“This is what I love most about fights”.
Those were the words that UFC commentator Joe Rogan uttered between rounds 4 and 5 of the first fight between TJ Dillashaw and the man who will once again be his opponent tonight, Renan Barao.
Joe’s excitement was warranted.
The sight that he was witnessing was a shocking, but inspiring one.
Dillashaw had stepped in to fight the UFC bantamweight champion as a replacement for Raphael Assuncao. In the eye’s of many observers the American was not a worthy introduction to the main event of UFC 173.
To make matters worse he was stepping in against a man that had not been beaten since his professional debut, some nine years previous.
Renan Barao was 32-1 and had already beaten Dillashaw’s more famous teammate, Urijah Faber, on two occasions. One of those victories coming by way of first round knockout just three months prior. Barao had been so impressive in fact that many, including UFC Dana White, were calling him MMA’s pound for pound number one.
It seemed like a near impossible task for the relatively inexperienced Dillashaw. An occasion too big for a twice beaten, eleven fight novice.
Dillashaw, however, shocked the world.
TJ badly hurt the team Nova Uniao fighter with a right toward the close of the opening stanza and from that point on dominated the fight.
“Everybody thinks this guy is one of the best pound for pound fighters we have ever seen in MMA, and a guy like TJ Dillashaw rises to that occasion”, Rogan exclaimed as Dillashaw laced elbows into Barao’s face to end the fourth round. “We are so privileged to be able to watch”.
Minutes later the fight was over.
Dillashaw put the savage finishing touches to his battered opponent with a barrage of sickening strikes in the fifth, to end a championship worthy performance.
Watch the first bout in it’s entirety….
Tonight, fourteen months later Barao and Dillishaw will meet again. Only this time around it will be Barao looking to author the underdog story.
In the first fight Dillashaw showed marked improvement in his stand up game, the area in which Barao was expected to be most dominant. This improvement was attributed to the influence of Duane “Bang” Ludwig, who had become involved with Team Alpha Male as a striking coach.
On the night Dillashaw actually got the better of the vast majority of stand-up exchanges, using brilliant movement, often alternating stances, to keep the more orthodox Muay Thai fighter off balance.
The more flat-footed Brazilian simply couldn’t build any momentum, failing to land with any regularity against the dynamic American. For the most part he fell into a pattern of simply following his opponent around the octagon, rather than making intelligent attempts to cut off the ring.
It is rare that a fighter can gain revenge in a rematch when he was so thoroughly outclassed in the first fight.
Word has it, that Dillashaw gained a great insight into the style of Barao when he aided his teammate Urijah Faber in his preparations for Renan. During this time the seeds were sown for the perfect game plan.
It is hard to imagine that the blue print he displayed the first time out won’t work once more against a fighter who showed a distinct lack of imagination when his plan-A didn’t work in the last bout .
Some people think that the trajectory of the first fight was changed completely when Dillashaw dropped Barao heavily with a right hand around the four minute mark. Those observers feel that the former champion never recovered from the impact of that punch. If they are correct then we will perhaps see a different encounter.
It seems unlikely, however.
I see a similar fight unfolding again. Dillashaw will frustrate the challenger with a mixture of dizzying movement and even more dizzying strikes, mixing in the occasional take down to keep Barao guessing. Renan just doesn’t have an answer for what TJ brings to the table.
I expect Dillashaw to once again stop Barao later in the fight, possibly the fourth, or once again in the fifth.
Elsewhere on the card….
Miesha Tate, twice the victim of Ronda Rousey’s considerable talents, takes on Jessica Eye in a bout to determine who will fight the winner of Rousey and Bethe Correia for the UFC Women’s bantamweight title.
UFC veteran Joe Lauzon also takes on former Pride FC superstar Takanori Gomi. Both men have been involved in some exciting scraps in the past so a this one has the potential to entertaining.
The pick of the undercard fights though, looks to be the match between exciting strikers Edson Barboza and Paul “The Irish Dragon” Felder. Both men are explosive and dynamic on their feet and have a penchant for the spectacular.
Don’t miss this one.
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