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UFC 173: Renan Barao vs. TJ Dillashaw Preview and the Prognostication

Renan Barao defends his title against TJ Dillashaw at the MGM Grand in Vegas. Can Team Alpha Male finally rid itself of its title fight curse, or will Renan do what he's always done, which is win.

Photo by Esther Lin of MMA Fighting

Renan Barao vs. TJ Dillawshaw Bantamweight

Sweet! I've got my tickets, and facepaint for the only fighter in history to be undefeated since Nixon.

Yea, those numbers from Dana White are a bit fudged.

I watched that vlog. Dana impressed me. I'm not sure why Ben Fowlkes doesn't realize how good Renan Barao is.

The funny thing about this modest controversy is that Dana is doing a very laudable thing. He's basically trying to quantify Barao's talents in a very advanced stats like way.

I didn't watch Moneyball.

I don't know that prizefighting will ever have to deal with something even approximating sabermetrics. Although Paul Gift's work is certainly a step in the right direction.

But I do know that the absolute worst thing that could be happen is that we'll understand the sport better. As someone who follows hockey and goes to great lengths to remind BE readers, watching old journalists desperately scramble to keep their archaic mantras about grit and toughness in the face of stats precepts, like Corsi and Fenwick, is very enjoyable if not cathartic.

So I really enjoyed the cut of Dana's jib. The problem is that his response revealed everything wrong with their promotional model heading into the future. By inundating the market with events, the echo of each prizefighter's labor is disappearing into the ether.

You're overreacting. Just how good is Barao?

One of the best.

The problem with Barao is that he's fighting in a division that figured out its hierarchy by accident. Dominick Cruz ruled the division by figuring out how to incorporate the macarena into his fight plan, and we haven't heard from his kneecaps ever since.

We know he's great. But just how great is the question. After all, longevity is the true mark of a great champion, and Barao has 3 defenses to his name after the division lost its actual champion.

We haven't even talked about Dillashaw at +580.

TJ is an interesting fighter. He looked awesome on TUF, but his talent crumbled under the weight of John Dodson's fists, and people just assumed that anyone who can't win TUF must be worthless.

Enter Duane Ludwig.

Our resident striking expert, Connor Ruebusch, has broken down TJ's progression from pup to professional. Even though Dillashaw is 28, and thus out of the realm of prospect status, he's a late bloomer.

+580 is a crazy number, so go nuts.

The thing that makes Dillashaw a threat is his ability to chain strategies from one to the next. Analysts talk about this concept all the time; 'phase shifting'. TJ is a great representation of that. He competes in a world where a punch doesn't have to be followed up by another string of punches and a kick doesn't have to be something you do to establish distance. Every move is a means to an end, and TJ instinctually understands the fight process.

The KO over Issei Timura is one of the more violent examples of his ability.

I'm looking through Paul's tweets. Seems like a smart dude. These two stats stand out at me: Dillashaw has been on his back for only 9 seconds, and in the 20 minutes of time he's spent on the ground, 99% of it has been in top control!

I told you.

More than MMAth, this tells us a lot about what to expect from the fight. Even better, these numbers can improve over time to take into account quality of competition, among other things.

So just what can we expect?

For as good as Dillashaw is in mixing headkicks into his punch combinations, and punch combinations into his takedowns, he's still a fighter with a wide open style that would leave even the most granite-chinned vulnerable.

Connor's breakdown is excellent, and his analysis is correct. TJ is measuring range in ways he wasn't capable of just a couple of years ago. Not only is he doing it with high impact strikes, but fundamentals that weren't there now exist. However, his fight with Raphael Assuncao wasn't that long ago.

Other than a solid first round that saw him win the grappling exchanges, he was picked apart on the feet with good, no nonsense counter striking. This comes from TJ's inability to pressure with offense that isn't overemphatic. Dillashaw wants to move forward with conviction, but sometimes you can afford to be wishy washy.

Will this set the stage for a wild exchange Barao is himself capable of?

Connor seems to think this is one of the gaps in Barao's armor in his great breakdown from the other day. I disagree, though, with the notion that Barao is prone to them. He used to, for sure, as our own Patrick Wyman pointed out in immense detail.

But not lately. Old habits die hard, sure, but we haven't seen much of the whirling dervish. The only time he got crazy was against Brad Pickett, but that looks like a complete anomaly in the context of his Zuffa career. In addition, Pickett's style was bred for these exchanges. TJ won't bring the same sound and fury.

And this brings me back to the Assuncao fight. Barao is a perfectly capable counterpuncher. This is something Dillashaw hasn't shown himself to be adept at dealing with. Barao accomplishes so much on the feet by bringing with him a diverse array of kicks and punches. I'd concede that Assuncao'x boxing is a little tighter, but Barao is quicker and will be able to get to Dillashaw's chin all the same.

If anything, I feel like TJ's best weapon is the uppercut. Barao has a tendency to lean in with some of his strikes, dipping his head down in the process. The fight is pretty competitive on paper. In practice, will be every bit as much.

One of the x factors going into this bout is Team Alpha Male's record in title fights. The math is pretty simple. Has anyone from TAM ever won UFC gold? And have they had their fair share of shots at gold? Exactly.

It's one of those stats that indicates nothing, and yet it feels reasonable to suspect that perhaps the guys on the team feel like their strategies need to change in title fights as if they shouldn't go to the dance with what brought them. Tough to predict, but I'll go with the champ.

Renan Barao via Decision.

Here's Bloody Elbow's Dallas Winston, Kid Nate and Connor Ruebusch analyzing the match up from this week's Vivisection: