Today I'll be doing something different. Phil Mackenzie, who everyone remembers from this brilliant post about BJ Penn's career, will join me in discussing our new main event. And no, this is not my bizarre impression of him in my head.
We'll preview the fight while also criticizing its very existence most likely, so please give it up for Phil first and foremost.
Do we pour a drink on the ground for Barao? Why are fighters getting so much worse at weight cutting? Or is it just the curse of August?
Phil: Well, as per Zuffa's announcement it doesn't look like the former champ is getting a do-over. They're obviously pretty mad, and whatever leverage might have gotten him this fight is gone. I think that this failure might be Barao-specific: it wouldn't be the first time someone took a shock defeat and piled on muscle to their own detriment afterwards (Chael P, Mir). He's never failed before, so something this drastic is seriously worrying. Moving up to 145 is basically putting title hopes to bed, and 135 might not be safe anymore. That's a cataclysmic fall from #1 undisputed p4p. Poor bastard.
David: I have nothing to add to this. Normally this would be a Dana White LOUD NOISES overraction, but since the rematch has never justified to begin with, I don't have a problem with this. I wouldn't be surprised to see him move up, especially if Jose Aldo decides to go to Lightweight.
So Joe Soto is an interesting guy. For those that don't know, he was a Bellator Featherweight champ who lost his title in the worst way: battering Joe Warren to near death only to get knocked out in the second round. Is he more than the sum of Joe Warren's comeback?
Phil: Soto has actually probably improved his game since losing to Warren, but that is still a pretty damning loss. The problem isn't so much that he got knocked out (this is MMA after all, and Gus Johnson has educated us about its vagaries), it's that he couldn't put Warren away, which has proven to be... Doable. 25 minutes with the champ bodes ill for Soto. If he does win, I think this might be the only upset to eclipse Serra-GSP, and I didn't even think that was possible in the modern UFC. Hooray for 177! Also, if he does, do you think this confirms that Warren is indeed The Baddest Man On The Planet?
David: To be fair, that was such a monumental beatdown, I'd argue that Soto laid the groundwork for Warren to be more easily finished (along with Patricio Freire). That's how good Soto is, and that's why he's got a serious chance this weekend. Damnit, where did my Zuffa check go?
Soto actually trained with the Alpha Male guys not too long ago, so he's been "sleeping with the enemy" so to awkwardly speak. If Soto were to win, what type of sinister behavior would be required in order for him to have the advantage come fight time?
Phil: Nothing short of lacing one of their incessant genitalia-themed cakes with powerful sedatives.
David: Don't remind me. I never noticed the smiley face near the epididymis, by the way.
But seriously, he is a pretty good boxer. Will this matter at all against Dillashaw?
Phil: TJ isn't actually a style nightmare for the challenger. Soto is reasonably patient and comes forward with a high guard. His losses came from getting blitzed by phonebooth brawlers, which Dillashaw is not. It's possible that Soto can replicate one or two of the things which Rafael Assuncao used to defeat the champ. That said, Soto is too linear in his approach to really trouble TJ, one of the most laterally nimble fighters out there. Add in big differentials in power, distance control, Dillashaw is probably even the better wrestler, and that Soto is utterly unused to this level of competition and you have a recipe for an utter mollywhopping which probably doesn't leave the second round, if that.
That said, I've been thinking about how this affects Dillashaw's brand: I think the negative media attention around The Worst Card Ever might actually help him in the future. It's just a little touch of weirdness that he needed to become more interesting. Thoughts?
Regardless, the attention certainly won't help the PPV buys. It's all gone from just plain mediocre to vaguely hypnotic train wreck. I'm fascinated to see how Rogan sells this one on FS1 before the PPV starts.
David: I don't think Rogan needs to spin anything. I suspect he'll be just stoned enough to be sincerely fascinated by the PPV, and emphasize the point that if something so weird could happen outside of the cage, why wouldn't something equally weird happen within it? I.e. Joe Soto scoring the historical upset, and every fight before it lasting only one round.
That's an interesting thought regarding TJ's brand. If he was on a card that could sell in the first place, like being the co-main to Jones vs. Cormier, yes. Instead he's the main event, so no one knew to begin with.
As for the actual bout, I think too much stock gets placed into Soto's only two losses back in 2010 and 2011. He's only 27 years old and just now getting in some quality training. The reason I have a hard time playing devil's advocate and can't get past his (I'd argue even worse than Warren) brutal loss to Eddie Yagin, is his lack of movement. As you pointed out, his attack is too linear, and he's up against probably the best phase shifter in the sport. Maybe Demetrious Johnson is better, but T.J. Dillashaw shifts just a little more violently and explosively.
Soto has this really bad habit of moving straight back and covering his head. Which means I can't think of a worse way to defend against TJ's attack. The only caveat here is that training at Alpha Male may have unlocked some previously unseen potential. Soto is the perfect vehicle, physique wise, to fight the Alpha Male style. With enough changes, he could get blisteringly finished in the second round instead of the first.
Prediction: TJ Dillashaw by unmitigated disaster.