One Of The Biggest Upsets In UFC History

One Of The Biggest Upsets In UFC History

TJ Dillashaw wasn't supposed to beat Renan Barao. He wasn't even supposed to be in the ring with him. There are two kinds of upsets in the UFC: the fast, unexpected kind and the slow-motion car wreck, where it's like watching somebody get hit by the same truck over and over and over.

The first kind isn't all that unusual. After all, UFC gloves are thin, designed to protect the wearer's fists more than their opponent's precious, precious jawline. Even the best fighters on Earth make mistakes. One flush shot, and they're taking one of those fun naps where they wake up having forgotten everything that happened in the last 24 hours.

Dillashaw vs Barao 1 was not like that. Dillashaw vs Barao 1 was the second kind, a bell-to-bell thrashing on the level of a tornado running through a ramshackle barn convention. And it was Dillashaw -- the solid but unspectacular wrestler, the quiet kid with a farm boy smile -- who punched his ticket to the top.

This happened back in 2013, when Barao was on top of the world. With 32 wins under his belt since his previous loss (waaaay back at the start of his career), the tiny Brazilian man tank had one of the longest active winning streaks in all of MMA. He was the bantamweight champion, and he'd fought and defended against some pretty fucking credible competitors.

He used a terrifying array of punches, spinning kicks, and god-tier jiu jitsu to smash opponent after opponent -- batter the confidence right out of them, leave them changed in the wake of it all. He was a monster. UFC president Dana White called him the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Admittedly, Dana White does that all the time and is a documented shady motherfucker, but still. Some people agreed with his assertion. That is the key thing here. I mean, watch this guy work:

Dillashaw was a replacement, one half of a main event fight cobbled together at the last second after another fight was scrapped due to injuries. He'd done decently enough in the UFC, but his losses -- one of which had come only two fights before he got shoved in the lion's cage with a hungry Barao -- painted a picture of a work-in-progress, someone who still had a long ways to go. He was Team Alpha Male's dark horse. Everyone talked about his teammates, Chad Mendes and Urijah Faber.

Dillashaw was unassuming, a nobody, a sacrificial lamb. Barao was gonna tear him limb-from-limb and get back to knocking off real contenders. We were going to watch, wonder how Barao's mad scientist creators fit so many rocket-powered sledgehammers into a human suit, and cheer.

That night, something was different about Dillashaw. And by something, I mean everything. For one, he chose to strike with Barao, the grim reaper knockout assassin. Not only that, he was nimble, nearly impossible to time. When you thought he was gonna be there, he wasn't. Milliseconds after that, he was.

It was like his entire training camp consisted of listening to clips of Muhammad Ali saying, "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee" over and over again. He was moving so well that his counters sometimes landed him behind Barao. It was like he'd learned a teleport move out of Mortal Kombat.

The full first fight, if you want to watch it.

It looked like Dillashaw was dancing around Barao, and Barao could barely touch him. Toward the end of the first round, Dillashaw landed a monster overhand right that nearly ended the whole thing. Barao survived the round, barely, but he stood up to begin the next round a ghost of himself. For three more rounds, Dillashaw dismantled him, and he made it look easy. It was like he knew everything Barao was gonna do before he even did it. Barao -- the champ, the leather-slinging machine, the best in the world -- looked lost.

When the fifth round rolled around, Barao was dazed and gulping air. Dillashaw still seemed relatively fresh. One low feint into a high kick later, Barao was on the ground, nearly unconscious, and Dillashaw was declared the victor. It was a merciless end to a methodical dissection. The fight was supposed to be over fast, courtesy of Renan "unstoppable force-of-nature" Barao. Instead, Dillashaw fed him hundreds of knuckle sandwiches and one gigantic slice of humble pie.

One Of The Biggest Upsets In UFC History

At the time, it was unbelievable. Where the hell did this new Dillashaw come from? He moved nothing like the old one, and he struck with as much grace and precision as injured ex-champ Dominick Cruz. People didn't know what to make of it all. Dillashaw stole Barao's crown and the tongues from people's mouths. It was an immense upset, not just because of the outcome, but because of how it went down.

Upsets have a funny side effect, though: they retroactively change the narrative. Days after Dillashaw put the entire bantamweight division on notice, forums were abuzz with talk that Barao was never actually all that good. He was overhyped. His game was full of holes. The guys he beat were declining. Dillashaw caught him with a lucky punch in the first round, and he just wasn't the same after that.

Others pointed out that Dillashaw studied Barao obsessively, planned to exploit all of his bad habits. It wasn't that Dillashaw was great, they said, but rather that his coaches were smart -- and Barao was reckless. Dillashaw scored one of the most definitive championship wins the UFC had seen in ages, but he was answered with questions, disbelief, speculation -- perhaps even more so than if he'd just scored a flash knockout. MMA is a weird sport.

Tomorrow night, Dillashaw and Barao are going to fight again. Injuries have delayed their rematch four times, and they have each had one other fight since they last met. Dillashaw looked good but not amazing against a no-name replacement of his own in Joe Soto, and Barao got the job done against Mitch Gagnon.

It's funny how things change -- even funnier how they don't. This time around, Dillashaw is the favourite, but only slightly. Barao promises he's ready this time, despite the fact that he looked more or less the same as ever against Gagnon. But it's hard not to wonder if maybe he knows something we don't. He's had all this time to prepare, two years to study exactly what happened in his last fight against Dillashaw.

Even if Dillashaw starts running circles around him again, you never know: all Barao needs is one good punch, one well-placed spinning back kick. And hey, maybe that first round overhand right really did change the complexion of the entire fight. Maybe Dillashaw got lucky after all.

And so, despite one fight that was a drawn-out, lopsided beating, we somehow know even less than we did going into Dillashaw and Barao's first go-'round. Last time, we were certain. Barao was gonna put on his apron and open up a slaughterhouse. Simple, quick, easy. This time, though, who the fuck knows how it's gonna go down? There are so many intangibles at play, so many questions it turns out we never knew the answer to. All I know for sure is that soon we'll finally get some real closure.

Maybe.


Comments

    Upsets seem to be more prevalent in MMA when compared to other combat sports because of the multitude of different ways the fight can end and the fact they wear 4 oz gloves that are more damaging and make it more difficult to block and or parry incoming strikes. That first fight should have been stopped way earlier but there's always going to be a split between the opportunity for a comeback and ensuring the safety of the fighter. Lets just hope Renan doesn't suffer from the extreme weight cut again this time round or maybe he and numerous others on the roster should just be realistic and fight closer to their natural weight.

      Upsets are no more common in MMA than other combat sports at all, not even in competitive sports in general.
      A favourite being beaten by an underdog is all it takes for an "upset" You can watch any sports channel/site and see it happening every day.

      I will admit, it's easier to be drawn in to that sort of thing when talking about sports which have direct competition between two individuals.

    Went exactly as I predicted. TJ is just on another level. Everything Barao does well, TJ does better.

    It will be interesting to see how Barao goes when he moves up a weight class. Those weightcuts have been killer for him.

    Whats with all the UFC lately ? Isn't this supposed to be a gaming and tech website? I might as well start a thread on how awesome the rugby world cup is going to be, or Tour De France.

    Seriously go post on sports page somewhere.

      ^ This x 10

    Please help me understand how an article on the latest UFC fight gets posted here on Kotaku. Don't get me wrong, it's a great article, but just how far from video game culture are we getting here?

    I wouldn't call it a big upset tj dillashaw was the better fighter on the night.

    I'm enjoying the hell out of the MMA coverage that's popping up on Kotaku

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