Contender Or Pretender – T.J. Dillashaw

In my second Contender or Pretender article I look to the upcoming Bantamweight Title fight at UFC 173 which features the Champion Renan Barao taking on challenger T.J. Dillashaw. Dillashaw will be looking to create Team Alpha Male history by being the first fighter from the camp to claim the UFC belt but in his way stands a fighter who is on a 32 fight unbeaten streak and looking more and more dominant with each performance.

T.J. Dillashaw made his debut for the promotion during TUF 14 which saw the former wrestler make it to the finals before loosing his first professional fight to John Dodson by KO. But instead of getting down about the loss Dillashaw looked at his overall game and has really made some key adjustments including a vast improvement in his stand up game thanks to the help of Team Alpha Male’s newest coach, Duane Ludwig.

Since Ludwig joined the team Dillashaw earned two very impressive wins both by stoppage over Issei Tamura and Hugo Viana. Dillashaw had clearly improved in his stand up game and his power wrestling background made him too much for his opponents to handle.

Following those two impressive wins Dillashaw took on Raphael Assuncao in Brazil and suffered his second career loss, in a very closely contested split decision. Many felt that Dillashaw had done enough to win the bout and perhaps the location of the fight played a big part in handing the result to Assuncao. Although the fight didn’t go his way Dillashaw was able to prove that he was a force in the Bantamweight divison by going the full 15 minutes with the super tough Assuncao.

Keen to put the loss behind him and move on Dillashaw next stepped up to take on Mike Easton at Fight Night 35. Dillashaw earned a lopsided unanimous decision over The Hulk again announcing himself as a contender in the division.
And now his next bout is set at UFC 173 against the current champion Renan Barao. So has Dillashaw improved enough to really prove a test to Barao, or will Barao just add Dillashaw to the long and ever growing list of fighters who have all suffered defeat at the hands of the dangerous Brazilian.

One thing that does scare me is the knockout that Dillashaw suffered at the hands of John Dodson who has since dropped to Flyweight. Barao is a big Bantamweight so its going to be a real test to see if Dillashaw can withstand the attacks which will be coming thick and fast from the champion. Fighters can improve skills/cardio/athletic ability but one thing they can’t improve is their chin strength. If Barao lands big then I can only see this fight going one way.

Looking at the tale of the tape both of these guys are pretty much identical aside from the slight reach advantage that Barao has and the extra 22 fights that the champ has been in. Experience is a huge factor in this one and Barao not only has fight experience on his side, but he also has the experience of headlining cards on his side and will undoubtably be the calmer of the two approaching this fight.

Dillashaw comes from a wrestling background so will certainly be comfortable with the grappling in this fight but we have not really see him tested on the ground which is an area Barao is very dangerous in so if the fight does go to ground it will be very interesting to see how he deals with it. Also Dillashaw has not been taken down in the UFC so how crazy would it be to see Barao attempt to take him down? Madder things have happened.

When it comes to striking the challenger Dillashaw lands more strikes per minute than Barao and also has a better striking accuracy (49.1% compared to 36.1%), and also out of his nine wins Dillashaw has ended six by stoppage. So will he be able to get his hands on Barao and if so will he be able to do enough to stop the champion? Barao has been in there with some heavy hitters (Faber, Pickett, Wineland) and not really been in any grave danger, but it only takes one shot to land to do the job.

Dillashaw is a big underdog in this fight and I think that is a fair assumption. Barao just seems to get better and better and although Dillashaw has a punchers chance at winning the gold I see it very unlikely that Barao’s unbeaten streak will come to an end on Saturday night.

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