It’s been nearly two months since the UFC has made an appearance on the Pay-Per-View scene. The organization makes its return Saturday, although it’s not exactly coming back with a bang.
UFC 177 will be contested at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, and will be the company’s first Pay-Per-View event since UFC 175 on July 5, a drought that includes a rare canceled event at UFC 176. The event only features four ranked fighters and is a little short on big names, but the Main Event by itself might make the card worth paying attention to.
Bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw will look to defend his title against challenger Renan Barão in the best matchup of the night. On a card that lacks depth, the 135-pound title bout is this event’s One to Watch.
Dillashaw and Barão are familiar foes. The two fought each other once before, at UFC 173 barely more than three months ago. At the time of their last match, Barão was considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world and was riding a 33-fight unbeaten streak. Dillashaw was a relatively unheralded challenger. He only got the title fight after a rib injury forced Raphael Assunção to withdraw from the slot.
Although The Viper was a +550 underdog, he fought with supreme confidence, battering the champion for four rounds before landing a series of finishing blows to win by TKO in the fifth. The win marked one of the biggest upsets in UFC and earned Dillashaw both Fight of the Night and Knockout of the Night honors.
In the post-fight interview with the new belt-holder, analyst Joe Rogan gushed, “Congratulations on just a masterful work tonight. It was an honor calling this fight. Thank you very much, brother.”
The fight turned Dillashaw into an instant star and made many experts question Barão’s greatness. Some wondered whether the organization had given the former champion a purposely soft slate of fights to help keep his streak alive, and with it, his marketability as a top-notch fighter. The Baron’s incredible streak did at least earn him one thing, however: an instant rematch against the man who dethroned him and a chance to regain his lost belt. Is Dillashaw a title-holder with staying power or did he simply fight far above his head for one night? We’ll know on Saturday.
This is a difficult fight to forecast as TJ Dillashaw has shown such rapid improvement over only few years in the UFC, that it’s likely he’ll come out as a distinctly different fighter than he was just a few months ago when we last saw him. Dillashaw’s coaches at Team Alpha Male will likely have some new wrinkles to throw at the challenger.
What we do know, however, is that this bout, like the last one, will be contested with both fighters remaining on their feet for much of the time. Dillashaw is a decorated former college wrestler and his takedown defense is one of the strengths of his game. Likewise, the Baron has avoided 96 percent of takedowns in his career, according to UFC.com. This will be a striker’s fight and big punches are not only possible, but likely.
In the first fight between the two, Dillashaw landed a big right hand late in the first round that seemed to daze Barão and it didn’t appear as though the champion ever fully recovered. The Viper will look to get off to a fast start and do the same again in the rematch and the pure speed and unpredictability of his combinations give him an advantage in that area.
Barão is one of the most skilled strikers in the UFC, and he’ll have to use that ability to back the champion into a corner and cut off some of those combinations and the creative stance switches that the Californian likes to employ. With the roles reversed and all the pressure now on Dillashaw, the Brazilian can be much more aggressive early and set up his own combinations, as well as try to get close enough to land some hard knees.
Bantamweight fights are normally based around quickness and striking accuracy, without much knockout potential, but both of these fighters have KO power and we can expect some fireworks. Look for an improved Dillashaw to again be too much for the Baron and retain his title by another late knockout in front his home fans.
Tale of the Tape
They Said It
“I have to try to become a legend in this sport and defeating Barão again in the way to do it. He’s the one who is still ranked ahead of me in the pound-for-pound rankings, so if I want to get my name as big as possible he’s the guy to beat.” –TJ Dillashaw
“Dillashaw did a great job and for sure that was his night. It was for sure not my night. This time will be different. It will be completely different.” –Renan Barão, on his last fight with TJ Dillashaw
Photo Credit: Getty