It took almost five rounds, but bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw successfully defended his title against last-second replacement Joe Soto at Saturday’s UFC 177 pay-per-view with a fifth-round KO.
The champion persistently chased the finish and he got it to the delight of his hometown crowd at the Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, California.
Though Soto lost by KO, he made a good account of himself.
While some may have expected Dillashaw to destroy the UFC newcomer who had previously held the Bellator bantamweight title, Soto was at the very least up to the challenge of making the fight competitive.
Dillashaw felt the pressure of performing well in front of his hometown fans in Sacramento, and he brought the fight to Soto from the beginning.
The constant pressure seemed to wear Soto down, and fatigue may have made him more susceptible to the head kick that ended the night.
Soto had his moments, but the champion's were far more frequent, and the final one was the most decisive.
Despite being scheduled to fight Renan Barao in a rematch from a UFC 173 card that featured the challenger stunning the former champion and taking the world title, Dillashaw adapted to the change and overcame the adversity he faced.
Barao pulled out of this fight just hours before weigh-ins, according to UFC.com, as he became ill during his attempt to make weight. According to company president Dana White (via Fox Sports), the former champion will not be awarded a title shot upon his return.
Soto was originally scheduled to fight Anthony Birchak on the PPV undercard, but he was promoted to the main event with Barao's removal. There was little excitement surrounding this show before the injury, and the anticipation was even lower when the former champion was pulled.
Both Dillashaw and Soto proved to be worthy of the stage, though.
Now that Dillashaw has successfully defended his title for the first time, he can begin focusing on what’s next. While White claims Barao will not be rewarded a title shot when he is cleared, the biggest possible fight in the division is the rematch between Dillashaw and Barao.
Barao was the former division king and had a 33-fight unbeaten streak before his loss to the current champion. Dillashaw was angry about Barao's removal from the card, according to Dave Doyle of MMA Fighting and could be in the position to request a rematch.
After watching Dillashaw stun Barao in the first fight and seeing how the build to the rematch unfolded, White would be silly not to consider putting the two rivals in the ring together as soon as possible.
For Soto, his time in the spotlight was short-lived, but he showed plenty of potential. With other fighters such as Urijah Faber and Raphael Assuncao looking to jump into the title scene, squaring off with one of these top contenders could be a great way for Soto to get back in the good graces of the UFC officials.
Few fight fans expected much out of the main event, but it was much better than expected for a bout thrown together less than 48 hours before it happened.
*Stats via UFC.com.