T.J. Dillashaw’s championship win over Renan Barao at UFC 173 created all sorts of interesting subplots around the UFC bantamweight championship.
Dillashaw has no shortage of contenders for his shiny new belt, which he’ll take back to Sacramento on Monday when he leaves Las Vegas. The most prominent of these is Raphael Assuncao, who scored a razor-thin split decision over the new champion last October in Brazil. Assuncao was originally the man in line to face Barao, but an injury suffered in training prevented him from accepting the fight. Dillashaw got the nod, and the rest is history.
If Dillashaw had his way, Assuncao would be the next man standing across the Octagon. “I’d like to get my win back, yeah,” the new champion said at the UFC 173 post-fight press conference. The loss to Assuncao is one that eats away at the new champion, and likely will until he gets a chance to redeem himself.
If something happens to Assuncao, there are other options. Dominick Cruz is slowly working his way back from the longest injury hiatus in the history of mixed martial arts. The mere thought of Dillashaw and Cruz dancing around the Octagon, with all the angles and footwork and speed that would be on display, is enough to send shivers down the spine of any self-respecting fight fan. They are kindred spirits who have much in common, both in style and substance.
Takeya Mizugaki waits in the wings. He was originally scheduled to face Dillashaw in this event, but was left to face and beat Francisco Rivera when Dillashaw answered the championship call from Sean Shelby. Mizugaki has five wins in a row, but probably still needs another win. Still, he’d do in a pinch.
And there is a small subset of fans who believe Barao, the dethroned champion, deserves an immediate rematch. To them, I say nay! Barao will be in the title picture again, and soon, but the idea of giving him an immediate shot at Dillashaw after what transpired at UFC 173 is ludicrous.
I am fine with rematches of championship fights, but only in specific situations.
A rematch should be granted when a long-time champion loses his belt
Anderson Silva is a perfect example; he held the belt for nearly seven years before losing to Chris Weidman. That is an extensive track record of excellence, and it rightly earned Silva an immediate rematch.
Barao has been the “official” bantamweight champion since February. Most have considered him the real champion since he captured the interim belt in 2012, because we had no idea if Cruz would ever return to unify the belts. Still, even if you count the interim title reign, Barao has been champion for less than two years. He defended the title three times before losing to Dillashaw. That’s not remotely comparable to Silva’s track record.
A rematch should be granted if it’s a close fight, if there is a poor judging decision or the ending is a fluke
Here, you can point to Silva again. His first loss to Weidman could be blamed on Silva’s decision to showboat. Or the rematch between Frankie Edgar and B.J. Penn, which came about because Edgar was awarded a questionable decision during their first fight. Or Edgar vs. Benson Henderson, where Henderson won a questionable decision of his own in the first fight.
Dillashaw vs. Barao was not questionable. Dillashaw won all five rounds and finished Barao emphatically in the final frame. Many of us gave Dillashaw a 10-8 first round. It was not close, not ever, and there was no controversy.
I was told early last week that Barao was undergoing a bad weight cut. At a media gathering on Thursday, he looked drawn and pale. Many will point to that weight cut as a reason why the “real” Barao didn’t show up on Saturday night, and they might be right.
But a weight cut is within Barao’s control. It is not the same as suffering a knee injury and moving forward with the fight to help the UFC out of a bind. It is Barao’s choice to walk around significantly bigger than even teammate Jose Aldo, who fights in a weight class 10 pounds heavier than Barao.
Barao is not deserving of an immediate rematch. He was overwhelmed and dominated. There was no fluke and no bad decision, and Barao hasn’t built up the kind of years-long title reign that makes him deserving of an immediate return fight. He shouldn’t go to the back of the line, of course. He needs to win just one fight, and then he can step back in the cage with Dillashaw.
But there is simply no reason for Barao to leapfrog Assuncao, who has earned his shot and deserves his opportunity.