Everything you need to know about this weekend's big rematch between Renan Barão and T.J. Dillashaw
Three minutes, 58 seconds.
For that amount of time, which is the vast majority of the first round, we saw a fight. Renan Barão, champion of the UFC men’s bantamweight division, was defending his belt against T.J. Dillashaw, a huge underdog, with odds as steep as 12–1. The late-replacement challenger was holding his own, though, on this soon-to-be-surreal night last year in Las Vegas, his quickness and fluidity working for him offensively and defensively. But Barão was stalking, ever dangerously stalking.
Then … boom!
Dillashaw connected with a looping overhead right hand, Barão collapsed to the canvas as stiff as a corpse, and as the crowd stood as one and roared, the everyman Californian swarmed the vaunted champion looking for a finish.
He didn’t get it. Barão, unbeaten in 33 fights over nine years, survived until the nick-of-time horn. But on his stool he rattled for an impossibly short minute, and when he came out for the second round throwing front kicks, they were the get-away-from-me kind. The Brazilian gradually appeared to return from Wobblyville, though he remained on the foggy outskirts. And from that point on, the fight was all Dillashaw’s.
He was the stalker. To borrow the name of his fight camp, he was the alpha male. And at 2:26 of the fifth round he was the new 135-pound champion, after felling Barão with a head kick and ferociously swarming him on the ground.
As Dillashaw had his hand raised and the shiny brass-and-leather strap wrapped around his waist, thoughts of a rematch already were floating in the ethers. Is the Californian really that much better than Barão? Or had that hammering right hand in the first round transformed the ex-champ into a shell of himself?
We’ll find out this Saturday night, when Dillashaw vs. Barão II takes place in the main event of a UFC on Fox event at the United Center in Chicago (8 p.m. ET, Fox).
Dillashaw (11–2) has won three fights in a row, including his lone title defense, a fifth-round knockout of Joe Soto last August. He had been scheduled to rematch Barão that night, but the Brazilian was hospitalized on weigh-in day, presumably because of a tough weigh cut. Dillashaw, 29, is No. 2 in the SI.com men’s bantamweight rankings (behind injured ex-champ Dominick Cruz).
The 28-year-old Barão (33–2, 1 NC) rebooked himself in a title fight by defeating Mitch Gagnon by arm triangle choke in the third round in December. The former champ, whose given name is Renan do Nascimento Mota Pegado, goes by a nickname that means “baron” in Portuguese. He’s no longer UFC royalty, but he does stand at No. 3 among 135-pounders in the SI.com rankings.
In addition to the Fox telecast of Saturday night’s four-fight main card, the network also will show four prelims, starting at 6 p.m. ET. The event’s first four bouts will be available on the UFC Fight Pass online service at 4:15.
Before the matchup came to be, the idea that Dillashaw would get a shot at Barão seemed like folly. The former collegiate wrestler had won six of his seven UFC bouts after being knocked out by John Dodson in the Season 14 finale of The Ultimate Fighter, but his resume was not exactly stacked with renowned conquests. He wasn’t even considered the top bantamweight in his own training camp, Team Alpha Male, home to Urijah Faber.
Less than four months after Barão had made quick work of Faber in their February 2014 title fight, the champ was expected to defend against Raphael Assunção at UFC 173. But that plan was scuttled because Assunção was still nursing a rib injury, so the fight promotion turned to Dillashaw, who wasn’t even in the top 5 at the time.
And then the stupendously unexpected happened.
Was the beatdown a fluke? We initially were scheduled to get our answer just three months later. But on the day prior to UFC 177, shortly before weigh-ins, Barão was hospitalized and pulled from the fight.
Then, last March, with the champ and the ex-champ each having gotten a win under his belt, and a month before their rematch was (again) scheduled to take place, another roadblock went up at the crossroads. This time it was Dillashaw who pulled out of the fight, after breaking a rib during training.
Now, finally—finally!—they will come together to determine whether the Alpha Male guy is truly the UFC’s 135-pound alpha male. (At least until Dominick Cruz comes back.)
Last five fights
8/30/14 Joe Soto W KO 5
5/24/14 Renan Barão W TKO 5
1/15/14 Mike Easton W UD 3
10/9/13 Raphael Assunção L SD 3
4/20/13 Huga Vana W TKO 1
12/20/14 Mitch Gagnon W Sub. 3
5/24/14 T.J. Dillashaw L TKO 5
2/1/14 Urijah Faber W TKO 1
9/21/13 Eddie Wineland W TKO 2
2/16/13 Michael McDonald W Sub. 4
Tale of the Tape
|February 7, 1986||Birthdate||February 27, 1987|
|Sonora, Calif.||Birthplace||Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil|
|Sacramento, Calif.||Residence||Rio de Janiero, Brazil|
|11–2||Record||33–2, 1 NC|
* Official weights to be determined at Friday weigh-in (Fox Sports 1, 5 p.m. ET)
Other numbers to count on
3.14: Strikes landed by Dillashaw for every one landed by his opponents, according to FightMetric statistics. That differential is fourth-best in UFC history.
5.56: Strikes landed per minute by Dillashaw, tied for seventh-most among eligible UFC fighters, all time.
100: Percentage of opponent takedown attempts successfully defended by Barão, making him the only fighter with five or more UFC bouts to have never been taken down. In the first meeting, Dillashaw was 0 for 3.
The first meeting:
Dillashaw won the belt while under the tutelage of former kickboxer and UFC fighter Duane Ludwig, who liked to bang, but didn’t really fight the way Dillashaw does.
No, the championship-winning formula resembles the fighting style of injured ex-champ Dominick Cruz, who was stripped of his belt in January after nearly three years of inactivity due to several knee surgeries. This similarity of movement—both Cruz and Dillashaw dance like a cross between Elaine Benes and your resident zumba instructor—is in no small measure ironic; “The Dominator” is the archrival of Dillashaw’s mentor, the alpha male of Team Alpha Male, Urijah Faber.
This is a fascinating twist because the 135-pound showdown most craved by fans was Barão vs. Cruz. We waited and waited for Cruz to heal, and it never happened. So we settled for Barão vs. Faber, which we got twice, both ending as convincing wins by the Brazilian. Then we got Dillashaw as an underdog challenger. Who knew he’d channel “The Dominator” and be the dominator in the title fight?
And who knows if he can do it again? Dillashaw did look good in the early going last time, even before his haymaker late in Round 1. But does he—and did he even then—have what it takes to handle a full-power Barão for 25 minutes?
Maybe that’s not a fair question. After all, Dillashaw was the electrician who dimmed Barão’s lights in the first place. You land a bomb, you get your pick of the rubble.
But still, Saturday night’s main event will begin with two fresh fighters. If Dillashaw wants a repeat of that glorious night in May 2014, he’s going to have to scramble Barão’s brainwaves all over again. But this time the ex-champ, who has the deeper resume as an elite striker, will be prepared.
Dillashaw is the favorite, with the line ranging from -201 (bet $201 to win $100) to -235 at various sportsbooks, according to bestfightodds.com. The line on Barão ranges from +175 (bet $100 to win $175) to +186.
Bill Parcells used to say, “I go by what I see.”
If all you saw from T.J. Dillashaw and Renan Barão was what happened at UFC 173, the pick here would be as easy as scheming an NFL defense around Lawrence Taylor.
But both the champion and the former belt holder have deeper histories than that. Dillashaw has fought a dozen other fights as a pro, and all in all he’s looked fine, but not necessarily like a world beater, either. Barão has 35 other bouts under his belt, all but two of them victories, and while he padded the record with plenty of anonymous conquests down in Brazil, he also owns two wins over Urijah Faber as well as impressive stoppages of some others who’ve spent time in the top 10.
So it’s complicated.
The thinking here is that May 24, 2014, was simply Dillashaw’s night. And that this Saturday will be the other guy’s. Barão by TKO.
“I’m going to be able to dominate him with my speed. I’m just a better fighter all around.”
– T.J. Dillashaw on Renan Barão during a UFC press conference
“I know I’m fast enough to trade shots with him, but unfortunately I got caught and I was like a zombie from then on.”
– Barão, speaking with the Brazilian magazine Tatame about the first Dillashaw fight
The rest of the card
Miesha Tate vs. Jessica Eye, women’s bantamweight; Edson Barboza vs. Paul Felder, lightweight; Joe Lauzon vs. Takanori Gomi, lightweight.
Preliminary card (6 p.m. ET, Fox): Gian Villante vs. Tom Lawlor, light heavyweight; Jim Miller vs. Danny Castillo, lightweight; Kenny Robertson vs. Ben Saunders, welterweight; Eddie Wineland vs. Bryan Caraway, men’s bantamweight.
Online prelims (4:15 p.m., UFC Fight Pass): Daron Cruickshank vs. James Krause, lightweight; Ramsey Nijem vs. Andrew Holbrook, lightweight; Jessamyn Duke vs. Elizabeth Phillips, women’s bantamweight; Zak Cummings vs. Dominique Steele, welterweight.
Mike Goldberg will handle blow-by-blow and Joe Rogan analysis for the main-card and prelims telecast on Fox as well as online prelims on the UFC Fight Pass. There will be an hour-long postfight show on Fox Sports 1, starting at 10:30 p.m. ET.