Everything you need to know about this weekend's big fight.
Is there a rivalry brewing?
When Renan Barão of the Nova União jiu-jitsu academy in Rio de Janeiro steps into the octagon on Saturday night in Las Vegas (10 p.m. ET, PPV) to defend his bantamweight championship against T.J. Dillashaw, one of the stalwarts of Team Alpha Male, this UFC 173 main event will be the fifth time since 2010 that the vaunted gyms will have done battle over a belt.
That sounds like a rivalry, all right, except for one thing: The boys from Brazil have won every time.
Let's count 'em down: Barão has twice beaten the alpha of the Alphas, Urijah Faber, and his teammate José Aldo, the featherweight champ, also has defeated "The California Kid" as well as Chad Mendes (who'll get another shot in August ... meeting No. 6 in the rivalry).
If this is Yankees-Red Sox, it's the version that existed prior to 2004. That's when Boston broke a World Series drought that had lasted 86 years, a time span in which the Evil Empire had been champion of the baseball world 26 times.
Now, that's quite a run, almost as impressive as Barão's. The 27-year-old has not lost a mixed martial arts fight since his professional debut in 2005, a unanimous-decision defeat at the hands of someone named João Paulo Rodrigues de Souza in his northeastern Brazil hometown, Natal. Since then, Renan has fought 33 times and won them all (other than a 2007 fight declared a no contest because of his opponent's foul).
Barão (32-1, 1 NC), who is No. 6 in the SI.com pound-for-pound fighter rankings, won the interim UFC belt with a lopsided decision over Faber in the summer of 2012, and his most recent win came in a February rematch, in which he stopped Urijah in the first round of his first defense of the real (post-Dominick Cruz) strap.
The 28-year-old Dillashaw (9-2) ranks No. 7 on the SI.com bantamweight list. He earned this shot at the title with a decision win over Mike Easton in January, his fifth win in his six bouts.
In addition to the pay-per-view telecast of the five-fight main card, four prelims will be shown on Fox Sports 1 (8 p.m. ET) and the card's other three bouts will stream on the UFC Fight Pass digital subscription service (6:30 p.m.).
"Get T.J. Dillashaw in here to clean up my dirty work."
That was Urijah Faber during an interview in the cage moments after his TKO loss to Renan Barão in February. Knowing that his second failed shot at the champ had just cropped him out of the title picture, at least for the time being, the 35-year-old -- not a "Kid" anymore -- was changing his game plan. He was shifting into the role of team captain among the Alpha Males, advocating for his friend and protégé.
As popular as Faber is, his recommendation typically would not be enough to earn a training partner a whiff of the belt. But with Raphael Assunção, the top contender not already vanquished by Barão, still healing from a rib injury, Dillashaw got the call. Assunção, who owns a tight split-decision win over T.J., likely will get this weekend's winner.
Last five fights
2/1/14 Urijah Faber W TKO 1
9/21/13 Eddie Wineland WTKO 2
2/16/13 Michael McDonald W Sub 4
7/21/12 Urijah Faber W UD 5
2/4/12 Scott Jorgensen W UD 3
1/15/14 Mike Easton W UD 3
10/9/13 Raphael Assunção L SD 3
4/20/13 Hugo Viana W TKO 1
3/16/13 Issei Tamura W KO 2
7/11/12 Vaughan Lee W Sub 1
Other numbers to count on
3,328: Days it will have been, on Saturday night, since Renan Barão's last loss. He has fought 33 times since that defeat in April 2005.
95: Percentage of opponents' takedown attempts successfully defended by Barão, according to FightMetric statistics. T.J. Dillashaw has fended off shots0 at an even better rate: 100 percent. Think this fight is going to play out on the feet?
49: Percentage of Dillashaw's significant strikes that have landed. That's better than the striking ace Barão has fared -- 36 percent -- although the champ has fought against higher-level competition.
If Dillashaw can get this fight to the canvas ...
That's the game plan against Barão for this fight. It's always the game plan against Barão. It's always the game plan against any Nova União fighter.
It's a crazy strategy. Barão is a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. José Aldo, his teammate and featherweight champ, is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, too. But look at what they can do while standing. That movement, as brazen as it is graceful. That quick-strike dangerousness. So you try to get the fight to the mat, and then hope your skills match up.
Dillashaw is a wrestler at heart, and that's the essence of Team Alpha Male as a whole. They've made advances in the standup game during Duane Ludwig's time as head coach, but the canvas is where they live.
When they can get there, that is. Faber had no success imposing his game plan on either Barão or Aldo, and Chad Mendes was unable to grapple with José, either. How is Dillashaw supposed to fare better? We'll see.
Tale of the Tape
Feb. 27, 1987
Feb. 7, 1986
Rio de Janeiro
32-1, 1 NC
*Official weights announced at the weigh-in (Friday, 7 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1)