TJ Dillashaw vs Renan Barao: The question is not whether Dillashaw can win, but whether Barao has adjusted to better TJ’s movement

This week, British UFC welterweight and UFC commentator, Dan Hardy, looks ahead to this weekend's Championship bantamweight bout between TJ Dillashaw and Renan Barao.

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It seems commonplace when a long reigning champion is finally toppled to doubt their conquerer. It is often assumed that luck played a part or that their victory was at least in part down to luck or circumstance. Like when TJ Dillashaw ended Renan Barao’s outstanding 32 fight winning streak and seized the bantamweight title, a rematch was the obvious course of action, to give Dillashaw the chance to prove he was indeed the worthy, undisputed champion.

That rematch was originally scheduled to take place at UFC 177 in August of 2014, however due to complications on weigh in day Barao was forced to withdraw and was replaced by Joe Soto. Dillashaw went on to win the  ‘Performance of the Night’ bonus, stopping Soto in the fifth round after an admirable effort from the late replacement. 

Barao returned to action in December of 2014 and came out on top in a gritty affair with Mitch Gagnon. He finally subdued the tough Canadian with an arm triangle at the end of the third round, once again lining up a rematch with the new champion. 

After all of the waiting this weekend in Chicago, Illinois, the two best bantamweight fighters in the world will finally square off once more. The question in my mind is not whether Dillashaw can defend his strap, but whether Barao has been able to make the adjustments necessary to better TJ’s movement.

Their first fight was shocking. TJ had been making steady imrovements from fight to fight but his performance against the champion was nothing short of amazing. After dropping Barao in the first round it became obvious that Dillashaw’s footwork was just too much for him. With a solid wrestling base coming into mixed martial arts, his work with Team Alpha Male coach, Duane Ludwig, had really rounded out his game. His natural athleticism fit perfectly with Ludwig’s erratic footwork coaching. Moving in and out at speed, with unusual timing, allowed him to hit with a lot of momentum behind his punches. 

Barao never really seemed to get into the fight. His growing frustration lead to him over-reaching with punches and exposing himself to Dillashaw’s strikes. Training alongside Jose Aldo at Nova Uniao, coached by the great MMA mind of Andre Pederneiras, Barao will have all of the knowledge he needs at his disposal to win back the belt. His team will surely have made adjustments to deal with the unpredictable movement of Dillashaw, but with the new champion working so hard to improve between bouts, its hard to say what new elements he has added to his own game.

Keen to solidify his position as the champion, Dillashaw has been making trips out to Colorado to continue his work with Ludwig. A former fighter himself, Ludwig is obsessive about fight preparation and will be pushing TJ to stay ahead of the curve. It’s a real coin toss of a fight. I’m leaning towards TJ personally, due to his impeccable conditioning and hunger to stay at the top, but there is no counting out Barao. One thing we can be sure of, is that he knows how to win. He was doing a fine job until he ran into Dillashaw. 

A continuation of Barao’s reign would not be a surprise, but after the first fight it was obvious that it was Barao that had fallen behind. Both fighters determination is unquestionable. As is their work ethic, skill and ability. In such an even match up pure technique rises to the surface. I expect nothing more that an excellent display of mixed martial arts, from two of the forerunners of the sport. Definitely worth staying up to watch live!