5. TJ Dillashaw Over Renan Barao
When TJ Dillashaw met Renan Barao in the headliner of UFC 173, most people derided the event and Dillashaw’s chances of dethroning the champion. The original marquee, Chris Weidman defending the middleweight strap against Vitor Belfort, had fallen through when TRT was banned in Nevada. Furthermore, Barao’s original opponent, Rafael Assuncao, pulled out of the fight due to a rib injury. Barao vs. Dillashaw was expected to be little more than a squash match for the dominant champion.
“The Baron” was at the time one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in MMA. He sported a nine-year unbeaten streak and had thrashed every opponent set in front of him to that point in his UFC career. He captured the interim bantamweight title by outpointing Dillashaw’s Team Alpha Male patriarch Urijah Faber, and when Dominick Cruz could not return from injury, Barao’s interim belt became the undisputed title. He had already defended it three times with a combination of blistering Muay Thai, impenetrable takedown defense, and lightning-quick submissions.
Dillashaw, meanwhile, had had a modestly successful UFC career, going 6-2, but he had been knocked out in the finals of his season of The Ultimate Fighter 14, and had recently lost to Assuncao. But he looked like a completely different fighter when the bout started.
Dillashaw’s massively improved footwork flummoxed Barao. The challenger consistently beat the Brazilian to the punch, gradually wearing him down, and by the fifth round, the gap between the two had become a chasm. Dillashaw turned it up one final time and buried Barao under a salvo of punches to complete his unlikely title-winning performance.