UFC 177 Bold Predictions: Can Renan Barao and T.J. Dillashaw Draw a Crowd?
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
When the mad scientists at Zuffa headquarters fired-up their matchmaking supercomputer months ago and asked it to synthesize an awesome card for UFC 177, the machine huffed and puffed, spit out reams of paper and then said in its creepy sentient computer voice: “Optimum main event: Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson.”
That’s how they book these cards, right?
Anyway, it was a nice idea.
We all know what happened: The Jones-Gusty rematch eventually got pushed back to UFC 178. The UFC tried to throw Demetrious Johnson vs. Chris Cariaso on this Saturday’s card, but then Gustafsson got injured and Jones got injured and Johnson vs. Cariaso, too, got moved to UFC 178.
And so here we are, with a version of UFC 177 headlined by a bantamweight title rematch between T.J. Dillashaw and Renan Barao. It’s a fight card that on paper threatens to be one of the worst of 2014 and not much better news is expected at the box office.
Still, that’s not going to stop Bleacher Report lead MMA writers Chad Dundas (that’s me, y’all) and Jonathan Snowden from making some bold predictions.
Set your bold-predicting supercomputers to stun and let's go ...
Prediction: UFC 177 Undersells Even UFC 174
Chad: Remember back in June, when it was briefly rumored that UFC 174 did fewer than 100,000 pay-per-view buys and the most devout among us heralded it as a sign of the impending apocalypse? A later report from Yahoo’s Kevin Iole purported the number to be around 125,000, but either way it meant the event was the UFC’s worst-selling PPV since the advent of The Ultimate Fighter.
Enter UFC 177 which, objectively speaking, looks much, much worse.
UFC 174 had kind of a dud for a main event, pitting the awesome but unappreciated Demetrious Johnson against the awesome and unknown Ali Bagautinov, but at least it had help from the undercard. At least Rory MacDonald and Tyron Woodley were there to provide a reasonably interesting welterweight contender bout. At least it had the return of Andrei Arlovski and future “main eventers” Ryan Bader and Ovince St. Preux.
By comparison, UFC 177 has what could turn out to be a reasonably competitive (but wholly unnecessary) bantamweight title rematch between TJ Dillashaw and Renan Barao and…wait...hold on, here...let me check...yep, that’s pretty much it.
I mean, there’s nothing wrong with Tony Ferguson vs. Danny Castillo or Bethe Correia vs. Shayna Baszler, per se, but those bouts aren't going to make anybody plunk down $60 (after fees and whatnot) to watch.
Because of the tepid public response to Dillashaw-Barao II—and since we’re doing predictions, I’ll just go ahead and say Tylor Jeffery wins again—and its very weak supporting cast, this show will founder, falling short of even the modest mark set by UFC 174.
What say you, Jonathan? Will this bad boy get to 100,000 buys?
Jonathan: I've jumped into the deep end, exploring this issue in gruesome detail. The abbreviated version, however, is simple enough. This show is lousy.
The main event features a rematch no one demanded, between two fighters only the most ardent fans have ever heard of. Dillashaw was a non-entity before upsetting Barao, the champion by default after Dominick Cruz's body began to self destruct.
Sometimes a card can survive a dud on top, if it's carefully propped up by a solid main card. That isn't the case here. Danny Castillo, the poor man's Joe Benavidez, is maybe the fifth-most popular fighter at Team Alpha Male. His opponent, Tony Ferguson, is the forgotten TUF winner, a fighter with potential and nothing more.
From there it just gets worse. Will it slip beneath 100,000 buys? I think that's a distinct possibility, even if the UFC trots out a friendly journalist to report otherwise. This is a show that would struggle to stand out on Fox Sports 1. It certainly doesn't belong on pay-per-view.
Prediction: Tony Ferguson Finally Makes People Take Notice
Jonathan: Look, we all know Tony Ferguson doesn't belong in the co-main event of a UFC pay-per-view. Heck, before this show, he'd only appeared on the main card of any UFC show twice, once as a finalist on The Ultimate Fighter. He's been thrust into the deep end before anyone has established he can even swim.
It's a risk—but it's also a significant opportunity.
Now 30, it's make-or-break time for Ferguson. No longer a prospect, this is his moment.
The deck is stacked deep in opponent Danny Castillo's favor. Sacramento, California, is Castillo's town. Castillo comes from the big camp with the big names. It's his fight to lose—but that's exactly what he's going to do.
Watch this Countdown video and tell me Ferguson has any intention of losing this fight. You can practically see the enormous chip on his shoulder. That doesn't work for everyone. But it's going to fuel Ferguson in this bout. He's better than Castillo and ready to test his game against a top-10 opponent. This is his path to that moment. He won't stray from it.
Chad: Ferguson may be the lightweight division’s best-kept secret. If he weren’t competing in a weight class with more than 100 fighters on the roster and a murderer’s row of contenders overstuffing the top 10, he’d likely have a higher profile.
Or, you know, any profile.
But you gotta get up pretty early in the morning to put one over on the oddsmakers these days, and I think they have this one dialed—making Ferguson more than a 2-1 favorite over hometown boy Castillo according to Odds Shark.
I agree wholeheartedly with your prediction that this will be El Cucuy's coming out party. He’s quietly rolled to 5-1 in the UFC’s most competitive division, and four of those wins have come via first-round stoppage. I think he’s going to do something violent and bonus-worthy to Castillo here, and then we’ll be forced to add one more name to the 155-pound class’ list of fearsome title hopefuls.
Prediction: Bethe Correia Becomes Public Enemy No. 1
Chad: You know who I like?
I like that Bethe Correira.
Correira went from unknown (albeit undefeated) Brazilian prospect to near the top of my WMMA watchlist in April, when she pummeled Ronda Rousey’s “Four Horsewomen” sidekick Jessamyn Duke at UFC 172, then looked into the camera, held up four fingers and calmly peeled one down.
Jonathan, your feelings are well documented about Rousey, Duke, Shayna Baszler and Marina Shafir boosting the name of one of the greatest stables in professional wrestling history. Me, I’m not losing much sleep over that. It’s a little pompous but—with the exception of Baszler—this crew is just a bunch of 20-somethings who probably don’t even understand how their public personas come off to the world. So, yeah, it’s whatever.
What I do have strong feelings about, though, is Correira strolling into the UFC and getting right up in their faces. Strong positive feelings. For a long time, one of my only criticisms about the UFC women’s bantamweight division has been that—aside from Rousey—everybody is way too friendly.
This weight class needs intrigue. It needs feuds. It needs people who aren’t afraid of Rousey and who have no qualms saying that in public. It needs, frankly, Correira to beat Baszler this weekend and then look through our television screens as she folds down finger No. 2.
And somewhere, in Baszler’s corner or in a living room in California, Ronda Rousey’s head explodes from sheer rage.
Jonathan: The Four Horsewomen are legends mostly in their own minds. Yes, Ronda Rousey is the real deal. But her teammates, though they might be fun women to hang out and train with, have shown no signs of becoming respectable prize fighters.
Baszler, of course, is the exception. She's earned the label "pioneer" and has had a solid career that includes bouts with some of the best fighters of the pre-Rousey era. But Baszler is 34 years old. She's lost three of her last four fights. And she hasn't been in the cage in more than a year.
Taken as a whole, those aren't encouraging signs. Can she beat Bethe Correira? Sure. Could she lose? Affirmative. Will anyone care? If they do, even I will have to concede that the Four Horsewomen, whether I like the gimmick or not, is working.
Prediction: Henry Cejudo Has an Eye-Opening UFC Debut
Jonathan: On paper there's every reason to be bullish about Henry Cejudo's burgeoning MMA career. A 2008 Olympic gold medalist, he comes to the cage having already mastered one of the sport's most significant skill sets. Not only is Cejudo a great wrestler, he's a great attacking wrestler, a style well suited for MMA.
That's a pretty good start.
But once you lift your eyes from the page, there is plenty of room for concern. Cejudo was so distracted in the years between his 2008 gold medal and the 2012 Olympics that he failed to even make the U.S. team the second go-round.
He took more than two years off, never even hitting the mats to train for the Games until February 2011. When he did begin his preparations, his level of commitment didn't suit coach Terry Brands, the wrestling legend who guided Cejudo to his first gold. The two clashed and Cejudo ended up preparing for the Olympics with a football player in his home state of Arizona.
You could forgive a young athlete for struggling with an initial wave of celebrity. I'm sure it's overwhelming. But there are no signs that Cejudo is taking his MMA career any more seriously than he took his wrestling career at the end. He's missed weight twice in Legacy Fighting and pulled out of a third contest, reportedly because he was too heavy.
Cejudo has great potential. But he's still a very young fighter. He'll have to be at his best to beat a veteran opponent like Scott Jorgensen. With both men at their best, I think it's Cejudo's fight to lose. But he has yet to be at his best in the cage. I think his UFC debut will end up being a very costly wake-up call. I've got Jorgensen.
What about you, Chad?
Chad: I’m kind of surprised at this booking for Cejudo's first fight in the UFC flyweight division. Jorgensen isn’t exactly an easy icebreaker.
Despite a horrendous record dating back to the dawn of 2012, Jorgensen is still the type of dude who will totally expose you if you A) don’t belong among the best in the world or B) take him lightly.
We know the former Boise State Bronco is going to show up in shape, motivated and ready to get screamed at by cornerman Joe Warren. So that part is going to be pretty glorious, no matter who wins.
That said, Cejudo should have him outgunned here. Should, I say with special emphasis, because all those things Jon mentioned above are big time concerns. But despite all those struggles, Cejudo has jetted to a 6-0 record in just 17 months of pro MMA competition.
Four of those wins have come by first-round stoppage, so if he is driven to succeed and finally over his battle with the scale, he shapes up as an exciting new addition in a division that sorely needs them.
Give me Cejudo. Cautiously.