So who saw that coming? T.J. Dillashaw came into his UFC bantamweight title fight as a massive underdog to Renan Barao, who UFC president Dana White was touting as the latest top P4P guy in the sport. What did Dillashaw do with the opportunity? He went out and completely dominated Barao for their entire fight. He almost finished him in the first and completely outstruck him for the next three rounds to take a big lead. He could have cruised to the finish and the title if he wanted to.
But he didn't.
Instead, he clubbed Barao with a head kick and some huge punches until referee Herb Dean stopped the fight in the fifth round (only the sixth 5th round stoppage in UFC history) and awarded him the UFC bantamweight title. It was an absolutely masterful performance from Dillashaw, and finally gave Team Alpha Male the belt they've tried and tried to get but kept coming up short.
Dillashaw looked so much better than I've ever seen him before - his striking was totally on point, and he was cutting angles like Dominick Cruz. It was simply amazing. Speaking of Cruz, he could very well be the guy across from Dillashaw in his first title defense and when you throw in the whole Urijah Faber storyline with Cruz, how is that not something you'd want to see?
Here's some thoughts on the rest of the card.
- Daniel Cormier is a bad man. I actually didn't find the bout with Dan Henderson very entertaining through the first two rounds but it was obvious that he was the bigger, stronger, and even faster fighter. He really came out and turned it up in the third though, tossing Hendo around like it was a WWE match and just crushing his way into a rear naked choke submission win. The winner of the Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson fight has to be next for Cormier - I mean, who else do you want to see him fight? I don't think anyone can really give him a run for his money right now.
- Dan Henderson isn't retiring, and I'm completely okay with that. Hendo back at middleweight would be very interesting if he doesn't have cardio issues there like he has in the past. But if it wasn't obvious what TRT did before, I think it should be now.
- I really didn't like the commentating for the Robbie Lawler vs. Jake Ellenberger fight. Yes, Lawler did hurt Ellenberger early and he was gunshy for the rest of the first. But Ellenberger landed some good shots in the second and they were completely ignored by Joe Rogan, who was pushing one of his narratives a little too hard once again. Unfortunately for Ellenberger, when he finally got it going he appeared to break his hand and then took a punch in the eye. It was a good performance from Lawler, but not the barnburner that many expected.
- Takeya Mizugaki and Francisco Rivera was a tale of two fights - about half of it was a pretty damn good brawl, but the other half was Rivera stuck underneath Mizugaki and not really doing much of anything in terms of trying to get up. Mizugaki showed some surprising power and suddenly he could be within reach of a title shot. After alternating wins and losses for so long in the WEC and UFC, it's cool to see. We all want to talk about Matt Brown and his career resurgence, but Mizugaki deserves a lot of props as well for the same thing.
- How many fighters dropped for ill-advised guillotines tonight? I counted at least three, maybe four. How many guillotine finishes did we see? None. Yeah.
- In the first fight on the main card, Jamie Varner showed so much more heart than he did back in the WEC days when he fought on a broken ankle for almost a whole round. Despite going down a bunch of times because of the injury, he kept getting back up and trying to get back into the fight. Props to him for that, and for not being so stubborn as to try and play off an obvious major injury just to keep going further than that. As for James Krause, his UFC run has been pretty strange so far but it was a big win for him.
- Michael Chiesa's top game is pretty stifling. Francisco Trinaldo isn't a bad grappler and he was completely controlled by the TUF winner in losing a unanimous decision. Two judges had it 30-26, which makes sense and it's good to see a 10-8 here and there despite Chiesa not being super close to getting a finish.
- Katsunori Kikuno got destroyed by Tony Ferguson. There's no other real way to put it. He came out and landed a couple of shots that got El Cucuy's attention, and it was all downhill from there. I still don't understand how the finish was a TKO though - he dropped him with one shot and didn't follow up, and it was clear that Kikuno was out on the way down. I'll never understand the weird designation between TKO and KO in MMA though. It's just so random.
- Can someone tell Bruce Buffer that It's not El Koo Koo Eee please?
- On a side note, there was some truly awful entrance music tonight. And as Zane Simon said, when I'm making fun of music choices, that means it must be really bad.
- Chris Holdsworth looks like a pretty interesting prospect. Chico Camus was 3-1 in the UFC coming into this fight and he was totally dominated other than a couple of big punches. Holdworth's size and grappling ability will make it a difficult night for a lot of 135ers. If he can learn how to fight tall as well, he could be a future threat.
- Al Iaquinta was totally dominating Mitch Clarke...and then he wasn't. That D'Arce choke was the nicest sub I've seen in a while and he put Iaquinta completely out. It was the only time in the whole fight where Matt Serra stopped yelling. Good work by referee Jason Herzog there too, seeing that Iaquinta was out and getting Clarke off of him quickly.
- Vinc Pichel got off to a cheaty kind of start with an eyepoke and a groin shot, but he was in complete control of his bout with Anthony Njokuani from bell to bell. He scored takedown after takedown, some of them via the good old suplex, and he basically just ragdolled the former WEC fighter in a dominating performance. That didn't go the way I thought it would at all.
- Brian Phillips showed off a game that could be impressive one day, but he had no answer for Sam Sicilia's pressure game and takedowns. The bout was highlighted by a second round that saw more reversals than a political campaign and it turned out to be a lot of fun. Sicilia was in control most of the time other than that though, and the Spokane native may have saved his job with the W.
- The promo video for the next event is kind of annoying. This is madness! This is madness! This is repetitive!
- In the opener, Jingliang Li and David Michaud engaged in a back-and-forth battle that saw Li close strong due to having a superior gas tank. If Michaud wouldn't have gone for a late guillotine (the first one of the night) and instead controlled position, he might have got his hand raised. Alas, it was not to be and the Chinese fighter picked up his first UFC win instead.