Newly minted UFC bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw shocked the world last night (Sat., May 24, 2014) when he upset former dominant champion Renan Barao in the main event of UFC 173 from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Going into the pivotal bout with the odds heavily against him, the Team Alpha Male-trained Dillashaw reminded us how anything can happen in a fight. Before UFC 173, it was widely believed that Barao had nearly cleared out the UFC 135-pound division with three consecutive finishes over Urijah Faber, Eddie Wineland, and Michael McDonald.
Sure, Dillashaw and No. 3-ranked Raphael Assuncao were still waiting for their opportunity, but they weren’t supposed to pose much of a threat to the surging ‘Baron.’
What a difference a day makes.
Dillashaw utilized his insane movement and cardio to implement a high volume gameplan of Muay Thai strikes that Barao never had an answer for. Dillashaw rose to the occasion to put on one of the best performances the UFC has ever seen, perhaps scoring the second biggest upset to ever go down in the Octagon.
And what makes it all the more impressive is the way he finished Barao. It was clear that ‘The Viper’ had all four rounds in his favor heading into the fifth, yet he continued to push the pace and look for the stoppage, which soon materialized after a thunderous late kick followed by a massive left hand.
The unexpected champion did everything he said he was going to do in his recent interview with LowKick, sticking to the gameplan of wearing out the bigger Barao over five rounds:
“Without giving away too much, I believe I’m just a little more well rounded than the guys he’s fought. Obviously he’s fought some tough guys, but I feel like I can put everything together just a little bit better and I think the style that I fight, the way I fight, my aggressiveness, is the way to beat Barao and I’m just going to wear him out. I gotta be able to weather the storm in the beginning and use my cardio to push the pace, and just wear him out.
I think I’ve learned, like I said, from that Assuncao fight, you gotta let the finish present itself, and not rush it. So obviously I’m ready to go a five round war for that fight against who I think is one of the pound-for-pound best in the world, always looking to push the pace. That’s where the finish may come, pushing the pace, trying to break someone, showing that my heart’s bigger than his and that I’m willing to go the distance harder than he is, and hopefully the finish will come from that.”
Indeed the finish did present itself after Dillashaw methodically picked apart Barao, wearing the champion out over fight rounds to end his heralded 35-fight unbeaten streak.
And in doing so, he breathed new life into a division that was quickly beginning to grow a bit stale. If Barao had won impressively and moved on to defeat Assuncao next, the only major fight left for him would have been against Dominick Cruz, a bout that is far from guaranteed given that he hasn’t fought in going on three years.
Now Dillashaw has the belt after only 12 MMA fights, and there are a slew of interesting propositions that await him. Obviously a rematch with Barao could be next for him and it’d be hard to argue against that given Barao’s track record.
But he also didn’t put up much of a fight against Dillashaw, and ‘The Viper’ is certainly eager to avenge his controversial UFC Fight Night 29 spilt decision loss to Assuncao. That fight will almost certainly happen sometime in the near future.
The UFC could also throw us a curveball and announce that Cruz is returning to face Dillashaw, but that seems unlikely at this point. ‘The Dominator’ would benefit greatly from a fight against Assuncao or even better, Takeya Mizugaki, who won his fifth straight decision by defeating Francisco Rivera last night.
Cruz could even sign on for his previously scheduled rematch with Faber, Dillashaw’s teammate whom he said he would never face.
All of the sudden, the possibilities seem fresh and exciting at bantamweight.
Whatever transpires, the UFC 135-pound landscape got a big shot in the arm when Dillashaw turned the world upside down with his amazing dominance of Barao at UFC 173. What’s next for the suddenly wide-open division?
Photo Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie for USA TODAY Sports