Dillashaw put on a stunning performance Saturday in Las Vegas. | File photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
T.J. Dillashaw just shook up the MMA world.
Listed as a 7-to-1 underdog by some bookmakers, Dillashaw was given little chance of besting bantamweight king Renan Barao in their UFC 173 headliner. If Dillashaw was affected by that collective lack of faith, he certainly did not show it on Saturday night, as he ripped through the highly regarded Brazilian to become the newest UFC champion.
Saturday’s situation was a familiar one for Dillashaw’s camp, Team Alpha Male, as founder Urijah Faber had twice come up short against Barao in title opportunities. However, lightning would not strike three times for the Nova Uniao rep, as Faber’s protégé succeeded where “The California Kid” had failed.
Dillashaw took control of the bout from the jump, using deft footwork and feints that made it difficult for Barao to find his rhythm. Late in round one, Dillashaw hauled off and clocked the champion, planting Barao on the deck with a massive overhand right.
“I didn’t really see it [at the end] of the first round, but coming out for the second, I could see the look in his eyes and tell that I maybe had him [broken],” said Dillashaw. “Especially after the second round, I just knew I had it. After I walked through the second round and felt awesome, I knew I had it. I could see it in his eyes.”
For the next three rounds, Dillashaw stayed one step ahead of the champion, who had not been defeated in more than nine years prior to his loss on Saturday night. Darting in and out of range while rifling off three- and four-punch combinations, Dillashaw constantly kept Barao on his heels, lighting up the Brazilian from all angles and continually finding his mark with a left high kick.
“The plan was to move my feet a lot, switch my stance up, use angles and just be the faster athlete tonight. After that, it was just [about] flow,” said Dillashaw. “I did what I drilled in camp and what Duane [Ludwig] told me to do, and I just reacted. The plan was to take him down when need be, and I didn’t feel I needed to.”
As sharp as he looked through four rounds, Dillashaw saved his best for last, wrapping his left shin around Barao’s dome midway through the final frame. The Team Alpha Male rep eagerly pursued his unsteady foe, further hurting him with a crisp flurry of punches and then dropping him to the canvas with a solid left hook. Violent ground-and-pound would follow, prompting referee Herb Dean to wave of the contest and declare Dillashaw the new UFC bantamweight king.
“I train to fight five-round fights, even for my three-round fights. I’m a very well-conditioned athlete, and I knew I had to keep pressure [on him] the entire time,” said Dillashaw. “I’m an aggressive fighter. That’s when I’m at my best, when I’m moving my feet and not staying in front of [my opponent].”