Leading into UFC 173, Renan Barao was being compared to the pound-for-pound boxing kingpin, Floyd Mayweather. In less than 25 minutes, all of those mentions came tumbling down as T.J. Dillashaw crushed the Brazilian and walked out of Las Vegas as the new UFC Bantamweight champion. The moment he went from prospect to title holder Dillashaw had unrolled a laundry list of new contenders for the title. However, none should receive a shot before Raphael Assuncao.
Travel back to October 9, 2013. Dillashaw and Assuncao would meet in an undercard fight at UFC Fight Night: Maia vs. Shields. In a hotly contested bout, the two athletes would go back and forth in exchanges. At the end of the three-round affair, Raphael would have his hand raised in victory. Moments after the decision, much of the mixed martial arts community would voice their displeasure with the judging in the contest. That wouldn't be enough to reverse the decision as Assuncao's victory would snap T.J.'s four-fight win streak while increasing his own to five straight wins.
When UFC 173 was first announced, Barao was expected to face the returning Dominick Cruz. Unfortunately, Cruz would be injured once again and forced off the card. That would create the opening for Raphael to be granted a title shot. Assuncao would opt out of the opportunity due to an injury of his own, which created the pathway for Dillashaw to shock the world and take the title.
The fact that Assuncao holds a very controversial win over the new champion is more than enough reason to give him the first shot at the belt. Assuncao has already began to call out the champion.
“I hope they give me the title shot,” Assuncao stated to MMA Fighting's Guilherme Cruz. “I want to fight T.J. Dillashaw next. He said he deserved to win the first fight, so it's the perfect finale.”
Both fighters have made their case as to why they feel they earned the win that night. Looking deeper at the numbers provided by Fight Metric, which is the official stats group for the UFC, it is clear that this bout was very close.
Neither fighter had the advantage in striking as Assuncao landed 37 of 106 attempted strikes which is nearly identical to the 32 of 105 for Dillashaw. The true difference is in the area of grappling where Dillashaw landed two takedowns while stopping all six from his Brazilian opponent. Once on the mat, T.J. also looked to be the more competent and aggressive grappler according to the fight numbers. In real time, it is understandable how most of the viewing audience scored this fight for Dillashaw. Still, the split-decision loss stands as a huge black eye over the new reign of the 135-pound champion.
The main issue with making this bout is the fact that neither Raphael Assuncao nor T.J. Dillashaw are major names in the mainstream MMA community. The UFC is in dire need of developing a new stable of stars and while Dillashaw has the potential to get to a high point, he's not there yet. That means that the Team Alpha Male standout should expect to defend his title during free televised events across the Fox networks in order to grow his notoriety before being placed on a Pay-Per-View card. If the bout against Assuncao is made, the UFC would have to work to create a solid card that would draw attention for their developing champion.
When T.J. Dillashaw stepped into the Octagon on May 24, he was ranked in the 11th spot on the UFC's official bantamweight rankings. Raphael Assuncao, the last man to defeat the eventual title bearer, was sitting firmly at No. 3. A twist of fate provided Dillashaw with a title shot and now Raphael is looking up at a man he defeated less than two years ago. The UFC should pounce on this chance to create the rematch. With the proper booking and promotion, this fight would serve to make either a star out of T.J. or further an intense rivalry.