As has become the norm in UFC competition, UFC 173, the annual Memorial Day Weekend event, is not going exactly as originally scheduled. After the card changed multiple times due to injuries and the prohibition of testosterone-replacement therapy, a new headline fight arose that has grudge match written all over it.

UFC bantamweight champ Renan Barao quietly entered the Zuffa mix after going 23-1-1 as a pro fighter in Brazil. He started off at 2-0 in WEC action, with submissions of Anthony Leone and Chris Cariaso, before entering the UFC after the merger. After a 3-0 run in the UFC, he stepped in to fight Urijah Faber for the interim bantamweight strap, because Dominick Cruz was sidelined with injury. A win over Faber thrust the 27-year-old Brazilian into the spotlight, and he has continued to tear through the competition.

Now at 32-1-1, with his only loss coming via decision in his very first pro fight, Barao is the undisputed UFC bantamweight champ. He has gone 7-0 in the promotion, and took out Faber again with a TKO in their rematch in February. With 14 submissions and eight knockouts on his record, Barao is now considered one of the top three pound-for-pound fighters in the world, and he will be defending his belt again this Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.

Facing Barao will be Faber’s teammate and a finalist from season 14 of The Ultimate Fighter, T.J. Dillashaw.

Dillashaw is a former NCAA Division I wrestling standout from Cal State Fullerton who is currently ranked as the No. 5 bantamweight in the UFC. The 28-year-old is a well-rounded fighter in his own right, taking three wins by submission and three by knockout in his young, four-year pro career. Having seen Barao beat his teammate and Team Alpha Male patriarch twice now, Dillashaw certainly wants that win even more than ever.

Having not lost in nine years, Barao has been remarkable. His last three wins were all stoppages over veterans Eddie Wineland, Michael McDonald and Faber. Dillashaw is coming in after a decision victory over Mike Easton in January. Barao’s original opponent was Rapahel Assuncao, who beat Dillashaw in October, but a prior injury left him without a sufficient amount of time to train. The California wrestler gladly accepted the chance to fight in Assuncao’s place and challenge for the strap.

Let’s take a deeper look at the match-up, and as a reminder, this is a side-by-side comparison of how the fighters’ skills match up against one another using similar scoring to the unified rules.

Striking: Barao  10, Dillashaw  9

Barao has been a mixed martial artist a lot longer than Dillashaw—five years longer, to be exact—and trains with UFC featherweight champ Jose Aldo at Nova Uniao. With nine knockouts, including two in his last two fights, his striking speaks for itself. Barao is fast, powerful and has a four-inch reach advantage. To make matters worse, he utilizes a lot of those crazy punch-kick combos that Aldo has showcased time and time again, and Barao also has a dangerous swarm when he smells blood in the water.

Dillashaw’s striking has gotten better with every camp. With the added benefit of Duane Ludwig on their coaching staff, all of the Team Alpha Male fighters experienced significant improvement in the last year. However, Dillashaw didn’t really do much striking until starting his MMA career, so he has a disadvantage in time spent training in this fighting modality. Dillashaw’s biggest advantage is in the accuracy of his strikes, which translates into more strikes landed per minute. He has good movement, which will create a constantly moving target for Barao.

Dillashaw’s striking is constantly evolving, and he has a great camp behind him. However, Barao has a lot more experience and the reach advantage, giving him the edge in this department.

Submission Grappling: Barao  10, Dillashaw  9

Team Alpha Male is a camp that’s chock-full of great grapplers, and Dillashaw is no exception to the rule. However, Barao is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and he has 14 submissions in his pro MMA career.

On the ground, Dillashaw is the superior scrambler in this contest, primarily due to his wrestling background. The Californian has never been submitted, but he’s only fought a couple guys that have anywhere near the grappling prowess of Barao. Barao is one of the hardest guys to keep down, unless he wants to be there. If he wants to be there, it’s only because his opponent is about to lose.

It’s not the basic choke attempts that Dillashaw needs to worry about, unless he’s hurt, but it’s more the leg locks and armbars that Barao is proficient at that may catch the wrestler off-guard. Dillashaw throws a lot more submission attempts per fight, but that may not be the case in this match-up. The best thing he has going for him is his defense.

Neither of these guys have been tapped out in their careers, but Barao has the clear advantage in submission grappling due to his formal training.

Wrestling: Barao  9, Dillashaw  10

Striking and submission grappling are the two main aspects of mixed martial arts, because that’s where the finishes happen. But a good finish always follows an even better setup. Dillahsaw’s wrestling is far superior to Barao’s wrestling, and that’s where setups come from. Dillashaw may have a tough time in the clinch because Barao is strong and long, but NCAA Division I experience is nothing to scoff at.

Dillashaw has yet to be taken down in the Octagon and scores more takedowns. Even though Barao has hardly ever been taken down himself, Dillashaw’s execution is practically flawless. The match-up for positioning on the ground is a little more closely contested, but the former TUF finalist has seen it all, spending his whole life wrestling.

Wrestling can win or lose a fight, and Dillashaw is the better of the two.

Stamina: Barao  10, Dillashaw  10

Having both gone to decision multiple times, Barao and Dillashaw are total grinders. Some could argue that Barao, having gone four and five rounds in the past, has a slight advantage, but fans have yet to see a high-level wrestler truly gas out even in the toughest battles. Plus, the Team Alpha Male fighters are known for having deep gas tanks, as are the Brazilians, some of who started out very poor and had to spend a lot of time training hard with little sustenance in their bellies. If this one goes the distance, it will be an all-out war to the bitter end.

Speed: Barao  10, Dillashaw  10

As is the case with most of the lighter-weight fighters, both of these guys are speed demons. There are occasional top guys in the lighter divisions who can work patiently and grind out decisions, but Barao and Dillashaw are always looking for a finish. Their takedowns are quick, their punches come off like lightning bolts, and they don’t waste any time in the clinches or scrambles.

X-factor

When a fighter has essentially never been beaten, that’s always going to be a huge x-factor. It’s a status, a mentality, that doesn’t last forever, but it’s a big one for an opponent to overcome. In the case of Barao, it’s not like he’s 9-0. Since his only loss, a decision in his very first pro fight nine years ago, he has beaten 32 guys in a row with a lone no-contest stuck in the middle of his early days. Under the Zuffa banner, he has finished six of nine opponents, so he’s not exactly skating to victory on points. Every fight is different, even after 34 of them, and Dillashaw will arguably be his toughest opponent yet, but Barao has never been stopped. This will be the 800-pound gorilla in the room come Saturday night.

Total: Barao – 49, Dillashaw – 48

Verdict: If there is one thing that Dillashaw should have learned from watching Faber fight Barao, it’s that you can’t get hurt, even if for only a second. Faber’s stoppage in his last battle was too early, as he clearly was nowhere near out of that fight. However, Barao made it look like a convincing victory just long enough to get the ref to call it, and that’s what Dillashaw needs to avoid. Unfortunately, that’s only one coaching item on a very long checklist.

Chances are the Brazilian is going to come out white-hot, put a lot of pressure on the less-experienced fighter, and put an end to this one somewhere in the middle rounds. With a couple exceptions to the rule, Barao isn’t a guy that finishes all of his fights early. He works his opponents, keeps them guessing and eventually scores a finish when least expected, as happened in February. He trains with the best featherweight in the world, who also happens to be a top-three guy himself, and that’s a tough training regimen to mimic, even with the world-class stable at Team Alpha Male.

Fans will likely see the best striking yet out of Dillashaw, but that might lead to a false sense of confidence that will get him caught, leading to a Barao victory by TKO by the end of the third round.

About The Author

Dan Kuhl
Interview Coordinator