When we last left our heroes...Team Alpha Male is an interesting academy that produces nothing but bridesmaids, and never a bride. These guys all understands the essence of mixed martial arts, and what makes for effective combat in the way they're able to battle in the transition, and yet nobody is able to take it to that next level.
Is Dillashaw the potential exception? Of course not. But he's a solid fighter.
He's coming off a tough loss to Raphael Assuncao; a fighter who has quietly climbed back into the standings after some tough losses that betrayed his competitive performance against Urijah Faber at WEC 46.
Despite the loss I feel like it's a useful learning experience. Dillashaw wasn't blown out; instead he ran into a fighter who could avoid just enough chaos to take a competitive decision.
Across from him is Easton; a fighter who will forever be associated with his monumental robbery over Chase Beebe. It's an unfair fate, but I can understand the resentment since the win propelled Easton into the UFC when it should have been Beebe getting the crack at the octagon.
Easton is 0-2 in his last two, putting him at 3-2 overall in the UFC, losing those bouts to Raphael Assuncao and Brad Pickett. Can I just add how odd it is that these guys are so high up on the main card. No offense to either combatant, but why? And does Fight Pass have a Tivo like function that doesn't require the use of a credit card, social security, and DNA samples?
What both men can do: Like all Alpha Male products, Dillashaw is often rewarded for his chaotic, but calculated offense. MMA is a sport that is defined by a resentment of the old sports chestnut "defense wins championships". In part because 'offense' has so many elements in MMA. Dillashaw fights with an understanding of this.
While his boxing requires a Nu-Car smell, his striking is versatile. Especially his kicks. Watching his fight against Issei Tamura the other day, I forgot just how quick T.J. chambers his kicks high or low. Faking low and going high is also a specialty of his that opponents must always be aware of.
Movement is critical here. Dillashaw likes to sit low when striking, feigning for takedowns only to produce strikes. It's a massive advantage to have over an opponent who is not prepared, making MMA very much a massively violent form of chess.
What makes this fight interesting is that Easton is durable and tough as nails. He's a strong, sturdy wrestler who puts together quick combinations in close quarters.
What both men can't do: Easton has plenty of the tools to sit in the upper echelon on paper, but he'll always lose to specialists he can't bully. His win over Menjivar was good on paper, but the fight itself did little to mask the concerns about Easton's game.
Namely, Easton's mentality during a fight weighs heavily on the outcome. He doesn't always seem "interested", and can be content to attempt a takedown that leads to minutes of arbitrary clinching. He closes the distance well for takedowns, but doesn't seem to power through a double leg the way you expect given his speed and strength.
I think this is a competitive fight in general, but I could also see Dillashaw scoring a comfortable decision. TJ's boxing is worried about power punchers and counter strikers. Easton is neither (though he's strong on the feet I wouldn't describe his punches as face melting or anything). I see TJ landing lots of kicks, and avoiding Easton's offense for the duration. Don't expect a firefight the way Easton fought Pickett. Dillashaw won't oblige him, despite the talk of "conservative gameplans".
X-Factor: The clinch. This gets ugly if we end up with a patient ref overseeing two fighters who look to do battle here. I don't expect it to happen because I think Dillashaw does a great job of timing his takedowns off strikes, but Easton is a bull, so if he defends most double legs and kneetaps and so forth...I wouldn't be surprised if this turned into a Bantamweight version of Tim Sylvia vs. Brandon Vera (there's a nightmare worth never remembering).
In-Fight Soundtrack: Gnarls Barkley (this is in reference to what the division thinks, so no harm meant).
Prediction: T.J. Dillashaw by Decision.