There’s no question that the UFC scored big in 2010 when they merged with WEC and absorbed their Featherweight and Bantamweight divisions. Now the UFC needs their smaller fighters to step up, big time. The next pay-per-view is UFC 173 at the MGM Grand on May 24, and after some logistical nightmares that must have made Dana White’s head spin like a top, it’ll be Bantamweight champion Renan Barão putting the strap on the line against T.J. Dillashaw.
If that isn’t enough starpower for you, the undercard features a Light Heavyweight “title eliminator” between two former Strikeforce champions, Dan Henderson and Daniel Cormier. But even that match had to be hastily arranged to make UFC 173 a PPV-worthy event. And if the early MMA odds are any indication, neither of these top two fights is going to be very competitive.
T.J. and The Baron
The original plan for UFC 173 was for Middleweight champion Chris Weidman to face Vitor Belfort, but that headliner fizzled in late February when the Nevada State Athletic Commission ruled that combat fighters were banned from receiving testosterone-replacement therapy. That forced Belfort out of the match. Lyoto Machida agreed to fill in, but then Weidman was scratched with a knee injury.
So instead, it’ll be Barão making his fourth title defense since beating Urijah Faber in 2012. Barão was supposed to fight Raphael Assunção, but Assunção decided he hadn’t sufficiently healed from the rib injury he suffered at UFC 170 in February. Into the breach steps Dillashaw, the No. 7-ranked Bantamweight at Sherdog and a former competitor on The Ultimate Fighter. And the MMA betting public is not impressed; Dillashaw is priced at between +400 and +550 on the early UFC lines.
Those odds say more about how dominant Barão has been since making his WEC debut in 2010. He’s won all nine of his fights, beating Faber twice along the way, including by first-round TKO at UFC 169 in Newark. Barão has also successfully defended his title against Eddie Wineland (earning Knockout of the Night) and Michael McDonald (earning Submission of the Night). In their latest pound-for-pound rankings, Sherdog has Barão checking in at No. 6, three spots ahead of Welterweight champion Johny Hendricks. This division is Barão’s to own until someone steps up.
Way to Go, Dan
The MMA lines aren’t any closer for the co-main event. Cormier is a massive chalk, available at –1050 at a handful of online sportsbooks as we go to press. That might seem inflated against someone with Henderson’s reputation and his fanbase, but Cormier has yet to lose a fight since entering the sport back in 2009. The former Team USA Olympic wrestler is 14-0 as a pro and 3-0 inside the Octagon, beating Frank Mir and Roy Nelson as a Heavyweight, and the previously undefeated Patrick Cummins in Cormier’s Light Heavyweight debut at UFC 170.
Henderson is in his second stint with UFC since the big takeover of PRIDE back in 2007, and at 43 years old, his stellar career is drawing to a close. But after consecutive losses to Machida, Rashad Evans and Belfort, Henderson earned himself another PPV payday with a captivating third-round TKO of Maurício “Shogun” Rua at UFC Fight Night 38. That win vaulted Henderson up to No. 6 in Sherdog’s Light Heavyweight rankings. Cormier? Not even on the list.
That’ll probably change pretty quickly after this match. But is it worth risking a mouthful of chalk? Henderson was the underdog in each of his past six fights, and despite those three losses, he’s been a profitable fighter over that span, beating Rua at +155 and +140 and earning a TKO over the fading Fedor Emelianenko at +255. There’s no doubt Henderson will get his share of support at +550 versus Cormier.