Despite the unfortunate turn of events, it's safe to say the bantamweight championship fight turned out to be a pretty decent battle.
UFC 177: "Dillashaw vs. Soto" took place this past weekend (Sat., Aug. 30, 2014) from inside Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, Calif., and in the main event, T.J. Dillashaw successfully defended his bantamweight strap for the first time with a victory over short-notice replacement Joe Soto.
"One Bad Mofo" turned out to be a solid opponent, moved from the "Prelims" and slotted to the main event after Renan Barao was forced off the card due to weight-cutting issues. Soto, a former Bellator featherweight champion, would receive an opportunity of a lifetime by moving up to the main event in his first UFC bout, despite being a massive underdog.
The champion had a lot to lose in this fight, since a defeat would have been more than just disastrous. Seeing how Dillashaw prepared for Barao, this allowed Soto to feel less pressure, and ultimately, enter the main event with no concerns for defeat.
If Dillashaw succumbed to the challenger, it would have been a huge upset (maybe the biggest in UFC history), and a messy situation for all parties involved.
In the first round, the challenger was keeping his distance while Dillashaw came forward with calculated shots. The champion tripped his adversary, and after a few minutes, started to put him on edge. Soto was put on his back, but grabbed a leg on his way down. As Dillashaw loosened up his limb, he took his foe's back and looked to sink in a choke. Soto was able to get back to his feet, but not without eating a few punches.
It was apparent that Soto's best chance for success was to go for the takedown often, even though Dillashaw had never been taken down in his UFC career. It's not like Soto wasn't landing punches of his own, though, connecting clean with a few hooks. Still, Dillashaw was throwing and landing way more blows, but he had to be cautious. His lengthy jab was starting to find a home, pushing Soto back and keeping him on the outside. Dillashaw started to feel relaxed, while Soto's best bet was to counter everything thrown at him.
Later on, Dillashaw started to methodically hack at Soto, while the challenger was getting a bit more confident. A stinging uppercut landed for the champ, and despite Soto's ability to nail Dillashaw a few times, the punches didn't faze Dillashaw whatsoever. He simply powered through them. The champion was the busier fighter, landing a handful of punches in each and every combination thrown. Soto may have looked more convincing by landing a big counter shot, yet he was no match when it came to his adversary's high volume of strikes.
By the third round, Soto became a tad too predictable. He was rushing forward and looking for the knockout blow, and Dillashaw gave him the opportunity to stand-and-bang. Soon after, the champion landed a few takedowns, which shot Soto's confidence since the latter may have wanted to take the fight down to the mat as much as possible, not to mention Dillashaw showcasing his superb takedown defense.
Soto was never out of the fight, but he was winding down. In the fifth and final frame, Dillashaw started to open up, chasing the finish a bit more. Soto didn't go for broke, and that hurt him. Dillashaw clocked his foe with a head kick, which wobbled Soto, and followed up with a couple of lethal left hands to a downed Soto before he was awarded the stoppage victory.
It was the second time he scored a fifth-round finish in a row, after finishing Barao in similar fashion when he captured the gold. The battle wasn't exactly a marquee championship fight for the ages, but with all due respect to the competitors, it was a decent two-way battle that salvaged the card.
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