Preview and Picks – UFC on Fox: Dillashaw vs. Barao

Barao Dillashaw

After a couple of the most jam-packed weeks in MMA history, some semblance of normality returns this weekend as the UFC put on just the one event. And in this case it’s enough as the United Centre in Chicago hosts a wonderful line-up of fights to serve as the sixteenth show on American network Fox.

In the main event, a rematch is on deck as UFC bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw takes on the man he beat down over five rounds for the title, Renan Barao, in another fascinating five round affair between two of the very best on the planet.

As a 32-1-1 fighter without a loss since his MMA debut, Renan Barao’s loss to TJ Dillashaw last year came as a shock to just about everyone – including the bookies who had Dillashaw as a 6/1 underdog. Starting his American MMA adventure with an unbeaten WEC career the Brazilian entered the UFC as one of the most feared men at the weight and when he beat Urijah Faber to win the interim title after Dominick Cruz’s injury, that mystique grew even further. Another win over Faber after taking out Michael McDonald and Eddie Wineland followed that before Dillashaw took his, now undisputed, crown. Since then Barao missed weight in a planned rematch but did manage to beat Mitch Gagnon in a pretty unimpressive display to get back into the number one contender spot.

For TJ Dillashaw it has been a lot more of an unusual road to the top. Following his stint on the ultimate fighter, Dillashaw was expected to shine in the future but after going 5-2 immediately after the house, losing to John Dodson and Raphael Assuncao, most people would not have expected his ascendance to the top to come this quick. And although the American had good wins over the likes of Vaughan Lee and Mike Easton, it took an injury to the aforementioned Raphael Assuncao to get Dillashaw the title shot which he took with both hands. Since then Dillashaw has struggled with injury as his only defence saw him beat a game Joe Soto following Barao’s weight mishap.

As a match-up, despite having met once before, this is still fascinating to watch play out. Dillashaw is, at heart, a wrestler with a fantastic base but his game has changed so much since his early days in the sport that his first art is almost a fall back at this stage. Now, thanks in no small part to his time working Duane Ludwig, the team alpha male man is a high output, precise, technical, power striker with varied attacks and unbelievable defence. Barao, on the other hand, is more about seizing the moment and pouncing on mistakes. As a striker, the Brazilian hits about as hard as anyone in the division as he uses his athleticism to whip in punches and kicks from the outside. On the floor Barao is just as dangerous and with 15 career submissions will probably have the advantage if it goes south.

When looking at how this fight will go it’s important to look back at the first fight – but not too much. In that match, it was Dillashaw who dominated from moment one as he bamboozled Barao with ungodly movement and an attacking arsenal which was so varied that the Brazilian didn’t know whether to stick or twist. That led to Barao being knocked down and almost finished in the first before eventually being put out of his misery in the fifth. This time Dillashaw will try to do the exact same. Bounce on his feet out of range, throw head kicks, body kicks, leg kicks, uppercuts, hooks.. you name it, and keep doing that for as long as necessary. For Barao, this time, he will know what to expect and to win he will need to remain extremely patient. As a fighter, Barao likes to finish with big shots or submissions and he will be no different on Saturday. What’s important for him, though, is that he must keep defence in mind first and attack in bursts while timing the notoriously hard to time Dillashaw – something he wasn’t able to do after a disastrous opening period in the last meeting. With his power and precision that’s a gameplan which gives him a real, live chance of winning over five rounds. With that said, Dillashaw has that ability to win at any moment too and with it, as previously mentioned, is an ability to do it at a greater output over a longer period. And even though both have a chance of getting the finish, I think the smart money is on Dillashaw to outpoint Barao and win a decision in a much closer fight than last time.

Outside of the main event this card has recognizable names from top to bottom, especially in the co-main as the second lady of the UFC women’s Bantamweight division, Miesha Tate, is back in action as she takes on Jessica Eye. Having won three on the spin this could very well be the ticket to get Tate back to the title picture while Eye, as the only woman in the top five who hasn’t been beaten by Ronda Rousey, will almost certainly be the next to challenge Rousey if the champion can come through Bethe Correia next month.

As a match up, this could be one really to look forward to as the clean, technical prowess of Eye meets the in-your-face, aggressive Tate offence. On the feet I think Eye could have a lot of success but the takedown and scrambling game of Tate could make that count for nothing. Either way, this one will be hell for leather and is bound to be fun.

Speaking of fun, that’s exactly what the rest of the card brings with fascinating striking match-ups like Paul Felder vs. Edson Barboza and Daron Cruickshank vs. James Krause which are equalled, or even bettered, by grappling battles like Joe Lauzon vs. Takenori Gomi and Kenny Robertson vs. Ben Saunders. All in all this card is really one not to miss.

FIGHT PICKS

T.J. Dillashaw vs. Renan Barão – A much more competitive fight ends in a Dillashaw decision
Miesha Tate vs. Jessica Eye – Tate‘s takedowns make the difference
Edson Barboza vs. Paul Felder – Excellent fight ends in a Barboza TKO
Joe Lauzon vs. Takanori Gomi – Hopefully it hits the floor, Lauzon takes a decision

Gian Villante vs. Tom Lawlor – After a long Lawlor lay-off you’d have to fancy Villante here
Jim Miller vs. Danny Castillo – Another smashing fight, Castillo‘s wrestling gets him a decision
Kenny Robertson vs. Ben Saunders – Could be an epic ground battle, Saunders via submission
Eddie Wineland vs. Bryan Caraway – Wineland via KO

Daron Cruickshank vs. James Krause – DC via head-kick KO
Ramsey Nijem vs. Andrew Holbrook – Nijem decision
Jessamyn Duke vs. Elizabeth Phillips – Phillips decision
Zak Cummings vs. Dominique Steele – Cummings decision

BET OF THE WEEK

This week I’m going with a 4/1 treble of Tate, Saunders and Barboza

START TIMES

Early prelims – 9.15pm on Fight Pass
Prelims – 11pm on BT Sport 2
Main Card – 1am on BT Sport 2

Podcaster, lead MMA writer and analyst for SevereMMA. Host of the SevereMMA podcast, out every Sunday. Economics and Mathematics graduate from UCC. Also write for Sherdog. Previously of hov-mma and fightbooth. As heard on 2FM, Red FM, Today FM and more. Follow me on twitter for updates @SeanSheehanBA and on Facebook Facebook.com/seansheehanmma