Who else is looking forward to Chris Weidman defending his UFC middleweight championship this weekend against Vitor Belfort? Wait, I mean Lyoto Machida?
What? Weidman and Machida are no longer fighting at UFC 173 this Memorial Day weekend?
Ok, how about seeing former UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos against up-and-coming contender Stipe Miocic?
That match is off too? Man.
At least we get to see Chael Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva finally settle their differences inside the Octagon?
No, that isn’t happening until July now? Dang.
The UFC was dealt a rough patch with this card, but give Dana White, Joe Silva and company credit for putting together a main card loaded with intriguing bouts.
Renan Barao defends his bantamweight title against heavy underdog T.J. Dillashaw, while Daniel Cormier and Dan Henderson collide in a key light heavyweight title-eliminator. We also get Robbie Lawler, fresh off fighting for the welterweight belt, against Jake Ellenberger.
If you have followed The Ultimate Fighter over the past few seasons, many of those faces will be on the FOX Sports 1 prelims, including former TUF winners Michael Chiesa, Tony Ferguson and Chris Holdsworth, along with runner-up Al Iaquinta.
So, without Weidman, Belfort, Machida, dos Santos, Miocic, Sonnen or Silva, what is there to look forward to? Let’s break things down.
Can Barao prove the UFC boss right and cement his status on the short-list for P4P best?
White has gone on record as saying he goes back-and-forth placing Jon Jones or Barao in the No. 1 spot on his pound-for-pound rankings; even ahead of Barao’s teammate, Jose Aldo.
Is White crazy? Just hyping the Brazilian?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Barao hasn’t lost since his debut fight in 2005, stringing together a 33-fight unbeaten streak that includes 32 victories. Of those, 22 have been finishes, including 14 submissions.
Since joining the UFC, he’s bested the likes of Urijah Faber (twice), Michael McDonald, Eddie Wineland and Scott Jorgensen.
Regardless of where his other fights outside of the Octagon took place, a 33-fight unbeaten streak is incredible.
Will Dillashaw pull a Weidman and shock the world?
Faber, Joseph Benavidez and Chad Mendes have all been unsuccessful in bringing UFC gold back to the Team Alpha Male camp. Is Dillashaw the man to do it?
On the surface, Dillashaw’s track record doesn’t show much, as he has only 11 pro fights under his belt. He was finished by John Dodson back in 2011 in the finals of The Ultimate Fighter 14, and suffered a split decision loss to Raphael Assuncao – who would have fought Barao had it not been for an injury – in 2013.
He did finish Issei Tamura, Vaughan Lee and Hugo Viana during a stretch of fights between 2012-13, but those three are not on par with Barao.
If Dillashaw is going to do what Faber couldn’t, he needs to drag Barao into deep waters. Just three times since 2011 has Barao went the distance, and only one of those was over five rounds. Dillashaw has yet to fight that long, but training with Team Alpha Male, cardio should be no issue.
Is there another “H-bomb” in the tank, or will Cormier be too much?
Henderson and Cormier are both former U.S. Olympic wrestlers, so the idea that one can take the other down and dominate a fight seems unbelievable.
Instead, this could turn into a striking/kickboxing fight, and that should favor Henderson – at least over the early stages.
He’s knocked out Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Fedor Emelianenko, Michael Bisping and 11 others during his career, but Cormier has withstood punishment from heavyweights like Josh Barnett, Roy Nelson, Frank Mir and Antonio Silva.
As long as Cormier’s smart and moves away from the heavy shot, he should be able to pick a slower Henderson apart and score a few late takedowns to dominate the fight.
Can “Ruthless” bounce back, or will “The Juggernaut” move into contention?
This isn’t a title-eliminator like the co-main event, but it could be called a contender-eliminator.
Lawler is coming off a tough decision loss to Johny Hendricks for the vacant title, and appeared a moment or two away from winning the bout. He is in his second run with the UFC and looks to be a completely different fighter than the first time around.
Ellenberger hasn’t fought since a loss last July to Rory MacDonald, but remains right on the cusp of moving into that next level thanks to previous wins over Nate Marquardt, Diego Sanchez and Jake Shields.
The fact that Lawler competed just two months ago should help the veteran, as he came out of a fight camp and almost went directly back in.
Which former TUF winner will shine bright?
Chiesa, Ferguson and Holdsworth all have won the title of The Ultimate Fighter, but one of them seems ready to breakout.
Holdsworth, who trains out of the Team Alpha Male camp, looked strong in claiming his title and remains young in his career. He’s had just five pro bouts, but has submitted each of his foes.
He earned his blue belt from Royce Gracie, his purple belt from Rener, Ryron and Rorion Gracie, and his brown and black belts from Marc Laimon – all before turning 21 years old.
To say Holdsworth is a name you need to remember – and not because it sounds like he’s a brother of the actor who stars as “Thor” – is an understatement. He’s in one of the best gyms around for the lighter weights and will be a contender in no time.
By Dana Becker | Twitter