UFC 177, already regarded as a very weak card, has recently received a very unexpected turn of events that has derailed its main event, with Renan Barao being unable to make weigh ins after a health emergency. TJ Dillashaw will not be without a challenger for his title, however, as Joe Soto has stepped up from his "Prelims" bout with Anthony Birchak for a title shot in his Octagon debut.
This turn of events is huge for everyone involved, but it is perhaps most significant to Soto himself, who now sees a huge opportunity handed to him at the unlikeliest of times.
A quick background of his career is actually fairly impressive, as he was Bellator's inaugural featherweight champion, and actually the first such champion in the promotion. He lost that title to Joe Warren, however, suffering a technical knockout loss at the hands of the self-proclaimed "baddest man on the planet." That loss was followed up with yet another, this time at the hands of Eddie Yagin by way of guillotine choke in a Tachi Palace title fight.
Now, losses to those two fighters honestly is fairly damning toward a fighter's reputation, as neither of them is particularly good. However, Soto has gone about bouncing back from those defeats in the only way possible, winning fights -- in a row, to be exact. Though none of the men he's defeated along the way are particularly notable, he has finished all of them, which is about all you can ask of a fighter facing rather weak opposition.
Soto's shot in UFC was well-earned, but this unexpected title shot is the result of the aforementioned unfortunate circumstances, but he'll just have to make the most of what the massive opportunity that he's been given.
Depending on who you ask, he might have the ability to do just that. I am not one of those people, and I think that he will be Dillashaw's easiest outing inside the Octagon yet. Soto has developed a reputation of being a finisher, but there isn't a single part of his game that is better than Dillashaw's, and for that reason, I think he will be thoroughly outclassed.
Soto is a fighter that relies primarily on his grappling to win him fights, using his striking almost exclusively to set up opportunities to bring the fight to the mat. He does this rather effectively, but against Dillashaw, that task is nearly impossible. Dillashaw has developed some of the sharpest footwork in the UFC, and to add, he is a much better wrestler than anyone Soto has faced, and also a much better striker. For Soto to reliably get this fight to the mat, he'll just have to hope that Dillashaw is taken by surprise by this very sudden opponent change, and comes in ill-prepared to counter what Soto has to offer.
Ultimately, Soto faces a VERY tall task here to even come close to competing with TJ Dillashaw, much less taking his title. A title shot upon debut is a lot to ask of any fighter, much less on 24-hours notice against a man who just terrorized a well-respected pound-for-pound great. That said, I'll be damned if there's any story better than Soto's should he win tonight, as it would surely be the most chaotic, unexpected turn of events in MMA history.
Soto's chance to win this fight is minute, but he is worth keeping an eye on simply for the fact that he stepped up when it was such an important time to do so. There's no doubting his mental fortitude at this point, and being that he's definitely in UFC's good graces now, he really has nothing to lose by putting everything he has into this fight. Do I think he has a realistic chance of winning this fight? No. But would it be one of the most shocking, if not one of the greatest moments in UFC history if he did so?
Soto has had a massive opportunity fall into his lap, and although he faces extremely long odds, a win for him would send the MMA world into a wild frenzy of chaos. And I can't help but kind of hope that happens.