UFC/WEC veteran Dan Downes talks strategy and predictions for UFC 173: Barao vs. Dillashaw, taking place Saturday, May 24...
That’s right boys and girls, it’s time for another Memorial Day edition of the Downes Side! Over here in the United States of America, Memorial Day is seen as the unofficial beginning of summer. The official beginning is determined by the moon or a groundhog or something like that. Much like magnets, there’s no possible way to determine how they work.
Some among us may not be able to notice miracles, but anyone can recognize that UFC 173 will be an amazing event. Live from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, Renan Barao puts his bantamweight title on the line against Team Alpha Male’s TJ Dillashaw. In the co-main event of the night, Daniel Cormier and Dan Henderson square off for the right to a potential light heavyweight title shot. Get ready to see some fights that will shock your eyelids.
The main card opens up in the lightweight division with Jamie Varner and James Krause. Beginning his second UFC stint with an upset victory over Edson Barboza, Varner has dropped three of his last four. An exciting fighter that pushes the action, his combination of hard punches and wrestling always gives opponents trouble. Coming off a controversial loss against Bobby Green that caused all of us to ask the deeply profound question, “Where does a man’s groin begin?” James Krause is seeking redemption.
Varner walks the line between aggressive and reckless. It’s the type of philosophy that works great when you’re playing Mario Kart, but his last fight against Abel Trujillo showed that this strategy can backfire. Krause may not have the power of a Trujillo, but he does have a six-inch height advantage and a strong jab. Varner certainly has the potential to walk through the jab, keep the pressure on and put Krause on his back. Despite only two fights in the Octagon, however, James Krause has demonstrated the understanding of range and striking that could pose problems for Varner. His footwork should give him enough of a cushion to avoid the takedowns and coordinate his attacks. Krause pulls the upset and wins by unanimous decision.
We drop down to bantamweight for Takeya Mizugaki and Francisco Rivera. Holding a 6-2 record inside the Octagon, Mizugaki wins fights by pressing forward at a relentless pace. Blending in a mixture of body shots and takedowns, he’s been a fixture in the weight class ever since his epic fight against Miguel Torres at WEC 40. While Mizugaki comes with volume, Francisco Rivera is all about power. Nicknamed “Cisco,” he hits harder than all the beats from a Sisqo album (fun fact: Dru Hill is still out on tour). Seven of his ten wins have come by knockout, but his wide open striking can leave him vulnerable.
Mizugaki is one of the most durable fighters in MMA. The problem with earning that title, though, is that it means that you’ve absorbed a lot of shots in the process. The Japanese vet may be riding a four fight win streak, but none of those fighters possessed Rivera’s power. Just ask George Roop and Edwin Figueroa what happens when you try to go shot for shot with Rivera. Mizugaki’s chin may withstand the first round, but Rivera takes this with a second round TKO. Anyone else think Rivera should try to get a Rice-a-Roni sponsorship?
We move up to welterweight for a battle between two hard-hitting southpaws. Experiencing a late career resurgence that would make Betty White envious, Robbie Lawler tries to rebound from a narrow unanimous decision loss to Johny Hendricks that cost him the welterweight title. With 18 of his career wins coming via knockout, Lawler embodies the reason why left-handed people were called sinister in Latin. The Romans may not have had a word for juggernaut (its roots can be derived from the Hindi word Jagannāth), but Jake Ellenberger should be feared regardless. Not only does he hold 18 career KOs of his own, he also possesses the second highest takedown conversion rate in the division.
Robbie Lawler may have turned 32 this past March, but it’s worth noting that he made his pro debut in 2001. Why? Because it makes his growth all the more impressive. He’s refined his striking in a way that minimizes his vulnerability to the takedown. Even Johny Hendricks only converted two of ten takedown attempts. Ellenberger has a lot of talent, but he’s outgunned here. The Juggernaut holds the pure grappling edge, but he’ll suffer too much damage trying to get on the inside. Lawler by TKO in the second.
DANIEL CORMIER VS. DAN HENDERSON
That brings us to the co-main event between Daniel Cormier an Dan Henderson. Cormier’s light heavyweight debut against Patrick Cummins may have been more of a challenge in the PR department than the Octagon, but he still came out on top. He answered the questions about his ability to make the 205-lb weight cut and still showcased that heavyweight power. An MMA legend that’s brutalized opponents with his Greco-Roman wrestling and a right hand aptly named “The H-Bomb,” Dan Henderson defies age limits in a way we haven’t seen since that grandma from the Bowflex commercial. After a three-fight losing streak against top level opponents like Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans and Vitor Belfort, he overcame early struggles to floor “Shogun” Rua with a third round TKO in March.
Everyone knows about Cormier’s wrestling, but his striking is under appreciated. Not only has he out-struck every opponent in his UFC/Strikeforce career, he also does an excellent job of avoiding damage. Hendo’s right hand may be the great equalizer, but even thermonuclear weapons have their weaknesses (besides that whole mutually assured destruction thing). Henderson does a lot of damage from the clinch (it’s also where he converts 87.5% of his takedowns), but he won’t be able to control Cormier from that position. DC takes this one by decision.
RENAN BARAO VS. TJ DILLASHAW
Time for the main event! Some call Barao a monster, others a killer. No matter what you call him, he’s been holding the 135-lb division on lock for quite some time. An active striker with the highest takedown defense rate in bantamweight history, few have come close to challenging the Brazilian star. Since his time on TUF 14, TJ Dillashaw has made tremendous strides. He’s evolved from being a wrestler to a true mixed martial artist. He even holds the highest striking rate in UFC/WEC bantamweight history.
It may seem inconsequential, but don’t underestimate the fact that Dillashaw’s teammate Urijah Faber has spent nearly six rounds inside the cage with Barao. You learn more about a man in one minute inside the cage than all the speed dating events you ever could ever attend. Barao overwhelms his opponents because they let him. They allow the Baron to dictate the pace and the engagements. Bearing this in mind, Dillashaw’s relative inexperience is an advantage. Much like your teenage stepson, he’s young, brash and unwilling to let people tell him what to believe. YOU’RE NOT MY REAL DAD! He’ll keep the pressure on and not let Barao initiate the engagements. He will use this mix of youthful exuberance and wrestling to take the bantamweight title by decision.
That wraps up another pelican approved edition of the Downes Side. Follow me on Twitter @dannyboydownes. Also, don’t forget to list your own predictions, thoughts, disdain, questions and favorite summer time treats on the page here. I vote for those ice cream treats you’d get from the truck with gumball eyes.