Michael Chiesa sports five first-round finishes on his resume. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
T.J. Dillashaw on Saturday will attempt to do what no fighter has done since April 14, 2005: beat Renan Barao.
The Team Alpha Male representative will lock horns with the Ultimate Fighting Championship bantamweight king in the main event of UFC 173, which takes place at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas and airs live on pay-per-view.
Prior to the pay-to-watch festivities, the UFC 173 undercard hits Fox Sports 1 and UFC Fight Pass. Here are five reasons to tune in early and catch the prelims:
Michael Chiesa may not be the best fighter in the UFC’s deepest division, but he has nevertheless proven himself to be one of the promotion’s most consistently exciting lightweights.
“The Ultimate Fighter 15” winner has only gone the distance twice in 11 professional outings and has yet to even see a third round since joining the UFC in 2012. Chiesa debuted with a first-round finish of Al Iaquinta to win his “Ultimate Fighter” contract, a victory he followed with a second-round stoppage of Anton Kuivanen.
Chiesa was next handed the first defeat of his professional career by Jorge Masvidal, who submitted the grappler with a second-round brabo choke in a wild, back-and-forth contest in July. However, “Maverick” returned to his winning ways in November, submitting “The Ultimate Fighter 16” winner Colton Smith at UFC Fight Night “Fight for the Troops 3.”
It is no secret that Chiesa does his best work when he is able to drag his opponent to the mat, but he may have a difficult time imposing his will against his next adversary: Francisco Trinaldo. A former Jungle Fight champion, “Massaranduba” possesses considerable physical strength and grappling skill, though the muscular Brazilian has also shown the tendency to fade down the stretch.
While Chiesa has not seen a third round in more than three years, I think he should nevertheless hold the bigger gas tank on fight night given his tendency to push the pace. Can the “Maverick” tire out Trinaldo or will “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil” veteran overwhelm Chiesa in the early going?
LIKE THE LIGHTWEIGHTS
Katsunori Kikuno -- complete with kung fu grip and liver-seeking crescent kick -- will return to the Octagon, as the former Deep champion locks horns with surging “The Ultimate Fighter 15” winner Tony Ferguson.
While Kikuno made his name off a powerful striking arsenal launched from a zombie-like karate stance, the Japanese talent played the role of grappler in his UFC debut opposite Quinn Mulhern in January. Kikuno took the former King of the Cage champion to the mat at will and cruised to a unanimous decision victory, retiring Mulhern as a result.
Kikuno should have a much tougher time performing the same trick against Ferguson, whose takedown defense and punching power have won him seven of his last eight fights. In his last outing, “El Cucuy” earned his first submission victory since 2009, tapping out Mike Rio with a brabo choke at UFC 166.
Ferguson should walk into the Octagon with a significant size advantage over Kikuno on fight night. Can he use his larger, longer frame to bully the Japanese veteran or will Kikuno negate the size disparity with his power kicks?
Chris Holdsworth looks to be a solid prospect, but I think his showdown with Chico Camus will tell us a lot about where he really belongs in the UFC bantamweight pecking order.
Holdsworth was dominant in his “Ultimate Fighter 18” run, tapping out Chris Beal and Michael Wooten before submitting Davey Grant at the live finale. Holdsworth’s ground attack has proven to be his most reliable weapon during his three years as a pro, as the prospect has submitted each of five opponents inside of two rounds.
Camus, meanwhile, is most effective standing, though the Roufusport representative also possesses decent takedowns and has proven to be a solid scrambler once the fight hits the floor. The 29-year-old has used a snappy right hand and that aforementioned versatility to secure a 3-1 UFC record, most recently outpointing Yaotzin Meza in January.
Can Holdsworth hold up against the experience of Camus or will the “King” make this potential prince look like a pauper?
Iaquinta will definitely be fighting an uphill battle if and when he starts to take on the upper echelon of UFC lightweights, but no one could deny the New Yorker has progressed nicely since he was dominated by Chiesa at “The Ultimate Fighter 15” Finale.
The Serra-Longo Fight Team rep has looked sharp in his last three fights, outpointing Ryan Couture and Piotr Hallman last year prior to edging red-hot prospect Kevin Lee at UFC 169. Although that bout could easily have been called a draw due to Lee’s dominant second round, it would be silly to fault Iaquinta for something out of his control given his excellent effort in the contest.
The 27-year-old will now square off with Mitch Clarke, a Canadian up-and-comer who has gone just 1-2 after beginning his career with nine straight wins. Clarke halted a two-fight skid in June at the expense of John Maguire, and he can bring his Octagon record to an even 2-2 if he bests Iaquinta. Which of these lightweights will move up the ladder and which will be forced to take a step back?
TOUGH ACTIN’ ASSASSIN
The lightweights-to-keep-an-eye-on club seems to grow larger each week, but Anthony Njokuani has been a member so long that he has his own parking spot.
This is both a plus and a minus for “The Assassin,” who has put forth several memorable Octagon performances but has yet to find the level of consistency that would turn him into a true contender at 155 pounds.
The kickboxing ace has alternated between wins and losses in his last seven fights, most recently starching Roger Bowling with a violent blow at UFC on Fox 7. Meeting Njokuani in the Octagon will now be Vinc Pichel, who rebounded from Rustam Khabilov’s burial by suplexes to outpoint Garett Whitely in January.
If Njokuani hopes to climb out of the hungry mob of lightweights fighting for UFC real estate, he will need to string together some wins moving forward. Can he make Pichel his first stepping stone toward that end?