When the Opening Act Eclipses the Headliner – UFC 173’s New Additions

Late to the game this weekend because it’s soccer season, but with the kids watching Frozen…again…and the WSOF on live, I’m taking a minute to weigh in on the new bouts announced for UFC 173.

Murder on the dancefloor

Murder on the dance floor

Two BIG announcements yesterday afternoon saw two BIG fights added to UFC 173’s card including Renan Barao versus TJ Dillashaw as the Weidman/Machida replacement and a welterweight scrap between Jake Ellenberger and Robbie Lawler.

So, yes, I was completely wrong about Rich Franklin coming to save the day and rescuing the UFC once again.  Apparently Rich is content making juice for now.  The bantamweight bout between Barao and Dillashaw makes sense.  It’s a title fight, and those are easier to sell.  Dana White has mentioned quite often how much he thinks Barao deserves to be the p4p king.  Barao is also really being pushed by the UFC marketing machine as a p4p candidate, and rightfully so.  Barao is undefeated since 2005 and has only seen one of his fights outside a single loss NOT end in victory (a 2007 NC).  Barao is simply a stud, but why doesn’t his title reign feel, for lack of a better word, right?  He became the official champion and loss his interim label when Dominick Cruz had to pull out of their last fight due to injury.  He’s defended the belt, interim or not, against top flight competition. He even has a great celebratory dance.

Still, his dominance has left some fans with a case of the Aldos in that there is little drama about the outcome when he steps into the cage.  Enter TJ Dillashaw.  TJ has the wrestling pedigree and has developed a decent set of hands since entering the UFC.  Whether or not that is enough to stop the dancing machine remains to be seen.  While I would never call a title fight in any class a lackluster affair, there seems to be something missing about the main event.  It lacks a certain sex appeal, a certain narrative, a certain battle cry for fans to rally around.  Dillashaw and Barao aren’t as well known to outside of MMA circles, and maybe that’s part of it, but the mere fact that it’s a title fight could help to bolster the expectations that a main event normally carries.

To help bolster the card itself the other announcement made yesterday was that Ruthless Robbie Lawler will make a quick rerun to the octagon and take on welterweight contender Jake the Juggernaut Ellenberger.  Yes. Sir.

This is an atypical case where one of the undercard fights has more significant implications than the title fight in the main event simply because of the new life that has been breathed into the welterweight division since GSP stepped away.

After a phenomenal showing against Johny Hendricks at UFC 171, Lawler will have the opportunity to make his case why he deserves a rematch with Hendricks by making a quick return to the cage.  This is a brilliant move by Lawler.  It gives him first crack while the other contenders have to follow his act, which lately has been a hard thing to do. It also gives him an opportunity for a quick encore, especially after earning a lot of good will from the fans in his barn burner with Hendricks.  If real estate is all about location, the fight game is all about timing, and with Hendricks out and Condit out and with Lombard, Woodley, and MacDonald without opponents, Robbie Lawler is proving that he has great timing.  All it takes is a well-placed shot to Ellenberger to prove he deserves to leapfrog the glut of 170-pound contenders.

Of course it won’t be as easy as just showing up for Lawler as Ellenberger always seems to step up when the competition is at its toughest.  Also, Ellenberger has a habit of TKOing and KOing bigger welterweights.  He made short work of former 185-pound Strikeforce champion, Jake Shields.  He also ran though perennial 185-pound contender turned 170-pound contender Nate Marquardt.  Lawler, who used to fight at 185, definitely has his work cut out for him.  A win over Lawler, especially a win with a brilliant finish could allow Ellenberger to pass the logjam at the top of the 170-pound class.

With the addition of Barao/Dillashaw and Lawler/Ellenberger to a card that also includes a heavyweight tilt between Dos Santos/Miocic, the Weidman/Machida sized hole in UFC 173 seems to be filled.

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