TJ Dillashaw spent much of the last week brimming with a quiet confidence. The UFC bantamweight title challenger was a massive underdog to champion Renan Barao, but you’d never glimpse those long odds on his face. He was going into the Octagon at UFC 173 as an unknown to many fans, the lesser of Team Alpha Male’s roster of bantamweight fighters.
Saturday night, he leaves Las Vegas as the best of them.
Dillashaw beat and battered Barao, considered by many to be one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport, for nearly five complete rounds before finishing him by TKO in the fifth.
It was a complete performance and one of the best championship performances in UFC history, and it started early.
Dillashaw dropped Barao in the first round and nearly finished him there. But even after Barao survived the onslaught, Dillashaw never relented. He used unique angles, speed and footwork akin to former champion Dominick Cruz to confuse Barao and keep him off center.
He also used blistering power to batter the now-former champion, bruising his face and dropping him multiple times over the course of the fight.
Dillashaw put in a star-making performance. Not only is he the first Team Alpha Male fighter to capture a UFC championship belt, but he’s also positioned to become the first true breakout star under 155 pounds other than teammate Urijah Faber.
He’s good-looking, well-spoken and, as witnessed at UFC 173, is one hell of a fighter. He also overcame the odds against a dominant champion, which tends to resonate with the public
And not only is he already a great fighter, he is improving. Few fighters have made the kind of fight-to-fight improvements that Dillashaw has displayed over the last two years.
He is so far removed from the fighter who lost to John Dodson coming out of The Ultimate Fighter house years ago that comparing the two is an exercise in futility. That version of Dillashaw had plenty of raw skill but was perhaps too eager. He fought angry.
Saturday night, Dillashaw remained calm. Even when going for multiple finishes, he remained methodical in his approach. In doing so, he refused to leave himself open for any kind of shocking come-from-behind moment from Barao. There would be no replay of Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen on this night; instead, there was simply Dillashaw doing what needed to be done and doing it in an emphatic fashion.
Dillashaw will face a slew of interesting challengers in the near future. Barao will no doubt work his way back into contention. Dominick Cruz will eventually return from injury. Raphael Assuncao has a win over Dillashaw, and you can bet the new champion wants to rectify that blemish at some point in the near future.
But for now, Dillashaw will rest easy as the man who finally brings a championship belt back to Team Alpha Male. It has been a long wait for the boys in Sacramento, but it has been worthwhile.