Despite his relatively low popularity, UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barao remains one of the very best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
People have even began to put him ahead of light heavyweight phenom Jon Jones and Brazilian teammate Jose Aldo. While that may be a stretch—even though he commands a spectacular win streak (22)—Barao has looked the part.
That's why top contender and Team Alpha Male standout T.J. Dillashaw is going to have to pull off something close to a miracle in order to upset "The Baron."
But as a uber-strong wrestler riding consistent success in the striking department, Dillashaw's evolution as a future title threat could be enough to catch lightning in a bottle.
In order for him to do so, Saturday night will have to go exactly as planned.
Here are three keys to victory for Dillashaw as he aims to defeat one of the more puzzling fighters in the sport today:
Saturday's bantamweight title fight is going to be the biggest fight of Dillashaw's young career.
Heck, the guy has never fought on a pay-per-view main card, let alone a main event showdown opposite the hottest fighter in the game.
That said, Dillashaw is surrounded by the right kind of people to help him keep his sanity. Getting carried away inside the cage against a guy like Barao could spell immediate disaster.
That's why it's important for him to remain patient. If he can do that, he'll be able to let his game plan and overall skill set take over.
Whatever happens after that is left up to the MMA gods.
Impose his will
Barao is not only a sensational counterstriker, but he's always looking for a finish.
While that's an awesome combination for fight fans in need of some Octagon brutality, it usually isn't good for his opponents.
Knowing that, Dillashaw has to understand that he needs to bring the fight to Barao. The 28-year-old has been effective of late by staying active, pushing the pace and getting off first, but that wasn't in a five-round championship fight on PPV.
If he can land some strikes early and start to dictate the pace, it may end up in Barao's hands to fight from behind and claw to regain mid-fight momentum.
Secure the early takedown
As it stands right now, Barao has never been taken down in the UFC.
That's a statistic that stretches 19 rounds, including two title fights opposite takedown specialist and Dillashaw training partner Urijah Faber.
But as prolific as Barao has been when it comes to staying on his feet in order to pick his opponents apart, every fight is a new chapter.
Every fight offers something new, and it's up to Dillashaw to get to Barao early, dump him on his back, make him question his training and force him to compete in an unfamiliar environment.
Once there, you never know how a fighter is going to react. That includes a guy as dominant as Barao.
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