When T.J. Dillashaw was set to challenge Renan Barao for the UFC bantamweight championship in May, I was more enthusiastic about Dillashaw’s chances of winning than most. I put a bet on Dillashaw as a huge underdog and I wrote a post about how Dillashaw was more deserving of his title opportunity than he was getting credit for. I was buying Dillashaw as a betting value… but not buying him as having a great chance of actually defeating Barao. It’s crazy to think – I was far more enthusiastic about Dillashaw than most people and even I thought he had maybe a 25 to 30 percent chance of winning the fight. Then Dillashaw not only pulled off the upset… he made Barao look bad in the process.
If the betting lines for the Dillashaw-Barao rematch were set based solely on their last fight, Dillashaw would be at least a -400 favorite. Unlike Chris Weidman’s win over Anderson Silva at UFC 162, there was no way anybody could call Dillashaw’s win a fluke. Dillashaw knocked down and nearly finished Barao in the first round before proceeding to easily out-strike Barao for the next three and a half rounds, finally finishing Barao off in the fifth round. It was a beating so merciless that it left some clowns on Twitter (and I’m not going to name any names, but they know who they are) speculating that Barao may have thrown the fight.
Despite the one-sided beating Dillashaw gave Barao, the betting public seems to still have doubt that Dillashaw is really THAT good. Dillashaw opened as a -140 favorite with Barao as the +100 underdog, and the lines have stayed pretty close to those prices since then. It’s reasonable to think that perhaps Barao had a bad night, or Dillashaw’s first-round knockdown left Barao a dazed and lesser fighter, not the same Barao we’re used to seeing.
There’s something to be said for that idea, but I don’t personally buy it. In his previous fight against Mike Easton, Dillashaw landed 117 significant strikes in three rounds. In four and a half rounds against Barao, Dillashaw landed 140 significant strikes. Dillashaw also had no trouble landing strikes in quick victories over Hugo Viana and Issei Tamura. Only against Raphael Assuncao did Dillashaw not land strikes at a high pace. For his UFC career, Dillashaw has now landed 5.23 significant strikes per minute and absorbed 2.33 for a +2.90 significant strike margin. The point is – it’s not like Dillashaw hasn’t done this before.
I’ve stated on numerous occasions that if Barao has a weakness (and it’s really not a weakness, more of a “non-strength”), it’s his boxing, particularly his defense. Urijah Faber landed 60 significant strikes on Barao in their first fight and Scott Jorgensen landed 73 in three rounds. Sure, it’s quite a leap to go from 60 or 73 to 140, but I also see Dillashaw as a much more talented striker than either Faber or Jorgensen.
If FPR is any indication, the first Dillashaw-Barao fight was not a case of Dillashaw running hot or Barao running cold, but instead a changing of the guard in the bantamweight division. Dillashaw now leads the division with an FPR of +7.22, with Barao in second place at +4.34. That gap is roughly the same as the difference between Barao and 13th-place Francisco Rivera. Dillashaw got there with dominance in all six statistical categories tracked by FPR: significant strikes, knockdowns, takedowns, guard passes, submission attempts, and fight finishes.
So the numbers are pretty overwhelming in suggesting that Dillashaw’s May victory was not a fluke and that he’s on track to beat Barao again. At the same time, let’s not count out Barao here. He still has outstanding takedown defense, very good offensive kickboxing and a slick submission game. I do expect Barao to be more competitive this time around. However, I also think we’ve reached a new era in the bantamweight division – an era where Dillashaw will remain the UFC champion for quite a while.
Pick: T.J. Dillashaw by decision