Unfortunate reality alert: Saturday's UFC 173 main event is basically a waste of everyone's time.
TJ Dillashaw is challenging Renan Barao for the bantamweight title in the main event, and there's almost no hope he'll wrest the gold from the Brazilian.
That's not to say the card is not without its charm, as there are two other solid fights being offered in Jake Ellenberger/Robbie Lawler and Dan Henderson/Daniel Cormier. But the main event is the epitome of hopelessness on the battlefield. It's a panzer tank running over a Volkswagen, a dinosaur competing with an iguana for a food source.
And you know what's even worse? Dillashaw is good. Like, really good. "Potential champion" good.
He's just not that good yet.
In the meantime, he's being thrown to the wolves at least a year too soon because the promotion's original headliner fell apart, and someone's gotta fight someone to justify charging that sweet pay-per-view cheddar.
That means, very much to his own chagrin, Dillashaw doesn't have a hope. He's in far too deep, far too soon, and it's going to show Saturday night.
Barao, even considering the UFC's comically hard sell of his talents, warrants incredible respect. Though he never formally beat Dominick Cruz to earn his title, there are few people who would suggest he's not the best 135-pounder in the world today.
He hasn't lost since his debut fight in 2005, and under the Zuffa umbrella, he's a 9-0 champion that's stopped six of those opponents. He's the type of killer who, if he were 70 pounds heavier, would be on every piece of UFC merchandise imaginable.
Conversely, Dillashaw is 5-2 in the UFC and is just over two years removed from a stint on The Ultimate Fighter as a skilled but green athlete that was learning the ropes in MMA.
From the outset, there was little question he was a talent to watch but definitely not the type one would have expected to see in a title fight after seven UFC appearances. He was more of a project, a guy that could take a steady road to relevance if handled right.
Now, just as he's coming into his own, his development is destined to be damaged irreparably by a title fight he didn't really earn and isn't really ready for. That's unfortunate on its own, but when one considers the challenge he could have been for Barao had he fought a couple of more contender fights, it's even worse.
Based on his current trajectory, it wouldn't have been hard to imagine Dillashaw becoming a major player at bantamweight over the next year had he not been put in his current situation.
His stand-up has been improving rapidly, and his wrestling base provides the type of unshakable stability that every fighter hopes to achieve in the cage. His fights have also been growing increasingly more interesting the more he competes, which is the type of pattern the UFC likes to see.
He looked excellent in his win over Mike Easton earlier this year, and his loss to Raphael Assuncao before that was one many thought he'd won. Prior to those two signature showings, he was riding a three-fight stoppage streak against lesser competition in a run that indicated he might one day be ready for big things.
Now, those things have come to his doorstep much earlier than anticipated, and there's no telling how it might derail him.
There's no clear blueprint for beating Barao right now. Actually, there's no real blueprint for even competing with him. He's crushing everyone.
To have a hope, contenders are going to need to be appropriately groomed and experienced, or they're going to end up like the past 32 guys who've tested Barao: losers in varying degrees of post-fight agony.
Dillashaw hasn't been groomed appropriately, and he isn't sufficiently experienced yet, though there were encouraging signs that he one day would be. As a result, he's likely to be next on that list of Barao victims, which is a true waste of his athleticism and growing prowess in the sport.
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