They say styles make fights.
I'll be honest and tell you that I don't know the origin of that phrase. What I will tell you, however, is that whoever pulled that one out of thin air was a very smart person.
It's as true a statement as there ever was.
That will come as little consolation for Renan Barao. The man the UFC tried to build up as the second coming of Anderson Silva—leapfrogging him right over Jon Jones and Jose Aldo in the interest of selling a pay-per-view—has run into the man whom he probably cannot beat without a drastic overhaul of his own personal fighting style.
TJ Dillashaw, a ridiculously driven and competitive fighter from Angel's Camp, California, is the man Barao simply cannot overcome. Barao is an excellent fighter with many great skills. He is likely the world's third-best bantamweight, even after his one-sided loss to Dillashaw on network television Saturday night.
But even with all that skill, he cannot compete with Dillashaw, and there is a reason why: He'll never overcome Dillashaw's style.
Barao is plodding and thunderous. He is mostly flat-footed, planting himself in preparation for huge punches and kicks. But the problem on Saturday, as it was in the first fight, is that when Barao plants himself to strike, Dillashaw is already gone, slipping off to the right or left and unleashing devastating punches of his own.
Joe Rogan noted that Dillashaw might be the future of mixed martial arts. What he meant is that fighters do not need to stand in front of their opponents and wait to get hit. They can use angles and head movement and footwork. They can create confusion.
And yet, so few of them do.
Dillashaw, co-opting generously from former bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, has created a style that is difficult to deal with. For Barao, it is downright impossible. Especially when you throw in the fact that Dillashaw trains relentlessly and with some of the best his division has to offer. On Saturday night, Barao was spent halfway through the second round.
Dillashaw? He looked like he could go another 10 rounds.
Only, it didn't take 10 rounds. It didn't even take five. Barao barely survived the third round. When he came out for the fourth, Dillashaw gave him a high-five and a word of encouragement.
"Good job, dude," Dillashaw told Barao.
And then Dillashaw quickly backed the exhausted and battered Barao against the Octagon. From there, it was over, as Dillashaw threw relentless straight punches until Barao nearly crumpled. He was saved by referee Herb Dean.
Over the course of just over eight rounds, Barao has taken a life-altering beating from Dillashaw. His career may never be the same. And again, barring a complete revamp of the style he has learned over the course of 10 years of competition, Barao has almost no chance of ever beating Dillashaw. A move to featherweight is likely in the cards for him, and if it is not, it should be.
Raphael Assuncao @RaphaAssuncao
I'm coming ..... All do respect to the champ, I know this "game" he brings! #UFCChicago @ufc7/26/2015, 2:21:13 AM
From here, there is only one true interesting fight for Dillashaw. It's not Raphael Assuncao, who owns a close decision win over the reigning champion. I actually thought Dillashaw won that fight, and given how drastically the champion has improved even over the past year, Assuncao has little chance of winning a rematch.
The only man who should be next for Dillashaw is Cruz. So long as the former champ is able to work his way back to the Octagon in a healthy fashion, that's likely the next title defense for Dillashaw.
And what a thing of beauty it will be! Dillashaw, who has adopted a style that won him the championship gold and then helped cement it, facing off in the cage against the very man who created it.
Cruz has dominated Team Alpha Male fighters over the years. He has mocked them, tormented them and then defeated them. He has been their white whale, the annoying thorn in their side who always seems to overcome them even when they are the best they've ever been.
In Dillashaw, he may have finally met the man he cannot beat. But there's only one way to find out. And I hope we get it soon, because it's a fight for the ages.