The simple fact T.J. Dillashaw upset Renan Barao to take the Ultimate Fighting Championship bantamweight title in the main event of UFC 173 on Saturday night was surprising enough.
The manner and sheer dominance of the victory at the MGM Grand Garden was downright shocking.
Dillashaw, a college wrestler who entered the cage as a plus-600 betting underdog, landed 169 total strikes to just 68 for Barao.
The result was a fifth-round knockout victory and the end of Barao’s 32-fight winning streak. Dillashaw nearly finished Barao much earlier in the fight.
He landed a crushing right hand that floored Barao in the first round. Dillashaw tried to finish with a series of punches, then locked in a choke that appeared to be close to forcing Barao to tap out.
Both Dillashaw and UFC president Dana White pointed to the sequence as having changed the fight for good.
“Coming out in the second round, I could see a different look in his eyes,” Dillashaw said at the post-fight news conference late Saturday night. “I could tell I had him broke. I knew I had it. I could just see it in his eyes.”
White, who ranked the outcome right up with Matt Serra’s shocking knockout of then-champion Georges St. Pierre as the biggest upsets in UFC title fight history, felt the first-round knockdown was pivotal.
“I don’t think he ever recovered from that,” White said of Barao.
In the end, the fact Dillashaw wasn’t able to finish the fight in the opening round worked out as a blessing.
Instead of winning the belt off of one big punch in the first round, he got to exhibit his dominance over nearly five full rounds before finishing off Barao with a kick and a series of short punches on the ground late in the fight.
“I had the choke locked up (in the first round) and I didn’t finish him and I was kind of pissed off about it at first,” Dillashaw said. “But now, I’m kind of glad I didn’t. I got to prove myself even more. If I’d finished the choke, it just would have been that easy of a win. But I got to show more skills the longer it went, so I’m glad I got to dominate that much over that long of a fight.”
It was far from the most one-sided victory of the night, however.
That honor went to unbeaten light heavyweight contender Daniel Cormier, who absolutely thrashed Dan Henderson before choking him out late in the third round.
The most memorable expression of his dominance was a huge slam of the two-time Olympic wrestler in the third round, but the numbers tell the story of a drastic edge in strikes landed as well.
Cormier out-landed Henderson 131-12, with many of the strikes coming at close range on the ground. It was the type of spectacular performance that Cormier needed to firmly cement himself as the next challenger to the light heavyweight title after Jon Jones tries to defend the belt against Alexander Gustafsson, likely on Aug. 30 in Las Vegas.
Cormier said he wants to wait for the winner instead of taking another fight.
“I’ve earned a title shot. I’ve got five top-10 wins. I’m undefeated. I haven’t lost a round. I haven’t lost a fight,” he said. “My resume speaks for itself.”
Cormier made it clear he prefers to fight Jones.
“It means something to beat Jon Jones,” Cormier said. “I know we all praise Alexander Gustafsson for what he’s done. He’s a great fighter.
“But it means a little more to beat a Jon Jones.”
Dillashaw’s first title defense could come against Raphael Assuncao. The two fought in October with Assuncao taking a split decision.
Assuncao was supposed to fight Barao for the title, but suffered an injury and couldn’t take the bout.
Dillashaw said he would welcome the opportunity to redeem himself after losing a fight he still believes he won.
There is also a strong possibility Barao will get a rematch, depending on how quickly he recovers.
Contact reporter Adam Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.