took the action to the canvas and began looking to implement his offense. It didn't take him long to find what he was looking for, locking in an arm-in guillotine that put his opponent to sleep on the mat.
Where do we start when talking about "The Bad" aspects of UFC 177?
It is never a good situation anytime a show loses one of its main event fighters, but this card losing Renan Barao 25 hours out from the start of the show was devastating. Three months ago, the Nova Uniao standout was being touted as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters on the planet, but after his loss to Dillashaw at UFC 173 and his weight-cutting disaster at UFC 177, his profile has taken a severe amount of damage.
Has he proved to be one of the best bantamweight fighters in the world? Yes, but the 27-year-old is having a rough 2014 campaign. Following his scratch from the card, UFC President Dana White made it clear he would not be getting the next title shot upon his return, and that is going to leave The Baron with some work to do.
That said, while the Brazilian striking phenom has a strong track record inside the Octagon, promotional newcomer Henry Cejudo does not. The Olympic gold medal-winning wrestler turned mixed martial artist was set to make his UFC debut against Scott Jorgensen on Saturday, but issues during his weight cut forced him off the card as well. While Barao dropping out of the main event is severe, Cejudo's inability to make the fight with Young Guns will not bode well for him.
The highly touted prospect has been plagued by his inability to make weight throughout his young career, and his failure to do so at UFC 177 has forced the UFC brass to issue an ultimatum. While Cejudo hasn't been released by the organization, White told Ariel Helwani on the Fox Sports 1 broadcast that he will either have to fight at 135 pounds or not fight for the UFC. Those are some hard lines set by White, and it will be interesting to see how Cejudo responds.
Keeping those things in mind, losing two bouts did zero favors for the broadcast team at FS1. The production team was forced to drag three fights over a two-hour time slot leading up to the pay-per-view portion, and it was nothing short of brutal.
Naturally, newcomer Chris Wade choking out Cain Carrizosa just north of a minute into the opening bout didn't help matters much, but trying to cover that type of real estate with three bouts was doomed business to begin with.
While there were other entries that could fill this space (Lorenz Larkin losing his fourth fight in five showings inside the Octagon and a horrible bout between Anthony Hamilton and Ruan Potts), nothing was quite as bad as how two fighters missing weight put UFC 177 on the skids.
Normally I would jot several hundred words into this category describing the curious happenings that worked their way into the night's action, but is that really necessary?
A newcomer gets a title shot? A production truck catches fire? Chaos unleashed in Northern California?
UFC 177: It really happened. That's my unofficial tagline for the card, and had Rod Serling popped in and stole the mic from Joe Rogan to talk about the paradox between time and space, no one would have even batted an eye.
It was just that strange.
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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