Posted 05/22/2014 by Mike Fagan in Untethered MMA

UFC 173: Renan Barao vs. TJ Dillashaw Preview

The changes to Saturday night’s lineup read like the Book of Chronicles. Chris Weidman vs. Vitor Belfort beget Chris Weidman vs. Lyoto Machida which beget Renan Barao vs. Raphael Assuncao which beget Renan Barao vs. TJ Dillashaw which beget Takeya Mizugaki vs. Francisco Rivera. Junior dos Santos vs. Stipe Miocic beget Chael Sonnen vs. Wanderlei Silva which beget Daniel Cormier vs. Dan Henderson. Then Dana White asked God for wisdom and he built a temple in Jerusalem and God said, “Yo, I’mma use that temple for my sacrifices and shit. Also do what I say and I’ll give you this shiny throne for your troubles, dog.”

And so UFC 173 was born.


The UFC dug themselves a hole with Renan Barao. Barao stepped in and won the interim bantamweight title against Urijah Faber in July of 2012 after Cruz pulled out with a torn ACL. In December of that year, Cruz was forced to undergo another surgery on his ACL, extending his layoff an at-the-time estimated six to nine months. At that point, the promotion should have stripped Cruz of the title and given full honors to their interim champ. They didn’t.

The UFC scheduled Barao’s first defense of the interim title against Michael McDonald. McDonald had entered the UFC on four-fight winning streak (plus a win in the WEC), including knocking out Miguel Torres at UFC 145, but he was young (just a month out from his 22nd birthday) and the Torres bout was the first fight of any profile in his career. Oh, and the fight headlined a show on Fuel TV (now Fox Sports 2).

Barao submitted McDonald in the fourth round. He moved on to Eddie Wineland, still defending as interim champ, finishing him with a career-defining, highlight-reel, spinning-back-kick knockout. But that fight took place as the co-main event of UFC 165, and the bulk of the promotional resources went to Jon Jones’ underwhelming-at-the-box-office-overwhelming-in-the-cage fight against Alexander Gustafsson.

The UFC, two years and four months since Cruz last fought, finally awarded Barao the proper bantamweight title at UFC 169 after a unification bout fell through due to a Cruz tearing his groin. This time it was Faber stepping in for Cruz, and Barao proved his superiority once again, finishing the “California Kid” in the first round.

I’ve long advocated the UFC to promote their dominant champions, especially in mismatches, as such, and the UFC is doing that for UFC 173, from the event poster (which prominently features Barao holding the belt above his head) to a Barao-focused hype video.

But they’ve also swung the pendulum so far the other way, they’re shooting themselves in the foot again. I wrote earlier this week about Dana White’s manic pound-for-pound list. In January, White labeled Barao as the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world (should he “stop [Urijah] Faber”) before siding back up with Jon Jones after UFC 172. But if it’s not coming out of White’s mouth, it comes out of Joe Rogan’s, who cites “many people” (conjuring images of the Illuminati lizard people) who believe Barao is the top fighter in the world.

This is a disservice. It’s a disservice to the UFC’s official rankings, which lists Barao as number-three pound-for-pound behind Jose Aldo and Jon Jones. It’s a disservice to Jones, who should be the unquestioned top fighter in the sport. And it’s a disservice to the UFC’s own promotional efforts, who seemingly attach the pound-for-pound label on their smaller champions whenever it benefits the promotion in the short term.


Daniel Cormier takes on Dan Henderson in the co-main event, which should be viewed as nothing more than a placeholder fighter for Cormier while champion Jon Jones rematches Alexander Gustafsson. The deck couldn’t be more stacked for the 43-year-old Henderson, who fights the fourth-ranked Cormier just two months after a second melee with Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in March. Oh, and it will be his first fight without a therapeutic-use exemption for testosterone replacement therapy in seven years.

Henderson spoke up about Nevada’s TRT ban with Ron Kruk of AXS TV, noting, correctly, that NSAC’s decision does little to prevent drug use in the sport:

“They’re going to abuse drugs no matter what, and these guys they already tested more than anyone else, they kind of dropped the hammer on them instead of across the board, implementing random drug testing and no-advance-notice drug testing.”


If you watch the Barao hype video linked aboved, you’ll notice it features four journalists of the “independent” MMA media: Gareth Davies, representing London’s Daily Telegraph; Matt Erickson, representing USA Today; Brett Okamoto, representing; and John Morgan, also representing USA Today. Erickson relunctantly denied receiving compensation for his appearance, but it’s worth questioning just why a journalist would appear in UFC promotional material, compensated or not.

In The Elements of Journalism, Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel list ten essential guidelines for journalists. The fourth: “Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover.” Appearing in a UFC marketing video steps over that line of independence. This creates the illusion of a conflict of interest, even if one does not actually exist. Because while these journalists may not receive financial compensation, it raises the question of whether they receive other forms of compensation: better seats on press row, greater access to UFC personalities, first notice on breaking news, etc.

Mike Fagan is a weekly contributor to MMA Owl. He also hosts Untethered MMA every Thursday at 7 p.m. ET. Follow him on Twitter


Mike Fagan