UFC 173: Keys to Victory for Renan Barao

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UFC 173: Keys to Victory for Renan Barao
TIM LARSEN/Associated Press

It's not really a secret that UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barao is a justified favorite in his UFC 173 headliner against TJ Dillashaw this weekend.

Barao has been smashing the best of the best at the 135-pound class for a while now, while Dillashaw is a high-ceiling prospect being given a title shot entirely too soon.

If this fight were to happen in 2016, there would be some serious doubt as to who would win. The fact is, it's happening in 2014, and there's a good chance it's not going to need championship rounds for the Brazilian to retain his title.

Still, Barao's got to get there. They don't just give you your belt for showing up at the venue. You've got to go out and win the fight, and in a sport as radically unpredictable and intensely volatile as MMA, nothing is guaranteed.

Dillashaw is absolutely not some stiff, and it's going to take some mighty careful stepping from Barao to avoid being upset. There are two main parts to that equation: don't get lost in Dillashaw's movement, and don't let him outwrestle you.

Dillashaw is frenetic in the cage, moreso than the champion and perhaps moreso than anyone who's challenged him to date. He's bouncing and hopping from the first bell to the last, usually only stopping long enough to set up a combination or a shot. From there, he's on his bike again until the next attack.

More than one of his opponents have been thrown off by that movement, as it's a unique look for an Alpha Male fighter and for a fighter in general. If Barao falls into that trap, Dillashaw has the striking prowess to hurt him should he see an opening.

The other component of a successful title defense for Barao is to avoid a wrestling match with Dillashaw—something he's historically had no issues with. Coming from Nova Uniao and with considerable grappling experience, taking Barao down is much akin to wrestling a greased pig in an oil slick. It's just not that easy to do.

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Still, it's important for the champion not to slip up in that area. It's the one clear-cut advantage for the challenger, and if he scores takedowns and succeeds with ground control, he'll rack up points early and force Barao to fight from behind.

At the end of the day, however, this is Barao's fight to lose. The keys to victory aren't a secret to anyone, and that includes both he and his challenger.

Anything can happen when the cage door closes, but anything other than a champion leaving Las Vegas with his title intact would be a total stunner.

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