In order to put the second meeting between T.J. Dillashaw and Renan Barao at UFC on Fox 16 into perspective, it’s necessary to revisit their first fight. It doesn’t feel like hyperbole to call Dillashaw’s thrashing of “The Baron” at UFC 173 one of the most shocking title fight outcomes of the modern era. Heading into that fight, which took place in May of 2014, Barao was arguably the most dominant fighter in the sport, riding an unthinkable 31-bout unbeaten streak that dated back to his second professional fight. If anything, the 27-year-old Brazilian actually appeared to be peaking, having finished his last three opponents in a row, including a first-round destruction of Urijah Faber in his last Octagon appearance.
Meanwhile, Dillashaw was not even the first choice to get a title shot that night. Raphael Assuncao, who had beaten Dillashaw recently and was the near-consensus No. 1 contender, was injured and unable to challenge for the title. In stepped Dillashaw, who had won the other five of his last six fights but whose mentor Faber had just been knocked out of his shoes by the champ.
It isn’t merely that Barao was one of the biggest betting favorites in UFC history—though at 9-to-1 he certainly was—but the details of when and how. Dillashaw prevailed in their first meeting, not by a single perfect punch or opportunistic submission, but a thorough four-and-a-half-round beatdown in which the challenger arguably won every minute of every round. The knockout, when it came, felt as inevitable as it had been implausible just a half-hour before. Dillashaw had done things to the champ that literally nobody else had.
By the time they met again on July 25, 2015, both men had picked up another win, as the UFC had wisely recognized that there was no interest in an immediate rerun of such a savage beating. Dillashaw had defended his title with a fifth-round knockout of Joe Soto, while Barao had righted the ship with a lovely third-round submission of the then red-hot Mitch Gagnon. With the table thus set, Dillashaw entered the rematch a -200 favorite: substantial, but clearly allowing for the possibility that the first fight had been an aberration.
The rematch showed that the first fight was no aberration, as Dillashaw duplicated his performance closely, making Barao look painfully slow and unschooled in virtually every exchange. Barao had made some adjustments and was game as ever—one does not go undefeated for a decade without being able to bite down on the mouthpiece and gut out a tough night at the office—but the result was the same. Dillashaw simply outclassed one of the most accomplished fighters in the world, wearing him down and beating him down, and this time the finish came sooner: Barao came off the stool in iffy shape to start the fourth round and Dillashaw immediately went on the attack, lighting him up with a flurry of punches for the TKO finish at 35 seconds. Without a doubt, the bantamweight division had moved on from the Barao era.