Who are these guys?
Remember when UFC 173 was earmarked for a Chris Weidman Vitor Belfort showdown? Then, remember when Nevada put an end to TRT and the clock started for when the UFC would have to find a replacement for Vitor who everyone knew would bow out due to the NSAC’s ruling? Then, do you remember this:
Chris Weidman versus Lyoto Machida became the main event fight fans needed, but not the one the MMA gods thought they deserved, as Weidman also bowed out of the fight electing to get knee surgery. Then, the mad dash for who could fill the PPV’s shoes started. With the majority of the UFC’s champs out due to injury, who could shoulder the expectations of a PPV in a year where PPV buys have seen a dip? Joe Silva looked down the line at the UFC roster, pointed a wee finder in the direction of Renan Barao and said, “You’re up.” Barao’s response:
Make no mistake, this is a challenge for Renan Barao on two fronts. First, he takes on a salty competitor in TJ Dillashaw who has the wrestling base and pace to make a long night for the champ (who lately doesn’t like to see his fights go past the first few rounds). More than that, however, Barao is being given the keys to a PPV main event (this time, without a brand name competitor a la Urijah Faber) and is responsible for delivering the goods and bringing in the buys.
Barao is a beast at 135. Despite the fact he was referred to as the interim champ for almost a year before the term “interim” was rightfully excised, Barao has put on some pretty quality finishes in a division that, while thin, is made up of legit threats. He’s also put on some quality celebratory dances. His record at 32-1-1 is undeniable, and his skills have been called ruthless, calculating, and vicious.
Yet, he is likely the least known of the UFC’s pantheon of champions. The chatter leading up to fight week has centered mostly on the UFC’s inability to market Barao on the basis of his record and skills, that they simply don’t translate to the casual MMA fan. The promotion believes that Barao’s bonafides speak for themselves, and in theory, they should, especially in sports. Unfortunately, talent doesn’t always equal popularity, and popularity doesn’t guarantee talent. I can’t name you one Katy Perry song, but I know who she is thanks in part to her team of publicists, agents, and marketing coordinators. How is it then that Barao, who is clearly talented, doesn’t have the notoriety of his fellow champions, especially considering how long it’s been since he last lost a fight?
The fact is, Barao is a killer in the cage. He’s not a superstar. And, he shouldn’t have to be. He just needs to keep winning. The fans will find him. Because of the way he’s been ending fights his last few outings, I think after this weekend, he’ll be easy to spot. He’ll be the guy with the raised hand… and, probably, doing that dance.
Aside from an intriguing main, the co-main has a come-hither feel with Daniel Cormier getting the competition he finally deserves at 205 in Dan Henderson. Make no mistake: this is the fallback to the main for a reason. Hendo is a legend. He could have stopped fighting in 2011 after his war with Shogun, and his place in the MMA books would have been more than secured. But Hendo loves the competition, even if it’s clear the competition is getting away from him. I don’t want to count Hendo out. I’ve said as much before.
Unfortunately, Daniel Cormier is simply the present and future of this sport. He’s good on his feet, he has phenomenal defense, and his ground work is obviously exceptional. So many people balked at the notion of DC getting an immediate title shot at 205 simply because he had never fought at 205 (completely oblivious to his maulings of Josh Barnett, Frank Mir, Roy Nelson, and Bigfoot Silva at 265). Well, DC critics, after Saturday, there won’t be much of an argument left to stand on.
Whenever two Olympic-caliber wrestlers get together, rest assured they will do anything but wrestle and look try to out-strike each other. I see DC being too fast for Hendo and too smart to get lured into a brawl. DC should be able to dismantle Hendo’s H-Bomb; however, he should be wary of the same spinning back fist that sent Wanderlei to the canvas in Pride.
It’s Clobbering Time!
As if the main and co-mains weren’t enough to get fight fans bobbing in their seats, the Robbie Lawler/Jake Ellenberger matchup is simply a fight fan’s dream and nightmare wrapped up in one. Lawler and Ellenberger are battle-tested, tough, crowd pleasing, and more than anything else, extremely likeable. It’s so hard to route against either man. It’s like watching The Thing battle The Hulk.
Lawler is coming in with a quick turnaround after losing to welterweight champ Johny Hendricks in March. That short layoff and the fact that Lawler was so close to winning the title could give him the edge he needs. It could influence his pacing, and if he can keep Ellenberger at the end of his jab and turn this into a 15-minute fight, he has a chance, as Ellenberger has shown that when the fights go the distance, he has a tougher time getting the win
All things being equal, however, I see Ellenberger as a small step faster than Lawler and dictating the pace early. The faster Ellenberger fights, the more dangerous he is. Also, the fact that he’s used to taking on bigger opponents at 170, like Nate Marquardt and Jake Shields, shows he has the power to brawl with bigger guys like Lawler.
What I predict is that Lawler/Ellenberger will win Fight of the Night honors, hands down. However because of the competitors involved, I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of these guys pocket a performance of the night bonus as well.
As always, feel free to come back to ridicule my picks as I am proven wrong.