TJ Dillashaw vs. Renan Barao 2: A Head-to-Toe Breakdown
In arguably the biggest and most shocking title upset in UFC history, current bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw dominated former kingpin Renan Barao at UFC 173.
With tactical precision, overwhelming pressure and the sort of five-round conditioning we're not used to seeing, especially in the midst of landing 140 significant strikes, The Viper made Barao look like a technician without his tools.
Dillashaw's commanding performance not only shed light on how dynamic and prolific he can be, but it proved that Barao is in fact mortal and the 135-pound crop heap is more of an open battleground than a closed circuit.
In any case, Barao's perennial excellence and current pound-for-pound ranking landed him a well-deserved immediate rematch.
That rematch takes place this Saturday at UFC 177 in Sacramento, California—Dillashaw's home state.
Here is a true head-to-toe breakdown about the most anticipated reboot in bantamweight history.
Dillashaw has showcased elite-level speed throughout his entire UFC career, not just in his deconstruction of Barao.
While the 28-year-old does a lot of his damage with quick jabs and piercing combinations, including kicks and body punches, he owes much of his success to an elevated use of his footwork.
Under the microscopic tutelage of coach Duane "Bang" Ludwig, along with flawless athletic aptitude, Dillashaw's ability to get in and out of the pocket, attack from advantageous angles, stretch the canvas and feint on cue has increased tenfold.
This isn't to say that Barao doesn't incorporate speed into his techniques. With spinning kicks, lunging power punches and Jose Aldo-like leg strikes, he certainly does, but he's simply not on the same level as Dillashaw.
If Barao wants to give himself the best opportunity to reclaim his throne, he'll have to cut Dillashaw off, make him pay in close quarters and base his offensive attacks around quality, not quantity.
It's truly hard to distinguish between two bantamweight strikers and their power.
As a division that is built more around speed than natural strength, power is often left off the tale of the tape.
However, in this instance, both Dillashaw and Barao possess serious knockout ability.
On one hand, you have the champ, who has relied on overhand rights in the past to try to diminish his opponents.
However, when he remains patient and waits until the opportunity arises to utilize his innate strength, Dillashaw's success looks a whole lot like his victory over Barao the first time around.
On the other hand, you have Barao, who can not only stun his competitors with damaging straight punches and vicious body blows but with spinning back kicks, fists and elbows.
When he's comfortable and capable of sizing up an opponent, his power shines through more than most.
In a rematch that will pin arguably the fastest striker in the division against the most unorthodox, it will be Barao who will have to rely on his power shots more than the champ.
For that, he gets the slight nod.
Minor Advantage: Barao
Dillashaw can certainly mix it up. There's no doubt about that.
However, outside of some nifty in-and-out combinations, flying knees and useful wizardry, he just doesn't stack up against the unpredictability of Barao.
In a sport ruled by split-second decisions and on-the-fly adaptations, being unpredictable is the bee's knees.
It's going to be interesting to see if Barao is able to gain that confidence to let it all hang out when he meets Dillashaw for a second time this weekend.
An early knockdown in their first matchup ultimately set Barao back, making it nearly impossible for him to find his rhythm in order to facilitate the dangerous barrages that we've grown accustomed to see him win fights with.
If Dillashaw wants to avoid these deadly attacks and make it more of a conventional tit-for-tat striking match, he'll have to hurt Barao early again to show that any mistakes from the former champ, be it wild strikes or poor timing, will have bad results.
Since he was preoccupied with bewildering Barao on his feet, we were unable to see Dillashaw's wrestling skills when these two first met.
As part of Team Alpha Male, Dillashaw will always possess one heck of a ground game, which is why the bantamweight stud has never been taken down in his promotional career.
With an athletic frame, strong base, disciplined explosion and technique to boot, Dillashaw successfully converts takedowns by driving through his opponents.
While Barao hasn't been taken down since 2010, his ability to remain on his feet is attributed to his well-rounded striking and ability to control his range, not a strong wrestling pedigree.
Therefore, it's likely that Dillashaw will be able to drag the Brazilian to the canvas if he's able to close the distance—maybe with a combination inside or a heavy hand over the top followed by a double leg.
Either way, assuming Barao is going to put up a better fight this time around, the champion may have to rely on his wrestling skills to cap off indecisive rounds.
Training with Urijah Faber will always give Dillashaw the experience he needs to get inside the Octagon and finish an opponent via choke.
That doesn't mean he'll be able to outgrapple and outpoint a ground tactician like Barao, though.
Dillashaw nearly secured a rear-naked choke during their first championship installment, but that came after he rocked Barao with a vicious overhand right.
Based strictly on each fighter's ability to formulate timely transitions and capitalize on movement and balance, Barao's 14 career submission victories would suggest he's the better bet.
That doesn't mean that the kid from California can't hang fighting off his back or in full guard; it's just not the same when we're talking about a guy like Barao.
Momentum is a force that often corrupts opposing skill. It has the power to not only relinquish titles but make the impossible possible.
It is the same intangible tool that more or less catapulted Dillashaw to stardom after tearing Barao to pieces back in May.
However, as timely and overwhelming as that victory was, nobody really knows for sure what to expect this time around—especially when it comes to momentum.
For Dillashaw, his road to success has been a fairly quick one.
After a victory over Mike Easton and an injury to Raphael Assuncao, he found himself opposite the greatest bantamweight fighter of all time. If he is to defend his title in front of a home crowd, Dillashaw will have to remain just as loose and confident as he was the first time around.
As for Barao, his quick ascent into the history books may have taken a backseat at this point in his career, but that doesn't mean the 27-year-old dynamo doesn't possess his own type of momentum.
It often takes a loss like the one he suffered at the hands and footwork of Dillashaw to re-evaluate oneself and create ferocious motivation that hits on professional and personal levels.
So for this fight, momentum is in the hands of both fighters.
When that happens, it all comes down to skill.
Anderson Silva had Chris Weidman. Randy Couture had Chuck Liddell. BJ Penn had Frankie Edgar.
Not to draw any unfounded comparisons here, people, but maybe Barao has Dillashaw.
Maybe Barao is the yin, and Dillashaw is the yang.
Either way you put it, their Octagon transgressions have and will create monumental buzz within a division that has struggled to harness mainstream attention.
Dillashaw's performance three months ago has created one of the more interesting rivalries in the sport today—one that could very well produce one of the best trilogies in UFC history.
Let's not get ahead of ourselves, though. Before a third fight is even whispered, the rematch must run its course.
It's crazy to sit here and consider Dillashaw a favorite over Barao, but with his hometown behind him and the matter of which he won the first fight, it seems logical that he fits that billing.
Barao will have to be the best Barao we've ever seen to take his belt back from a guy like Dillashaw.
The Viper is just too athletic, quick and evolved to take a step back in his career right now.
Verdict: Dillashaw via second-round TKO
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