In what many will classify as the biggest upset in recent memory, T.J. Dillashaw shocked Renan Barao at UFC 173 Saturday to become the new UFC bantamweight champion.
Going up against the man whom many believed to be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, the challenger put forth an unbelievable performance. He nearly stopped the now-former champ in the first round, continued to dominate in clinical fashion over the next three rounds and finally stopped Barao with a barrage of punches in the fifth round.
MMA Fighting's Ariel Helwani summed it up:
Dillashaw wins via 5th round TKO. Unbelievable performance. Bang embraces TJ while crying. Team Alpha Male finally gets their UFC title.— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) May 25, 2014
This was a championship performance that won't soon be forgotten, and as Yahoo Sports' Kevin Iole noted, it was the first lost for Barao in nearly a decade:
Barao hasn't lost since April 2005. Dillashaw has just won the first four rounds and is in total control headed to the last.— Kevin Iole (@KevinI) May 25, 2014
Barao entered the fight as a massive favorite, having won 22 consecutive fights and having not lost since his very first bout in 2005. But Barao's history of massive success clearly didn't rattle Dillashaw.
The Barao vs. Dillashaw fight was initially supposed to be the co-main event at UFC 173, but when the headliner between Chris Weidman and Vitor Belfort ultimately fell through, the bantamweights were thrust into the spotlight.
Barao has become somewhat accustomed to that, but it was Dillashaw's first true exposure to such a big fight. Although Dillashaw may have felt some butterflies inside, he insisted that the pressure was on Barao to perform, according to Bleacher Report's Duane Finley:
I don't feel any pressure coming into this fight. He's the champion and the one who has this huge winning streak and is supposed to be unbeatable, so I think the pressure is all on his side of the table. I like being the underdog and think that is great because it frees me up to fight my fight and go in there with a clear head. I can go in there loose and fight like I have no expectations on me. I think that is going to bring out my best performance.
Dillashaw may have been on to something, as he appeared to approach the fight with a free-and-easy attitude. Dillashaw was aware of the fact that all of the focus was on Barao, so he really didn't have much to lose in the Octagon Saturday night.
As is the case with the majority of Barao's opponents, there seemingly wasn't a great belief prior to the fight that Dillashaw could pull off the upset. The 28-year-old rising star had some strong performances under his belt, but with only 11 fights of MMA experience, he had never faced someone like Barao before.
Barao is actually younger than Dillashaw at 27 years of age, but he had 34 fights to his credit, so he should have been prepared for pretty much anything. Despite that gap in experience, Dillashaw was confident in his ability to beat the odds, per Marc Raimondi of Fox Sports.
"No matter what the circumstances are, there's going to be doubters," Dillashaw said. "I get to prove everyone wrong. I can't wait to do it, I can't wait to shut their mouths."
The vast majority of observers expected Barao to win, but it wasn't unanimous by any means. Dillashaw has shown flashes of brilliance throughout his somewhat brief career, and fellow fighter Nick Newell felt as though he had the skill set to give Barao a run for his money:
Dillashaw vs Barao is going to be a lot better fight then people think. TJ has dynamic striking & fantastic wrestling. Thats a tough combo.— Nick Newell (@NotoriousNewell) May 14, 2014
Newell clearly knew what he was talking about, as Dillashaw's style unquestionably gave Barao some issues. Both Dillashaw and Barao are versatile fighters in that they are capable of winning in various ways. Dillashaw was simply better than Barao in every regard at UFC 173.
Who should T.J. Dillashaw fight next?
Urijah Faber is the No. 1 contender, according to the UFC bantamweight rankings, but he may have to wait at least one more fight before getting another title shot. After such a long and dominant reign as UFC bantamweight champion, there is no question that Barao deserves a rematch.
If Dillashaw is able to prove that he isn't a flash in the pan by beating Barao for a second time, then a Dillashaw vs. Faber tilt is very much in the cards.
Provided Barao wins the rematch, however, his rivalry with Dillashaw could turn into a trilogy. Faber would love to see Dillashaw hang on to the title, though, since he has already lost to Barao twice. That makes a title shot unlikely for him if Barao regains the championship.
Whatever the case, Dillashaw's victory has really opened things up in the bantamweight division. Barao's dominance was fun to watch, but parity is a good thing in any sport.
The challenge for Dillashaw at this point after scoring the biggest win of his career is supplementing it with another. If he can do that, then another UFC star has officially been born.
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