T.J. Dillashaw and Renan Barao will meet for the second time in three months. | Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images
When Renan Barao squares off against T.J. Dillashaw in the UFC 177 main event on Saturday at the Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, Calif., it will be in the unfamiliar blue corner. After nearly a decade without tasting defeat -- nearly two of those years were spent as the Ultimate Fighting Championship bantamweight titleholder -- Barao was derailed in devastating fashion at UFC 173 in May. His run of dominance likely earned the Brazilian an immediate rematch, as his first performance hardly warranted a second crack at the title.
Dillashaw is also in foreign territory as the new champion. After suffering a knockout loss to future flyweight contender John Dodson at “The Ultimate Fighter 14” Finale in December 2011, Dillashaw won five of his next six fights before becoming champion, dropping only a contentious split decision to Raphael Assuncao. As the adage goes, it is harder to defend the championship than it is to win it. Does Dillashaw have another virtuoso performance in him? Let us take a closer look at how the numbers align for the rematch:
The Tale of the Tape shows both fighters are nearly mirror images of each other on paper. Though Barao has a slight reach advantage, the first fight deemed those extra inches negligible. The most glaring disparities here are on the clock: Barao is a year younger, but he has been in the fight game for an additional five years and in the Octagon an extra 40 minutes, translating into more physical mileage than Dillashaw has undergone in professional MMA. While Barao certainly has more experience, this will be the first time rebounding from a loss since 2005, giving rise to some questions surrounding his ability to make game plan adjustments. The striking data gives us a better picture:
Here, the departures from each other start to become glaring. Dillashaw boasts the third best strike differential (2.90) in any weight class in the UFC, tagging his opponents almost three times for every one he eats. Buoyed by his double-knockdown performance against Barao in their first fight, Dillashaw also carries one more career knockdown into the rematch, securing the number two spot in the division ahead of Barao. The new champion successfully leapfrogged Barao in various other statistical categories, including total strikes landed, because of their first fight -- a testament to how thoroughly superior his striking performance was at UFC 173.
“The Baron,” one of the division’s most fearsome strikers in his own right, never recovered from an early first-round knockdown in their initial encounter. Dillashaw utilized superior footwork to pick angles that had Barao perpetually striking wind. The numbers support that this was not a one-off: In the course of their careers, Dillashaw not only lands eight more significant strikes per round but also absorbs three less. Over the course of a five-round fight, that gives Dillashaw a 59-strike advantage. More convincing, the Team Alpha Male rep steadily became more accurate as the fight progressed, averaging a 6.5-percent increase between each round, compared to Barao’s 4.3-percent increase before a 12-percent drop in round five. That Dillashaw was able to switch his stance and pick better shots so consistently and steadily does not bode well for the Nova Uniao product in the rematch, especially since the fight almost entirely took place on the feet.
Should the rematch hit the mat, who has the advantage?
Both men have been notoriously difficult to take down in the UFC, posting flawless takedown defense in the promotion thus far. Dillashaw has had far fewer attempts to wrangle himself out of, only evading nine in the UFC -- six of them coming from Assuncao. His speed, footwork and history of stalwart takedown defense have likely caused opponents to abandon such efforts. Meanwhile, Barao has not been taken down since 2010 in World Extreme Cagefighting, stuffing all 20 attempts in the UFC. In their first tilt, Dillashaw was far more effective taking the fight to the ground with his striking, scoring two knockdowns compared to his 0-for-3 mark on takedown attempts. It is worth noting that Barao has only had two fights with more than a single takedown attempt under the Zuffa banner, a stark contrast to Dillashaw, who has attempted at least three per fight after his loss to Dodson. Barao, a black belt under Andre Pederneiras, has secured three more submission wins on the big stage than Dillashaw, despite the Team Alpha Male standout being more aggressive in his attempts; Dillashaw averages almost one submission attempt per round, third highest in the weight class.
After being thoroughly outclassed on the feet in the first fight and ignoring his corner’s instruction to look for takedowns, Barao is expected to incorporate his grappling prowess more in the rematch, if for no other reason than to keep Dillashaw guessing. Shot attempts could potentially open up Dillashaw and force him on his heels, nullifying his superior footwork and angles to some extent. Dillashaw has secured more takedowns than his opponent in the UFC and is the fourth most accurate fighter in the division. It is unlikely much time will be spent on the ground, however. Less than a minute of the first fight occurred with either fighter off his feet, and given both of their track records defending takedowns, the rematch will almost certainly take place in the upright position.
THE FINAL WORD
The current betting line has Dillashaw as the favorite at -185, with the former champ at +150. Both fighters have something to prove in this rematch. Dillashaw has the pressure of repeating a near-flawless performance, compounded by the freshly minted status of champion. Barao must navigate uncharted waters of not only rebounding psychologically from a thorough defeat but also making game plan adjustments come fight time. History sides with Dillashaw, as former champions in immediate title rematches are 1-4 in the Zuffa era.
What do you think? Will Barao buck the historical precedent or does Dillashaw have his number?
Raw data for the analysis was provided by and in partnership with FightMetric. Eric Stinton performed all analysis. Stinton, FightMetric and Sherdog.com assume no responsibility for bets placed on fights, financial or otherwise.