As expected, TJ Dillashaw successfully defended his bantamweight championship against replacement opponent Joe Soto on Saturday. That said, Soto did his best to keep the bout competitive all the way into the fifth and final round.
Dillashaw was originally suppposed to meet Renan Barao, the man he took the 135-pound belt from, in a rematch. However, moments before the UFC 177 weigh-ins, it was announced that Barao encountered difficulties during his weight cut and wouldn't be able to compete against Dillashaw. Previously scheduled to make his UFC debut against Anthony Birchak on the preliminary card, Joe Soto filled in to prevent the fight card from becoming a complete disaster.
Despite facing the best bantamweight in the world on short notice, Soto fought very respectably. The first two rounds were very closely contested. Although Soto lost both of them on the scorecards, he was able to land some solid shots on the champion, showing Dillashaw that he wouldn't be able to cruise to victory despite being a massive favorite heading in.
Dillashaw did begin to pull away in the third and fourth rounds, though. The titleholder landed more than 100 significant strikes and scored his only two takedowns of the bout in those rounds.
When the fifth round rolled around, it became clear that Soto wasn't quite ready to go 25 minutes. The tired challenger took a head kick around two minutes into the frame and was finished with a few follow-up punches.
TJ Dillashaw is the first fighter with two fifth-round stoppages in the UFC.— MMADecisions.com (@MMADecisions) August 31, 2014
The stoppage gave Dillashaw his first title defense as bantamweight champion. At 28 years old, Dillashaw could be on his way to big things. With losses to John Dodson and Raphael Assuncao, he has had some bumps along the road, but Dillashaw appears talented enough to hold onto the belt for many years.
Because he did not cut weight properly and was unable to fight on Saturday, Barao won't be getting a chance to reclaim his title until he fights somebody else now.
Instead, Assuncao could be up next in a different rematch for Dillashaw. The two originally met in October '13, when Assuncao edged Dillashaw in a split decision on the scorecards. While Assuncao got his hand raised, it was a controversial decision, with many in the MMA media believing Dillashaw should have won.
While he came up short on Saturday, Soto gained much respect across the MMA world. Rather than stepping in and simply taking his lumps, Soto looked like he belonged inside the Octagon with Dillashaw, an impressive accomplishment for a UFC newcomer.
Forrest Griffin (@ForrestGriffin) August 31, 2014
The former Bellator MMA champion is still only 27 years old, so this may end up being the first of multiple UFC title shots, should he continue to compete like he did this weekend. After the unlikeliest of title shots, Soto will have to work his way back up the ladder, but it doesn't look like it will take him long to return to title contention judging by his performance against Dillashaw.