It’s almost the halfway point of the year. Can you believe it? It’s safe to say the UFC, and the MMA world, has had an up-and-down first half of 2014.
Think of UFC 172, which saw its light heavyweight championship title bout in the main event ended up less competitive than hoped. Still, it was a reasonably entertaining night of fights, including Anthony Johnson’s coming-out party as a light heavyweight contender. Ups. Downs.
Think of last weekend’s Bellator PPV, which had its main event cancelled, but was entertaining in some unexpected ways. Tito Ortiz’s quick upset victory over Bellator star Alexander Shlemenko surprised many, including our own Dana Becker. Ups. Downs.
Early “Fight of the Year” contenders include a wild brawl between Matt Brown and Erick Silva at UFC Fight Night 40. The bout probably wasn’t competitive enough past round one to merit consideration later in the year, but it was certainly memorable. It also wasn’t watched by a large audience.
In fact, we haven’t seen a show really break through with audiences yet. The most-viewed was that UFC 172 show which scored about 350,000 PPV buys — or, about as many as the Saul Alvarez vs. Alfredo Angulo boxing match in February.
Unfortunately, this weekend’s UFC 173 show from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas doesn’t look to buck the trend, with a bantamweight title bout in the main event and a so-so undercard. But, like UFC 172 which ended up reasonably entertaining, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth watching.
The UFC 173 main event, after several cancellations, features a dominant champion in Renan Barao against an unheralded challenger in TJ Dillashaw.
Most know of Barao by now. But just who is this Dillashaw guy? Well, here’s a quick primer.
California’s TJ Dillashaw first caught the MMA world’s attention at TUF 14, where he advanced to the show’s bantamweight finals against John Dodson.
Buffer introduced the Team Alpha Male product as a “Monkey Style” fighter at the finale, and he was indeed wild and aggressive — but mostly, he struggled with Dodson’s quickness. Dillashaw missed kicks from outside, found himself repeatedly clipped by straight punches. It was a roundhouse left ended Dillashaw’s night late in the first round, and Dodson was named the first bantamweight TUF winner.
Dillashaw recovered to make a home in the company afterwards, winning four straight bouts.
His biggest test was against Hugo “Wolverine” Viana last April. That night, Dillashaw was again staggered by a left early on, but recovered to spin his opponent to the mat to transition beautifully to back mount. Viana escaped and bloodied Dillashaw with an elbow, but was tagged by an overhand right. After another big right hand, Dillashaw swarmed Vianny with short punches for the TKO victory.
On broadcast duties, Jon Anik dubbed Dillashaw the “most offense-minded fighter in the UFC.”
In October, Dillashaw enjoyed “Fight of the Night” honors in his back-and-forth bout with Junior Assencio, but failed to earn the judges’ decision.
In his last UFC appearance in January, Dillashaw was introduced as a “Bang Muay Thai” fighter by Buffer, a nod to his work with Duane “Bang” Ludwig, and he indeed showed a more disciplined stand-up game. That night, at UFC Fight Night 35, he offered a three-round beatdown to an overmatched Mike Easton — dominating the standup and scoring a takedown or two per round, en route to a unanimous and wide decision victory.
Who is TJ Dillashaw? He’s that classic new era MMA fighter. He’s athletic and aggressive, bouncing between a Muay Thai attack and a wrestling game honed at the Division 1 collegiate level.
Sadly, there’s just nothing in that background that lays claim to serious contention against a fighter like Renan Barao. He’s good, but he hasn’t turned a corner. This weekend, on his first PPV appearance, marks that chance.