With an injury delaying the middleweight title match between Chris Weidman and Lyoto Machida to UFC 175, the UFC needed a replacement bout for the main event of UFC 173. They have chosen to have Renan Barao defend his bantamweight title against T.J. Dillashaw on that card. A lot of the general reaction I’ve seen has been negative towards Dillashaw receiving the title shot. A lot of people feel that Dillashaw is uncompetitive against Barao, while others argue that since Dillashaw recently lost to Raphael Assuncao, that Assuncao deserves the title shot instead.
I’ll address the second point first. The fight between Dillashaw and Assuncao was close. It was a fight I felt Dillashaw won, although I was admittedly biased since I’ve been promoting Dillashaw as a potential title contender for a while now. I thought Dillashaw won the first round with effective grappling and the third round with slightly more effective striking. The fight was close enough that I can’t call it a robbery or anything close. The point is – if one judge had seen one round differently, Dillashaw would have the win over Assuncao on his record.
From a purely sporting perspective, Assuncao is probably the more deserving challenger because he does have the win in the record books. For his part, Assuncao said he is unable to compete at UFC 173 because of a fractured rib suffered in his last fight at UFC 170. It’s possible the UFC would have chosen Assuncao as the challenger for the title if he had been healthy enough to fight, but we’ll never know.
With Assuncao out, Dillashaw is left as the most logical choice to compete for the title. He’s currently #5 in the official UFC rankings with a win over #6 Mike Easton. The other fighters ranked above Dillashaw have all lost to Barao already – Urijah Faber, Michael McDonald, and Eddie Wineland.
As for the fight itself, I think Dillashaw has a better chance of defeating Barao than most UFC bantamweights would have. What’s important to understand about Barao is that he’s not as difficult to hit as most UFC champions. His significant strike defenses are still above average at 2.33 strikes absorbed per minute and a 67 percent defense rate, but he absorbed 60 significant strikes in his first fight against Faber and 73 significant strikes against Scott Jorgensen.
Meanwhile, Dillashaw has landed 4.84 significant strikes per minute in the UFC. Granted, Dillashaw has mostly faced competition well below Barao’s level, but he’s clearly an aggressive and effective offensive striker. I don’t think he’s a favorite to land strikes with greater volume than Barao, but it’s a serious possibility.
Barao’s takedown defense is a tougher nut to crack as he’s been taken down just once in the UFC. With 3.0 takedowns landed per 15 minutes at a 48 percent success rate, Dillashaw has to be considered one of the more likely bantamweights to break through Barao’s defense. Of course, Dillashaw would then have to control Barao on the ground – easier said than done.
Don’t get me wrong, I definitely favor Barao to successfully defend his title in this fight. However, I see Dillashaw as a dangerous challenger who has just as good a chance of defeating Barao as anybody else. As disappointed as I am that we’ll have to wait for the Weidman-Machida title fight, I’m eagerly anticipating what I believe will be an exciting bantamweight title fight in its place.