UFC Fight Night 29: Maia vs. Shields will see the main card kick off, live from Barueri, Brazil on Friday, October 9th with a fight between bantamweights T.J. Dillashaw and Raphael Assuncao. Assuncao and Dillashaw are meeting at the crossroads of bantamweight title contention. Assuncao (20-4) enters this fight on a four bout unbeaten streak that has seen him take strong decisions over Johnny Eduardo and Mike Easton and stoppages over Issei Tamura and Vaughan Lee. His only losses under the Zuffa banner have come at featherweight and all to highly regarded competition. Dillashaw (8-1) is also on a four fight streak with a decision over Walel Watson and stoppages of Vaughan Lee, Issei Tamura and Hugo Viana. The winner of this fight will put themselves right in the tile picture at 135 lbs.
I don't know if some sort of switch got flipped for Assuncao after his fight with Johnny Eduardo back in 2011, but recently he has been on a tear. His striking, once servicable, but not especially noteworthy, has become crisp, precise, and lighting fast. His Jiu Jitsu skills, which have always been formidable, appear to still be on point as his slick armbar of Vaughan Lee showed in his last fight. But his ability to box up Mike Easton with a broken arm and cruise by Lee show that he's really hitting the peak of his career.
It's far too early to say the same of team Alpha Male product T.J. Dillashaw who has only been competing in MMA since 2010, but Dillashaw has showed all the potential to be a special fighter at bantamweight. Starting as a serviceable wrestle-boxer on the Ultimate Fighter Dillashaw used his natural athleticism, more than anything else, to get himself to the show's finale where he lost to John Dodson. It was a somewhat contentious stoppage, but rather than slowing the young fighter, the loss appears to have lit a fire under him to completely overwhelm every opponent he faces. Add on to that a newly evolved striking arsenal courtesy of Duane Ludwig, and Dillashaw has shown himself to be a contender in the making.
The question, of course, is then: How far along is he? Can the T.J. Dillashaw of today defeat best possible version of Raphael Assuncao. I'm not entirely sure. Dillashaw eventually blasted Hugo Viana out of the water, but he got surprised a bit early by the Brazilian's power. Assuncao may not be KO machine, but he may have more control of his overall game at just this moment. If he does, if he can hit Dillashaw early and stay on him, he has the ability to take this fight. Honestly though, I think Dillashaw's potential for fight to fight growth is just too high right now.
The perambulations of a decapitated chicken have led me to pick T.J. Dillashaw by TKO.
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