Let me start by publicly apologizing to T.J. Dillashaw for predicting a quick defeat at the hands of Renan Barao at UFC 173 this past Saturday night. I was horribly and embarrassingly wrong.
Instead of Barao dominating Dillashaw, the exact opposite happened.
In a performance for the ages, Dillashaw dominated Barao in every possible way and became the new UFC bantamweight champion. Joe Rogan called it the greatest performance he’s ever seen during the pay-per-view broadcast, and in the moment it would be hard to disagree.
But even after nearly 48 hours of time to think about it and look through MMA history, it’s still hard to deny the historical significance of Dillashaw’s performance. It wasn’t just the way that Dillashaw dominated the action for almost five full rounds (there have been plenty of examples of fighters doing that), but also the fact that Dillashaw was as big of an underdog as he was against Barao.
Any other example throughout MMA history of a fighter dominating an opponent in a big bout or title bout saw that fighter as either the favorite heading into the bout or on par with the fighter he ended up dominating. I was not alone in thinking that Barao would mow through Dillashaw and that alone made Dillashaw’s domination historic.
It was an amazing sight to watch Dillashaw’s performance as it was not only dominant, not only incredible considering who he was dominating, but it was also amazing because Dillashaw never took his foot off the gas. Dillashaw could have ridden his bicycle for the last two rounds and still won the title easily on the scorecards. Instead, he wanted the proverbial cherry on top of a performance that had instantly made him the talk of the MMA universe.
Dillashaw’s boxing seemed to be what would lead him to victory heading into the bout. Indeed that is what almost scored Dillashaw a first-round stoppage and what was the main source of Dillashaw’s continued domination as the bout went along.
But this performance was much more than just Dillashaw’s punching power and boxing ability, it was seeing a challenger still young in his MMA career dominating a much more experienced champion at what he did best: ground work and leg kicks. In particular, seeing Dillashaw and not Barao throwing effective leg kicks during this bout was enough to have me in awe at what I was witnessing.
The initial reaction to Dillashaw’s performance at UFC 173 is that a new MMA star was born instantly.
Dana White and the Fertitta brothers certainly hope that is true. MMA fans who want the sport to continue to prosper hope that is true. What will prove whether it’s true or not is how Dillashaw performs in the future and if he can continue to rack up wins against quality and/or well-known fighters.
History will always be the best judge of the true greatness of any feat.
When history has its say, T.J. Dillashaw’s title win this past Saturday night has to be among the most impressive performances in UFC and MMA history. As for its specific place among the great performances in the history of the sport, only time will tell.