T.J. Dillashaw shocked the mixed-martial arts world with a dominant performance that ended with an exclamation point.
The Team Alpha Male product followed up a fifth-round head kick with hammerfists to put an end to Renan Barao’s reign as bantamweight champion. The amazing display left stunned ringside commentator Joe Rogan to utter, “That was the greatest performance I have ever seen in my life.”
The win stops a seven-fight UFC win streak for the 32-2 Barao, who hadn’t lost since his first fight as a professional. The baby-faced new champ improves to 10-2 with the victory. He joins Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans, and Matt Serra as Ultimate Fighter reality-show competitors who have claimed a title in the UFC.
T.J. starts the contest riding his bicycle around the cage, picking his shots and dictating the style and tempo of the fight. The wrestler shocks the Brazilian with an early uppercut. As the confident Dillashaw’s confidence grows, he lands a massive overhand right that puts the champion on his back and the fans on their feet. Dillashaw then unloads from the top before attempting a guillotine and then a neck crank en route to a 10-8 round. A merciful horn allows Barao to escape the onslaught.
The fighters open the second frame by throwing bombs as Barao ignores his corner’s advice not to trade. Dillashaw continues to stick and move, tagging Barao with spot punching and landing occasional kicks. Barao lands his shots, including one that cuts the challenger. With a minute left, Dillashaw smacks Barao with several rights that stun the champion. Barao scores with a combination that Dillashaw answers with several shots.
The challenger enters the third round with more flashy footwork and unpredictable movements that stifle any offense the Brazilian hopes to muster. At the midway point, the action upticks as Dillashaw’s hands find a home–as does his foot. When Barao appeals to the referee for an eye-poke timeout, T.J. capitalizes.
Through three, they’re fighting the Californian’s fight. As much as Barao’s been out thought, he’s been out worked. It’s the American’s ring generalship–dictating the pace and frustrating with feints and unorthodox movements–more so than any other aspect of the fight that contributes to its shocking one-sidedness.
In the fourth, the wrestler plays kickboxer by landing headkicks almost at will. Dillashaw’s conditioning advantage emerges. But with Barao’s gas tank near “E,” the champion finds some fuel and reminds the upstart that he’s dangerous by landing several strikes. A tenacious Dillashaw keeps the pressure on, and discovers himself atop the champion after a scramble. He ends the last minute of the round wailing away from the top position and negating Barao’s submission attempts.
In the championship round, Dillashaw shows himself a champion by finishing a fight that he had already won. Barao mounts an offense in desperation. The Ultimate Fighter Season 14 finalist proves hard to hit as a moving target, though. As the last round nears the midway mark, Dillashaw’s leg meets Barao’s head in a spectacular kick that sends the champ down and his opponent racing after him with hammerfists that prompt Herb Dean to stop the fight.
The Las Vegas crowd erupts and Dillashaw embraces his teary-eyed coach Duane Ludwig. At 2:26 of the fifth round, the UFC has a new bantamweight champion in one of the most memorable upsets, and masterful performances, in the promotion’s history.
Photo credit: Josh Hedges, Getty