UFC 173 is right around the corner and is rightly being billed as one of the cards of the year. Dan Henderson looks to consolidate on his recent win over “Shogun” when he takes on the surging Daniel Cormier. Robbie Lawler begins his path back to another title shot and one of the worlds pound for pound best Renan Barao vows to extend an unbeaten streak stretching back over nine years.
Maybe it’s because he hasn’t faced the high profile opponents of a Jon Jones. Perhaps it’s because he doesn’t possess the polished look and articulation of a GSP or the engine and power of a Velasquez. Whatever the reason, Renan Barao still flies somewhat under the radar in the MMA landscape in terms of ranking and stardom. What is unquestioned is his talent. The current UFC bantamweight champion of the world has taken on and defeated all comers in a three year Octagon stint. And yet the teak tough Brazilian still isn’t viewed on the same lofty platform as his aforementioned contemporaries.
Barao has spoken over his frustration that opponent Urijah Faber secured a more lucrative purse for their recent encounter. He does however need to take heed of divisional peer Dominick Cruz. Cruz has spoken in recent weeks of how UFC athletes need to take a leaf out of Connor McGregor’s playbook and realise that fighting is only one aspect of a fighters fleeting window of opportunity. The brash Dubliner has captivated fans’ attention in a love him or loathe him but you simply must watch him fashion in a way that Barao has simply failed to do.
This Saturday night may prove to be a landmark championship encounter for the self effacing BJJ blackbelt. TJ Dillishaw is a very real threat to Barao’s 135lb dominance and may be just the dance partner that the brawling Nova Uniao pupil needs to cement his status amongst the world’s pound for pound best. Every fighter needs a foe who brings out their very best. Jon Jones had his meetings with what Joe Rogan rightly labelled a murderer’s row of light heavyweights. GSP had his mesmeric trilogy with Matt Hughes whilst Velasquez and Dos Santos shall be eternally intertwined in fistic folklore. Barao has thus far lacked a willing and able foe but under the bright lights of the MGM Grand he may have found just that huckleberry in Team Alpha Male’s Dillashaw.
Hendo walks the walk yet again
There are several reasons to look forward to UFC173 in Sin City at the weekend and chief amongst them is the chance to see one of the sports true pioneers enter the cage in yet another pivotal match-up. Dan Henderson doesn’t take easy fights. His resume is a who’s who of the sport’s greats with Vitor Belfort, Wanderlei Silva and of course Fedor Emelianenko all coming up short against one of the true nice guys of MMA. Henderson is quintessential “Old Skool”. He has made the most of his natural athletic ability and has parlayed his wrestling strength into a patented right hand which has become his calling card. With all that said the Team Quest co-founder is 43 years young one must wonder how long he has left. He was able to confound the critics last time out against fellow vet Rua but Cormier is representative of the new breed in MMA and poses a threat not only to Henderson’s chances of a title run but to his very career. That is not to say that Hendo’s legacy is in jeopardy, it is not. Any industry observer worth their salt would tip their cap to a man who made his UFC debut 16 years ago at UFC 17 and continues to share the cage with young and fast up and comers in their athletic prime. In Saturday night’s co-main event Henderson will concede all of the usual combat edges to the surging Cormier but we still shouldn’t back against him. What we should do however is hope that this living legend of mixed martial arts calls it a day soon rather than follow the unenviable example of some boxing greats who heard the bell a little too late.
Lawler looks to bounce back
“Ruthless” Robbie Lawler came within a whisker of claiming the welterweight championship of the world in his last outing but he isn’t letting that disappointment linger long in the memory. Lawler’s attitude continues to impress as much as his in-cage performances. In the short space of ten weeks the former Pat Miletich protégé has dusted himself down and refocused on another tilt at the 170lb strap. In Ellenberger he faces a Sherman tank of similar ilk to himself. In what could be a one rounder for the ages, fireworks are surely guaranteed. I take Lawler to out-gun Ellenberger in a stand-up war not for the faint of heart.
McGregor’s career making “crisp” strides
Conor McGregor isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Indeed he has equally divided both fans and peers in terms of how his burgeoning UFC tenure is playing out. Whilst some of his trash talking must be of the tongue in cheek variety he is spicing up the formerly stagnant featherweight division no end. His larger than life persona and silk striking are a match made in heaven, with his latest foray into the world of advertising a sure sign of things to come.