Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Reacting with the same championship mentality he employs in the octagon, T.J. Dillashaw caught himself Tuesday afternoon.
Instead of recovering from an opponent’s haymaker, the UFC bantamweight champion was saving himself from his own words. Asked what he thought about immediate rematches in combat sports as a fan, Dillashaw unleashed his enlightened thoughts without taking a single breath.
“If they were close fights or controversial decisions, I was all for immediate rematches,” Dillashaw said. “But other than that, I feel like there’s no reason for it. There are so many guys waiting in line to get these shots.”
Dillashaw paused for a split-second to refocus, not unlike how he might respond to crashing into the fence midway through a round.
“But in my case,” Dillashaw came back, “I think it’s a little bit different.”
Is it really, though? Dillashaw (10-2 MMA, 6-2 UFC) grants Renan Barao (32-2 MMA, 7-1 UFC) a rematch in the main event of UFC 177 Saturday in Sacramento, Calif., that he could have rationally resisted.
To rewind, Dillashaw snapped Barao’s 32-fight unbeaten streak and snatched his championship belt with an upset three months ago at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Upset isn’t the right word. Decimated is closer to what happened to Barao at UFC 173.
Dillashaw knocked off the Seattle Seahawks’ Super Bowl win for the biggest championship beatdown of 2014. Rocky himself would pop in the tape of Dillashaw’s 22-minute massacre to draw inspiration during a training-camp montage.
Dillashaw dropped Barao in the first round, clipped him several times in the next three and finished him with a TKO at 2:26 of the fifth. No one possibly came away thinking Barao deserved as much as sharing a locker room with Dillashaw after watching the fight.
So why rush into a rematch?
“They want to build my name,” Dillashaw said of the UFC. “And it made sense to build my name as big as possible by beating Renan Barao again.”
In that regard, the second fight has served its purpose so far. Dillashaw gets recognized everywhere he goes nowadays, even in Mexico where he got married and honeymooned in June.
He visited the practice of his favorite childhood team, the Oakland Raiders, Tuesday. Fox Sports 1 aired a documentary on him Wednesday. These opportunities “most likely” wouldn’t have happened without giving Barao another dance, according to Dillashaw.
But the concern comes with the scenario of Dillashaw losing. What then? The UFC has never staged an uninterrupted trilogy, making it improbable in this hypothetical situation even though Dillashaw’s performance in the first fight should entitle him to the option.
The thought of defeat hasn’t crossed Dillashaw mind because that’s not how the best professional fighters are conditioned. They get an opponent, obsess over the fight and convince themselves winning is the only outcome.
But before Dillashaw got a chance to meet with UFC President Dana White and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta less than a week after beating Barao, he was on record saying he preferred a different assignment. He liked the idea of facing Raphael Assuncao, the anointed top contender whom has won six straight including a controversial split-decision win over Dillashaw last October.
Now there’s an example of a familiar pairing with something unsettled.
“I want that loss back but if Assuncao lost the fight like he should have then he wouldn’t be the one to get the title fight anyway,” Dillashaw detailed his change in opinion. “So I’ve just focused my attention towards the guy at hand. The motivation is to get to fight a guy who’s still pound-for-pound ranked ahead of me, and to get my name bigger.”
Dillashaw is saying all the right things to keep with the company line. Perhaps he’s dialed the truth into the back of his subconscious, but he must know a second fight with Barao this soon is unfair.
Matching the performance of a lifetime from the first bout is unlikely. Surpassing the majesty of the moment that comes with pulling off the greatest upset in UFC history is impossible.
For Dillashaw at UFC 177, the benefits are menial and the risks are severe.