A new reign began on Saturday night at UFC 173, and all it required was one of the biggest championship upsets in MMA history. Bantamweight king Renan Barao was a 9-to-1 favorite going into the main event with T.J. Dillashaw.
As it turns out, he never had a chance.
Dillashaw, the least heralded member of Team Alpha Male, finally brought his team their long-awaited UFC title, routing Barao in a flawless performance at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. It was domination from beginning to end, culminating in a fifth-round TKO on ground strikes.
"Barao is the best in the world in my eyes. I’ve been looking up to the guy. I felt respect for him and that’s what brought it out of me," an exuberant Dillashaw said afterward. "I needed to bring out my A-game to be champ of the world, and it happened, baby."
A professional fighter for just over four years, Dillashaw showed experience well past his years, confusing Barao by switching stances and showing a varied striking game. He knocked down Barao in the first with an overhand right and nearly finished there, but it was no flash-in-the-pan moment. Even after Barao got back to his feet, Dillashaw reasserted his standup dominance.
For the fight, he out-landed Barao by the lopsided total of 169-68. Barao had few moments of success, losing most exchanges. By the fourth, his face was bloodied and swollen, but Dillashaw never stopped looking for the finish.
Showing the diverse game that was his hallmark on this night, Dillashaw’s finishing sequence began with a right hand, head kick, then a left hand. All of them landed and Barao crashed backwards. Dillashaw took the top position and rained down hammerfists until referee Herb Dean stopped the action.
"I’ve dreamed it for so long. It’s unbelievable, the greatest feeling in the world," said Dillashaw (10-2). "All you have to do is believe. Believe you’re the best in the world and you’ll get here."
Barao (33-2, 1 no contest) had come into the fight with a world of momentum, having gone unbeaten in 33 straight fights dating back almost a decade. Meanwhile, Dillashaw wasn’t even the original pick as the title challenger, only stepping in after Raphael Assuncao could not take the fight due to injury.