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UFC 173: A rundown of this year’s Memorial Day weekend card

Robbie Lawler returns to action two months after war with Johny Hendricks

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Robbie Lawler winds up on Rory MacDonald during their fight at UFC 167 on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

Two days after a grueling five-round war against Johny Hendricks at UFC 171, Robbie Lawler returned to the gym for a light workout and came to a decision.

He didn’t want take an extended break after his narrowly failed bid at the welterweight championship in the unanimous-decision loss to Hendricks. Lawler couldn’t even imagine waiting the typical time between fights.

He desired an immediate return to the octagon.

“I wasn’t banged up and my body was feeling pretty good,” Lawler said last month. “I got right back to working on my skills and decided I wanted to use that fight to get better. I wanted to use where I was at to make sure I got that opportunity again and seize that opportunity.”

The UFC obliged, placing Lawler (22-10 MMA, 7-4 UFC) in a bout against Jake Ellenberger (29-7 MMA, 7-3 UFC) on the annual Memorial Day weekend card in Las Vegas. Lawler vs. Ellenberger is the only originally announced headliner for May 24's UFC 173 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena that stayed intact.

Given Lawler’s considerable toughness, it should come as no surprise.

“I usually come back after a fight and start lifting but don’t push it as hard because I don’t feel fully recovered,” Lawler said. “But when I came back this time, it was much different. I was ready to go right away. I started at a higher level than I normally do for fights, which was good.”

Chris Weidman had to pull out of the previously announced main event against Lyoto Machida, moving the middleweight title fight to UFC 175. That allowed T.J. Dillashaw (9-2 MMA, 5-2 UFC) to relocate from a supporting role to the main event against Renan Barao (32-1 MMA, 7-0 UFC) in a bantamweight title fight.

“Those are big shoes to fill,” Dillashaw said. “That was a fight a lot of people wanted to see, but we’re going to show we’re capable of putting on a great fight.”

The co-main event was a late add with Daniel Cormier (14-0 MMA, 3-0 UFC) and Dan Henderson (30-11 MMA, 7-5 UFC) slated to face off. Cormier looks to keep his spot in line for a shot at the light heavyweight title in his second fight at the weight class.

Beating Henderson, who could add to his momentum after knocking out Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in March, might result in Cormier getting the winner of an impending matchup between Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson.

Check below for a rundown of the rest of the fights at UFC 173.

Bantamweight bout: Takeya Mizugaki (19-7 MMA, 6-2 UFC) vs. Francisco Rivera (10-2 MMA, 3-0 UFC) Expect a near pick ’em betting line as neither of the two veterans has lost a fight in more than two years to seemingly enter the primes of their careers.

Lightweight bout: Jamie Varner (21-9 MMA, 3-4 UFC) vs. James Krause (20-5 MMA, 1-1 UFC) Varner, the former WEC champion, is never involved in a dull fight as an uproarious slugfest in a second-round knockout loss to Abel Trujillo at UFC 169 most recently exemplified.

Lightweight bout: Michael Chiesa (10-1 MMA, 3-1 UFC) vs. Francisco Trinaldo (14-3 MMA, 4-2 UFC) Chiesa, a Spokane, Wash., native who won “The Ultimate Fighter: Live,” has spent much of his camp training locally preparing for Trinaldo, a Brazilian who fights out of his home country for the first time.

Lightweight bout: Tony Ferguson (14-3 MMA, 4-1 UFC) vs. Katsunori Kikuno (22-5-2 MMA, 1-0 UFC) The Japanese fighter looks to extend his win streak to seven against “El Cucuy,” who has three first-round finishes in five career UFC fights.

Bantamweight bout: Chris Holdsworth (5-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC) vs. Chico Camus (14-4 MMA, 3-1 UFC) In his first assignment since winning the 18th season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” promising Team Alpha Male member Holdsworth gets a durable Roufusport product in Camus.

Lightweight bout: Al Iaquinta (8-2-1 MMA, 3-1 UFC) vs. Mitch Clarke (10-2 MMA, 1-2 UFC) Since losing to Chiesa in the final of their “TUF” season, Iaquinta has won three straight fights via unanimous decision.

Lightweight bout: Anthony Njokuani (16-7 MMA, 3-3 UFC) vs. Vinc Pichel (8-1 MMA, 1-1 UFC) The first of five lightweight bouts at UFC 173, this may double as the most exciting with 66 percent of the fighters’ combined contests ending with a stoppage.

Welterweight bout: David Michaud (7-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC) vs. Jingliang Li (8-2 MMA, 0-0 UFC) Both are comfortable grappling, as evidenced by eight submission victories between the two of them.

Featherweight bout: Sam Sicilia (12-4 MMA, 2-3 UFC) vs. Aaron Phillips (8-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC) The newcomer honed his skills working with perennial featherweight contender Dustin Poirier, who also hails from Louisiana, while Sicilia looks to come back from losses in three of his previous four fights.

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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