T.J. Dillashaw is the top prospect at 135 pounds in the UFC. After losing his debut by KO to John Dodson, Dillashaw has reeled off four straight victories, looking far superior to his opponent each time. It feels lazy to compare Dillashaw to Chad Mendes, because they’re teammates at Team Alpha Male, but it really is a good comparison. Both are wrestling-based fighters who are good at not absorbing too many strikes. Mendes has recently added knockout power to his arsenal and Dillashaw has scored two knockdowns in his five-fight UFC career.
In order to favor Raphael Assuncao to beat Dillashaw, I need to find an advantage for him somewhere in this fight. I’m inclined to say Assuncao should have the advantage on the ground, but the numbers don’t agree with that. Assuncao is an even 4-4 in submission attempts in his WEC/UFC career while Dillashaw is up 6-1 in that category. Assuncao fares much better in guard passes at 11-2 but Dillashaw is a perfect 12-0… largely because Dillashaw hasn’t been taken down yet.
Those numbers need to be balanced against the fact that Assuncao has faced tougher competition than Dillashaw. Two of the four submissions attempted against Assuncao were by Urijah Faber, an elite fighter in the division. Dillashaw hasn’t faced anybody close to Faber’s level yet… or Assuncao’s for that matter. Regardless, there’s just no evidence suggesting Assuncao has the more effective ground game.
So what about the striking game? Perhaps if Assuncao and Dillashaw engage in a striking match, Assuncao could win on points? In their respective careers, Dillashaw has landed 4.82 significant strikes per minute to 3.02 for Assuncao. Dillashaw lands strikes at 56 percent accuracy to 41 percent for Assuncao. Dillashaw absorbs 1.64 significant strikes per minute against 1.76 for Assuncao. The only statistic Assuncao has the advantage in is significant strike defense rate: 71 percent for Assuncao, 63 percent for Dillashaw.
On paper, Dillashaw has the advantage on the feet and it’s fairly even on the ground – although if Dillashaw has top position, then he should have the ground advantage. For Assuncao, a fighter who lands 1.9 takedowns per 15 minutes at 37 percent accuracy, it will be extremely difficult to take down Dillashaw, whose takedown defense rate remains 100 percent.
The reality is that the numbers favor Dillashaw everywhere. The only hope Assuncao has is that Dillashaw has faced a lower level of opponents and his game might not translate as well against tougher competition. If I had to predict a way for Assuncao to win, it would be for both fighters to engage in a striking match and for Assuncao to keep the fight close and win on points in a hometown decision. Overall, Dillashaw is simply a higher level of fighter than Assuncao is. I expect Dillashaw to emerge victorious in this fight and establish himself as a threat to win the UFC bantamweight title.
Pick: T.J. Dillashaw by decision