Before UFC 173 we heard plenty of Joe Rogan calling Renan Barao a “Monster.” How Barao was in the discussion with Jon Jones and Barao’s Nova Uniao teammate Jose Aldo as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the UFC. They were both valid points. Barao had destroyed most of his opponents, including three straight title defenses via a stoppage with two TKO’s and a submission. Those kind of wins put a fighter in the ‘best of the best’ types of discussions.
That was entering into UFC 173, and many people thought those discussions would continue afterwards. Instead, T.J. Dillashaw happened. In an upset few saw coming (my best call of the year so far) Dillashaw not only dethroned the champ; his dominant win killed off fans enthusiasm for a rematch. It would seem logical that when a champion like Barao suffers his first loss since his MMA debut and for the first time in nine years that people would want to see a rematch against the guy who beat him.
Instead, it seems like the only people who really want this fight to happen are Barao, his camp, and the UFC. Many people were expecting Dillashaw to face Raphael Assuncao as his first title defense. It was Assuncao who had defeated Dillashaw via a controversial split-decision last October. It was a fight that should have probably gone to Dillashaw, but was a close one. Close enough to warrant a rematch and certainly closer than the first Barao fight. Many people wanted to see that rematch instead of one with Barao. The UFC felt otherwise based on his past destruction of his opponents.
Shocking dominance from Dillashaw
A future champion has been attached to Dillashaw since his days on TUF. Coming from Team Alpha Male he has been surrounded by some of the best training partners in the world, including team leader Urijah Faber. Who has always predicted big things from Dillashaw. Nobody expected this, not even the people who thought Dillashaw could win predicted such sheer domination by him.
Part of the reason that many people are not that excited about the rematch is that it looks similar to Frankie Edgar and B.J. Penn. Going into that fight, Edgar was the underdog and he took a tough five round UD. Then in the rematch, he easily took another UD and Dillashaw did not just take a tough fight, he destroyed Barao in getting the TKO win.
It is easy to think that the second fight will be even more one-sided based on past events, but that is not how MMA works. Penn was at a different point in his career when he faced Edgar than Barao is right now. The Edgar fight was the start of Penn’s slide. Including that fight, he would go 1-6 over his last seven fights losing two more times to Edgar. His lone win came against another aging legend Matt Hughes.
Barao is still in his prime, he is actually one year younger than Dillashaw, and it is very doubtful he will go 1-6 at anytime in his career. We have not seen what kind of adjustments he can make after a loss and he will have to make some. If he does not then expect another night of Dillashaw destruction. If Barao does not have a plan to deal with Dillashaw’s movement then he will fall short again.
The other big difference between their fight and the Penn/Edgar one is just how easily Dillashaw won. He out struck Barao in every single round and finished with a 140 significant strikes to Barao’s 64. That margin of difference along with the two knockdowns and the TKO finish show just how in control Dillashaw was throughout the fight. It was not the case of a lucky shot getting through. Rather, it was a methodical victory by Dillashaw who patiently picked Barao apart.
Learning from the enemy Dillashaw channels Bruce Lee
Right now one of the best rivalries in the lower weight classes in the UFC is between Team Alpha Male and Nova Uniao. Dillashaw became the first fighter from Team Alpha Male to emerge victorious against Nova Uniao in a UFC title fight. This of course increased the intensity between these two teams and it has spilled over into the Jose Aldo and Chad Mendes rematch. They have taken shots at each other while Barao and Dillashaw have been relatively calm.
If there was one fighter that would be considered the enemy of Team Alpha Male leader Urijah Faber though it would be Dominick Cruz. They are 1-1 against each other. Faber struck first defeating Cruz back at WEC 26 in 2007. It would be Cruz who would get the sweeter victory in his revenge when he defeated Faber at UFC 132 and became the UFC’s first bantamweight champion. Both Faber and Cruz have made it clear that they enjoy punching each other a lot.
Now after Dillashaw won the title it was pointed out by many that he was not in EA Sports new UFC game as a playable character. Some were upset that Bruce Lee was in the game but Dillashaw was not. That has since been corrected as Dillashaw was added to the game. He has also displayed some of the ideas of Lee in his evolving fight style by drawing from many styles and using what works for him. This has resulted in Dillashaw becoming a complete well-rounded mixed-martial artist.
For his fight with Barao he utilized a very movement based game plan similar to Cruz, one that was predicated on creating effective striking angles for himself and avoiding Barao’s power. After the fight he referenced Cruz as being the inspiration for the game plan and that he had always felt that it was the perfect one counter to Barao’s style. He proved that theory with his win.
To be able to execute such a game plan so effectively speaks to the development Dillashaw has shown since losing the TUF 14 finale to John Dodson. That version of T.J. Dillashaw would not have gotten KO’d in the first round by Barao,
Chin up, hands down
In the TUF finale, Dillashaw came straight forward with his chin up and hands down and got caught cleanly by a retreating Dodson. Once Dillashaw was rocked, Dodson quickly got the finish. It was very basic footwork and movement from Dillashaw. The only effective striking angle he created was for Dodson who used it to get the win.
In his next fight in the UFC, Dillashaw went back to his wrestling roots and used some strong grappling mixed with some ground-and-pound to take an easy three round UD over a tough Walel Watson. He continued his strong grappling in his next fight by taking out Vaughn Lee via a RNC. At this point, Dillashaw looked like another talented fighter with a bright future but certainly not one poised to become champion.
It is his next fight with Issel Tamura that we start to see a different Dillashaw. In this one he started to put everything together, mixing in his striking to augment his grappling. The footwork in this fight was much sharper and immediately one big difference that jumped out was his hands. They were being held nice and high instead of down by his waist. This was very different from his previous fights in the UFC. There was a very good reason for this change.
The Bang Effect
The Tamura fight was Dillashaw’s first one working with Duane “Bang” Ludwig who had started working with Team Alpha Male earlier in 2013. Ludwig brought his Muay Thai striking and MMA expertise to Team Alpha Male and no fighter flourished more than Dillashaw under Ludwig’s tutelage. The effects were seen immediately in this fight with Tamura.
Not only were his hands held higher but he also was no longer charging straight in. Instead, Dillashaw was working angles and creating openings for himself and not his opponent. We also saw early on in the opening round Dillashaw worked a jab, jab, left-hook and right inside leg kick combination. A much more complex combo than he had thrown in his previous fights.
There were also fakes and feints being thrown by Dillashaw. Not just punches and kicks but also takedown attempts. One moment he faked a lead uppercut into a faked shot on a takedown only to follow it up with a takedown. It was a great example of how to put together the grappling and striking to create a difficult to defend attack. Just a few minutes into the fight and Tamura had to be concerned with Dillashaw’s much sharper striking skills as well as the world-class grappling ones. Suddenly he is a much more dangerous opponent.
We saw just how dangerous in the second round as a head kick sent Tamura down to the canvas and quickly finished the fight. The kick came disguised as a takedown that had Tamura ducking down to stop it and brought him right into the strike. It was a beautiful piece of work from Dillashaw and really showcased the work he had been doing with Ludwig.
That work just continued in his next fight against Hugo Viana. This time Dillashaw got the first round TKO win. It started with another head kick. This one just glanced off of Viana’s head. In the immediate scramble right after the kick Viana found himself wide open to a hard right hand from Dillashaw that rocked him. Instead of rushing recklessly, Dillashaw stalked Viana and finished him with a flurry of punches.
A slight bump on the championship road
Just when Dillashaw was rolling along then comes Rafael Assuncao and the judges. When you re-watch this fight it is easy to see why Dillashaw wanted this rematch more than another fight with Barao. It is really hard to fathom the judges scoring any round other than the second for Assuncao. It was a close fight but one that Dillashaw seemed to win except on two judges scorecards.
Once again, Dillashaw displayed the movement, footwork and all around ability. He became the first fighter to take Assuncao down in the UFC doing it twice in that fight going 2-4 to Assuncao’s 0-6 in that department. Dillashaw also secured three submission attempts to Assuncao’s one and they were almost even in the striking while Dillashaw was awarded three minutes of octagon control to Assuncao’s 19 seconds.
Despite the SD loss it was not a bad performance by Dillashaw. The decision could and probably should have went to him. More than anything else the loss put him behind Assuncao in the title picture and it looked he would not be getting a shot anytime soon. What he did next showed some championship traits.
The mental side is one of the hardest to observe and evaluate from a distance. Dillashaw had shown some mental strength by coming back to win four in a row after the KO loss to Dodson. A loss like that is easier to justify sometimes for a fighter. It is easy to say that you just got caught while being a little lax with your defense but the one to Assuncao had to sting more. It all also derailed the moment he had built up with the four wins. A win over Assuncao and he could have found himself fighting for a title.
Instead of ranting and raving on social media blaming the judges or just getting down on himself Dillashaw did what champions do in tough times. He regrouped, evaluated his performance, went out and focused on fixing his mistakes. It showed a lot of maturity and understanding of the fight game.
In that next fight against Mike Easton it was the best Dillashaw we had seen yet in the octagon. Everything was on point: the striking, the grappling and the execution of a great game plan. It was just like the loss never happened and again the future title talk started to resurface. Team leader Faber mentioned Dillashaw as a worthy contender right after Faber lossed to Barao.
The slippery slope of title shots
It looked like Dillashaw was at least one fight away from a title shot at that point. The talk after Barao defeated Faber was about Assuncao deserving the next shot. It was hard to argue against him. With a six fight winning streak and a record of 9-3 overall in the UFC, Assuncao did deserve the next shot. The UFC agreed and offered him the fight but he had to decline it due to a slow healing rib injury he suffered in his win over Pedro Munhoz.
This next logical choice was Dillashaw, who quickly accepted it. Suddenly the future was now for Dillashaw and his title shot. The question for many was whether or not he was ready for it? He answered that one emphatically. Before we look at that fight though let’s look a little closer at Barao.
The Monster: The WEC days
Barao dropped his first professional fight and then went on a five-year winning streak going. He entered the WEC with a 23-1-1 NC overall record. The winning streak continued another four years as Barao went 9-0 for Zuffa before losing his belt to Dillashaw.
Despite the impressive winning streak, Barao was overshadowed by his teammate Jose Aldo. When Barao debuted at WEC 49 in 2010 Aldo was already the WEC featherweight champion and considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. This would lead to Barao being compared to Aldo during his third round submission win over Anthony Leone in his WEC debut. Having trained together, Barao showed many of the same traits as Aldo – the strong leg kicks, explosive power, all-around skill set and strong finishing instincts. It would not be the last time these two fighters were compared as they both have been dominating fighters for most of their careers.
In his next fight against Chris Cariaso at WEC 53 it was more of Barao’s ground game that was featured as he earned another submission win. This time coming in the first round.
After a couple of exchanges on their feet, a flying knee from Barao that Cariaso intercepted sent them to the ground. Barao was on top and quickly showed a strong technical ground game against a very good grappler in Cariaso. Once Barao locked in the body triangle he then methodically worked for the RNC. When Cariaso had just a brief lapse Barao quickly snaked his arm under the chin and got the tap. Up next was the UFC.
The Monster: The UFC non-title fights
Once Zuffa purchased the WEC in 2006 it was immediately expected that they would just absorb them into the UFC. That finally was finally announced in the fall of 2010 bringing the lower weight classes into the UFC in 2011. This brought some of the more exciting fighters like Aldo and Barao.
Entering the UFC, Barao had momentum but was not in the bantamweight title picture. That was filled with Faber, Dominick Cruz and others. Both of them had made the move down to bantamweight which suited the two fighters much better.
Barao got another debuting fighter in Cole Escovedo for his first UFC fight. Escovedo had once fought for Strikeforce, several times for DREAM and was the WEC’s first featherweight champion before losing his title to Faber at WEC 19.
Escovedo provided a tough test for Barao who displayed his still underrated wrestling skills scoring six takedowns in taking a UD. Often striking his way to the inside and then getting the takedown from there. On the ground he was able to score some ground-and-pound while shutting down Escovedo’s submission attempts.
It was a very patient and methodical win from Barao. One in which he was tested several times by Escovedo who rocked him in the second round. Barao got the takedown and recovered on the ground. In the standup, Escovedo did show that effective movement would give Barao some trouble. It was simple for Barao to negate it in this fight by just taking down Escovedo whenever he wanted. This was aided by Escovedo’s willingness to go to the ground including jumping guard several times in the fight.
In this fight we also saw the main weapons Barao likes to use. The low kicks, the lead left hook, the overhand right, the spinning kicks and backfists, the flying knee, and the front kicks. He also worked the body effectively with kicks and punches. He just could not put them together to get the finish in this fight. Next was a different challenge in Brad Pickett.
Pickett is known for his punching power, having good hands and a strong chin. He showed those in this fight with Barao, especially the chin. It was a classic styles make fights battle. Pickett was the perfect opponent for Barao, one that was willing to come straight forward. This allowed the longer Barao to use his reach and timing while picking Pickett apart. Pickett also almost exclusively used his hands and never attempted a takedown. This made it much easier for Barao to defend and counter him. While Barao continued to attack all levels utilizing all of his weapons as we saw with the finishing sequence.
It was a knee that rocked Pickett. Barao followed it up with a barrage of punches that continued to the ground. Somehow, Pickett survived and as he was getting back to his feet Barao spider-monkeyed his back. Once again he quickly locked in the body-triangle. Then methodically used his strikes to create an opening to get another submission win. After the fight it is the first time that we hear Joe Rogan call Barao a monster.
Emerging from Aldo’s shadow
The Pickett fight really start to establish Barao in fight fan’s eyes. While he and Aldo will be linked throughout their careers, Barao was emerging as Aldo’s equal. All that was missing was that gold belt around his waist. The win over Pickett earned him a fight with Scott Jorgensen who had gone 7-1 in his previous eights fights. The only loss was a WEC title fight to Dominick Cruz.
Jorgensen would be the strongest wrestler that Barao had faced to this point in his career the final test to see just how ready he was for that title shot. It would be a tougher test but one that Barao handled easily. Jorgensen used better footwork and movement than Pickett but not nearly enough to give Barao any trouble who quickly got the timing down in the first round.
Barao used a one-two combination throughout the fight mixing in a few outside leg kicks to punctuate several of them. We saw several spinning back kicks to the body and head, a couple of flying knees, and a variety of front kicks from Barao to completely control the distance and fight. There were enough low kicks to slow Jorgensen down as the fight progressed. Barao was also clearly the better grappler stopping Jorgensen’s takedown attempts with an almost comical ease. The only way Jorgensen could get the fight to the ground was by pulling guard in the second round. All it accomplished was him getting controlled by Barao for a couple of minutes on the ground.
It was a dominant performance by Barao and put him poised for a title shot. This win left him one more away from it. Most people thought that another victory would get him the winner of Cruz and Faber. The injury bug changed all of that.
Cruz’s knee injury gives rise to Barao’s title run
Even with his impressive winning streak Barao still had not held a title for a major organization. He had looked as advertised going 5-0 for Zuffa and never really looking in much trouble in any of the fights. He was rocked once solidly in the Escovedo fight, took several hard shots from both Pickett and Jorgensen and showed a strong chin with an ability to recover quickly.
He trained with one of the best champions in Aldo and had shown many traits of a champion. A cruel knee injury to Cruz created an opportunity for Barao. Now he was facing Faber for the UFC interim bantamweight title. Faber was an opponent that Barao was very familiar with as his teammate Aldo had defeated Faber for the WEC title back in 2010.
Faber would be a similar challenge as Jorgensen for him. Jorgensen had trained at Team Alpha Male in the past and had style like Faber’s. The big difference would be that Faber was better than Jorgensen and we saw that later when Faber submitted him in the fourth round of their fight.
The title fight between the two would be competitive but one that saw Barao in control for most of the fight. Faber was right there but Barao was slightly ahead of him consistently throughout the fight. The low kicks from Barao really played a big part in slowing Faber down continually as the fight wore on.
Once again, Faber was another opponent willing to come straight at Barao making it easy for him to use his excellent sense of timing to land his counters. Barao is not just a pure counter fighter like a Lyoto Machida either, Barao also likes to come forward often exploding with a flying knee or a spinning attack. He mixes up his attacks by using front kicks and lead left hooks.
Barao used all of those weapons to defeat the veteran Faber who had provided the blueprint for the younger generation of fighters. He was a wrestler who evolved into a well-rounded fighter. The first defense for Barao would come against one of the young fighters that Faber had inspired in the talented Michael McDonald.
The Young Gun
McDonald was one of the new generation of fighters who had grown up on MMA. He was a versatile fighter who was dangerous on his feet or on the ground. He was not a wrestler/grappler or a striker but just a fighter. One who was comfortable anywhere.
The big question was whether or not he was mentally and emotionally ready for a title fight. He was only 22 years-old going into the title fight against a guy who had last lost when McDonald was a freshman in high school. There was no doubt that McDonald at 15-1 entering the title tilt was an experienced 22 year-old fighter but Barao’s winning streak was twice as long as long as McDonald’s career.
There was no doubt about McDonald’s gameness and heart. He also provided some clues on how to beat Barao. Inside of the first minute this was already a different fight than Barao’s previous ones.
McDonald was the first opponent we see that does not rush forward and come straight at Barao. Instead he was showing patience, good footwork and movement. This actually forced Barao to be more aggressive and when he came forward it was McDonald looking to counter.
Barao’s next move was to go for the takedown. Which surprised some but when you see him get in trouble in the past it was his wrestling that he would use to get out of it. It is one of the differences between him and Aldo. Barao likes to use his grappling more while Aldo looks to pound out finishes on the ground when the fight goes there.
While Barao was successful in getting the fight to the ground you could see the trouble he was having with McDonald’s movement. We also saw that McDonald not only had a good read on Barao’s spinning back kicks, he also knew an effective way to negate them. Instead of going backwards to avoid the kick or lessen the blow, the fighter steps inside of it, this not only takes him out of the range of damage for the kick it also puts him potentially in a position to land some solid strikes.
As the round unfolded, McDonald went from just giving Barao some trouble to rocking him as he was coming in. Again, when hurt Barao went for the takedown and was able to pin McDonald against the cage and land some thudding left hands. This forced McDonald to bring up his hand and allowed Barao to unground him and land some knees.
It was a great round. One where we saw Barao struggle a little with McDonald but respond well to the challenge. It did show some chinks in Barao’s armor.
The second round was more of McDonald finding effective counters to Barao’s attacks. One such counter was the right hand to Barao’s outside low kick. Late in the round McDonald timed the kick, ate it and delivered a hard right hand that sent Barao backwards. It was a close tough round and it left you with the feeling that McDonald was in the fight and had a shot at winning it.
Not something you felt watching Barao’s other fights. Even the ones he got rocked in he quickly gained control of the fight and it was usually a case of him getting caught. In this fight it seemed like McDonald was able to create some openings for himself but he was making one mistake with his movement.
One of the things that was working for McDonald was his lateral movement but he would still often end up coming straight at Barao. He was having some success with this tactic often catching Barao off-balance. The danger is at some point Barao gets the timing down of the blitz and catches you.
This started to happen in the third round as McDonald started to slow down and fell into a pattern. He was moving less laterally and setting down more before the blitz. Barao started to get the timing down and countered him as he came in. Barao also landed a nice spinning back kick that caught McDonald on the chin and chest.
In the fourth round McDonald battled but made one mistake on the ground and Barao locked in the choke. It was just a moment but Barao seized and squeezed it like and anaconda. It was an impressive win but it showed a glimmer of hope for future opponents.
Barao back on track against Wineland
Eddie Wineland wanted to stand and trade with Barao and told everybody that before the fight. It was not a pre-fight feint or fake on his part. Wineland stood and traded with Barao. It did not go so well for him.
Actually, the first round was not bad. Wineland had some success including landing a nice hard counter right hand on a Barao inside leg kick. It did not rock Barao but it made him more selective on throwing low kicks. Wineland’s movement and footwork was not bad. The one thing that was noticeable was him sitting down a little heavy to throw his power punches. That is what lead to the TKO finish from Barao.
In the first round Wineland had a good read on when Barao was going to spin. Both times he easily avoided the attacks. In the second round he was setting down to throw and when he read the spin he could not move his feet to avoid it. Instead he ducked down making it look like he was looking for a spinning back-fist or a wheel kick. Both of which he probably would have avoided but Barao threw a spinning back kick bringing the leg straight back then up and out. This meant that Wineland ducked into the kick instead of away from it.
The kick stunned him and from there it was just a few punches on the ground for the win. The kick was a nice example of Barao’s timing. He threw it right when Wineland could not move. Barao’s ability to throw the three different spinning techniques makes it dangerous to try to avoid them with just head movement. Ducking down or moving your head back will often bring you into the strike if you guessed wrong and that is exactly what happened to Wineland.
After the fight Barao said he was ready for Cruz and that is where we seemed like we were heading towards. Cruz’s knees did not cooperate.
The rematch with Faber and the removal of the interim tag
Once again, Cruz suffered another knee injury as he was rehabbing. His last fight had been back in October of 2011. This led to the UFC removing the interim tag from Barao’s title. While it certainly sucked for Cruz it made sense. This opened the door for Faber who since losing to Barao had amassed a four fight win streak. Including his destruction of McDonald.
While Barao struggled some with McDonald it was a much easier time for Faber. It was a classic performance where Faber rocked him in the standup and then finished it with a submission on the ground. He looked poised to end his UFC title drought going into the rematch with Barao. It was not his night, nor was Herb Dean’s.
Faber looked good to start the fight utilizing some excellent movement which included him switching stances frequently. What happened next was another example of Barao’s timing and finishing instinct with an unfortunate early stoppage.
The first round was going back and forth with both fighters landing some good shots. Barao changed that with a perfectly timed right hand that came as Faber lifted his left leg to move leaving him off-balance when the strike landed. The punch rocked him and Barao effectively swarmed in. Faber, showing his classic resiliency and heart, was fighting back. He was able to land a nice left, right combo in the scrambles. Barao also has a strong chin. He ate them and kept the pressure on and rocked Faber again with an overhand right.
That punch sent him down and Barao followed. Faber gave the thumbs up as Barao hit him with little punches that Faber was blocking. Dean thought he was hurt and ended the fight. What would have happened after is just speculation. It was another win and finish for Barao. He was looking more and more like the “Monster” of the bantamweight division.
Back to Dillashaw versus Barao take one
Then Dillashaw shocked the world. There are very few moments like this in sports. Yes, there are underdogs who have pulled off big upsets. Anytime people are striking each other anybody can land that one lucky punch for the upset. Sometimes, it is just a matter of styles and timing. Buster Douglas over Mike Tyson is probably the best example of that kind of upset.
This was different. This was Dillashaw coming in with a game plan and executing it perfectly. He thoroughly dominated Barao and afterwards he referenced, on UFC Tonight, Cruz’s style and how he thought that it would work against Barao. It is a style based around technical footwork and movement. It requires athletic ability, speed and timing with a thorough understanding of the theory. Dillashaw displayed all of that coupled with his strong wrestling base.
A quick look at the coaches
This looked more like the emergence of a new champion in Dillashaw one who had no discernible weaknesses. The ones he had earlier were quickly being closed by his work with Ludwig. It was obvious that they had a special relationship. That trust and bond is a key element for a fighter and coach. It allows them to work together making them both greater as a team than they are separately.
One key element that Ludwig brings into the MMA coaching is an understanding of MMA. Many of the early coaches brought their striking expertise from their respective backgrounds. Some of their techniques will work in MMA and others do not. The element of the takedown changes the striking.
Ludwig understands that side of the sport having competed in it. His striking techniques are geared towards what will work for that fighter in the octagon against his opponent. He is obsessive over the sport and watches a ton of film to come up with the right game plan. He then drills the techniques in during training and it all comes together on fight night. The first fight with Barao being the perfect example of it all coming together.
Barao is also well coached at Nova Uniao under the guidance of Andre Pederneiras who is responsible for coaching some of the best and most effective BJJ practitioners in the UFC’s history including B.J. Penn, Barao, Thales Leites, Wagney Fabiano and Marcus Aurelio.
While Pederneiras did not have as extensive of an MMA career as Ludwig he did compete at a high level in the few fights he had. This included a UFC welterweight title fight with Pat Miletich. It is obvious that he has a strong understanding of the importance of blending the elements together.
It is one of the best traits of a Nova Uniao fighter – the all-around high level skill sets. This makes them formidable opponents with little to no weaknesses. While the BJJ is strong so is their wrestling and striking. They can often dictate where the fights take place.
This has been one of Barao’s best abilities and he uses it very well and that is to take strikers to the ground and keep grapplers standing. Everything is geared to getting the finish. It is up to him to make some adjustments for the rematch. He cannot fight with the same game plan and approach. Even if he changes it still might not make a difference.
In a fight you want to be the faster fighter. It just makes sense and one thing that was clear in the first fight was that Dillashaw was the faster fighter. This was a big reason he was so dominant. I have read one writer saying that Dillashaw would look to wrestle Barao and grind him out against the cage in this rematch and that essentially that was his only hope of winning. It was like they did not understand what happened in the first fight at all. They even alluded to the fact that Dillashaw could not use the same tricks in this fight against Barao. (They might want to read my breakdown of that fight here.) There were no tricks in this fight. It was not an illusion. Dillashaw was quicker.
Now maybe Barao did take this fight lightly as some have said and maybe he did have a difficult weight-cut that left him drained. During the Countdown show he talked about how he hurt his hand in training and had a bad feeling going to the arena. His coach has said it was not the real Barao in the octagon that night. They have even said that after the punch he went on automatic and was never the same during the fight.
As Dillashaw pointed out on the Countdown show that was the point of the punch. There was something else from the show where they showed Dillashaw and Ludwig watching the fight together. Dillashaw showed where he was laughing because he was telling Barao that he was going to throw a spinning technique. Then Barao did and Dillashaw was laughing because he remembered that Barao does not speak English.
Now that shows how comfortable Dillashaw was in the octagon with Barao. It also highlighted the excellent read he had on Barao. The excuses or reasons for the losses from Barao’s camp are a little troubling because it lends itself to wondering about Barao’s mindset going into this rematch. Will he be able to make the necessary changes, and again, will they matter?
The question of what can he do differently for this fight is where things start to get tricky for Barao. Being the slower fighter does not automatically mean you will lose the fight. The speed difference is not huge but it was noticeably there in the first fight. There are ways to combat a faster fighter. The issue for Barao is that Dillashaw shuts many of them down.
Timing, technique, tells and toughness
Speed is a huge part of the equation. Force is generated by mass and velocity and the faster fighter is often the one to land the blow. Not always though, because timing is just as important. The fighter who has the better sense of timing can negate a faster fighter. Barao has excellent timing and finds it quickly, often in the first round and always by the second round.
In the first fight it was Dillashaw that had the timing down early. His movement further confused Barao making it harder for Barao to pickup the timing. Dillashaw displayed amazing footwork and movement. Again, this makes it hard to deal with Dillashaw’s speed because he has such great technique.
Another way to offset speed is through technique. A fighter can use superior footwork and sense of movement to be a step ahead. When superior technique is combined with a better sense of timing than the faster fighter could be in a lot of trouble. In this case it is again Dillashaw that was the fighter with the better technique. His movement was masterful.
The tell can be another way for a fighter to offset speed. The fighter that has the better read on their opponent can anticipate better where their opponent will be and what they will throw. This makes it easier to not just avoid a strike but to also counter it. Dillashaw had the better read in the first fight and he was much harder to figure out.
It was brilliant watching Dillashaw in the first one. He stepped inside of Barao’s spinning techniques to deliver punishing strikes. Then used a myriad of approaches to make himself unreadable. Dillashaw attacked with so many different opening strikes that Barao rarely had a sense of what was coming. It was further confused by Dillashaw constantly switching stances.
The other way to combat speed is through toughness. If you can take some strikes to land your own you can slowly wear a faster opponent down. Barao is tough but we have seen what happens when Dillashaw hits him cleanly a couple of times. It does not look very good for Barao going into the rematch.
A lesson from Sin City
Barao will need to take a page out of Marv’s book to combat Dillashaw’s speed. In Sin City, when Marv goes up against Kevin he has no chance the first time. Kevin is much too quick for him. So, Marv put together a game plan to restrict Kevin’s movement with the barbwire. Marv then took some shots to get in close and put on the handcuffs to further shutdown the movement and speed advantage while also bringing him into his range. From there Marv finished him off.
Barao will need to do the same. Start by re-thinking his position and movement. He cannot just go to the center and let Dillashaw bounce around on the outside cutting angles and dictating the action. Instead, Barao needs to cut off the octagon and create his own angles.
Another area he can slow Dillashaw down is by attacking the legs. In the first fight it is Dillashaw who opens the fight up with an early low kick to the leg. Barao has a reputation for fierce low kicks to the legs but recently he has seen opponents counter them effectively by attacking with a right hand. When this happens he gets away from the kicks. Now on occasion he has mixed them into combos but he usually throws them naked making them easier to read. If he mixes them within combinations more often he will make it harder for Dillashaw to read and counter. All he needs to do is slow him down just a tick and it makes a huge difference.
Abandon the spinning attack unless it is perfectly setup. It was obvious that Dillashaw had this read and used it to his advantage during the fight. Maybe a fake and feint to setup something else. His corner wanted him to use the front kick more but he has to be careful with that as Dillashaw will look to catch the kick and get the takedown.
Instead of the front kick, Barao needs to mix things up and make it ugly. Instead of the same weapons he has relied on Barao needs to mix up his combinations and entrances. He needs to make Dillashaw uncomfortable and unsure of what is coming next. When he does get on the inside then he needs to make it more of a brawl. Attack the legs and use his elbows on the inside. He does not want to get into a fancy footwork battle with Dillashaw.
The Keys for each fighter
Look for more of the same from Dillashaw who needs to just be himself, be the faster fighter making the better reads and with the better timing like he did in the first fight. Now that is easier to type but he looks ready to do it. The Dillashaw we saw last fight was easily the best version we have seen. He needs to be a better version for this one.
In the time he has worked with Ludwig he has evolved for each fight. It all culminated with his performance against Barao to win the title. Now he needs to do it again. He is confident going into the fight which is what you want to see but he cannot get too comfortable. Barao is still dangerous with a lot of power.
There are a lot of questions for Barao to answer in the rematch. His mentality is a little worrying. There seems to be a lot of excuses from him. Maybe this is his camp’s way of building him up for the rematch and getting him into the right space. It could also be that he is in his head about Dillashaw. It is something we will not know until the fight.
That is one of the things about this fight. We do not know how Barao will react to losing. We have not seen him in a position where he needs to make the adjustments before not on this scale. He needs to figure out a plan to negate the speed of Dillashaw and rattle his confidence early in the fight. In the first one the more time in the octagon together the more comfortable and confident Dillashaw grew. Barao needs to change that early in the rematch.
I think we see Dillashaw go to another level defending the belt. He is just starting to enter his prime and his understanding of the sport has grown rapidly while working with Ludwig. It all comes together in another transcendent performance.
Now, it is actually more interesting if I am wrong and Barao wins a tough back and forth battle setting up an epic third fight. Either way this will be an intriguing fight that will add to the legend of one or both of these talented warriors.