Like Chewbacca, Dillashaw-Barao II Does Not Make Sense
Posted by Dan Plunkett on 06.17.2014
411's Dan Plunkett explains why an immediate rematch between T.J. Dillashaw and Renan Barao is not the right move!
Over the 20 plus year history of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the rematch has been the promotion's best friend and account for nearly all of its biggest matches. Royce Gracie vs. Ken Shamrock II was the high mark of the SEG era and stood at the top of the list of UFC's biggest bouts for 10 years. The match that took its crown as 2005's Randy Couture vs. Chuck Liddell II. A year later, Tito Ortiz vs. Ken Shamrock II raised the bar even higher. Then, the baton was handed off to Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz II. That stood above the rest until Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir II took the crown. No contest has been as big as that in the five years since, but the biggest matches of 2013 (Chris Weidman vs. Anderson Silva II) and 2012 (Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen II) were rematches as well.
UFC's great success with rematches is no coincidence: the backbone of the fight business is not the skill of the fighters, but rather their personalities and stories. Oftentimes, the story of a particular pair of fighters peaks with the second matchup. The first match enhances the story, and then the second serves as a conclusion.
Sometimes, the first match benefits to the story to the degree that an immediate rematch is the widely desired option. But those organic immediate rematches are rare – the result of a controversial or competitive fight between mixed martial artists more compelling as a pair than they are in any other circumstance.
May's Renan Barao vs. T.J. Dillashaw bantamweight title match was not a major fight. In all likelihood, it failed surpass the pay-per-view sales of even the 1995 Gracie vs. Shamrock rematch despite the pay-per-view universe expanding fivefold. The story entering the match was how Barao would live up to the hype of his "world's best fighter pound-for-pound" billing against Urijah Faber cohort Dillashaw. The story after the match was how Dillashaw was completely dominant in scoring one of MMA's biggest ever upsets.
The list of legitimate contenders for the new champion is short. It includes just one name: Raphael Assuncao, who is 6-0 at bantamweight including a close triumph against Dillashaw. Assuncao was offered the slot against Barao that Dillashaw wound up filling, but had to turn down the short-notice fight. However, instead of Assuncao, who would be on the short list of least-known UFC title challengers of the past few years, UFC is leaning towards Barao – perhaps the least-known UFC champion of the past decade.
Although few parroted UFC President Dana White's claim that Barao was the very best fighter in the world regardless of weight, the 27-year-old Brazilian had a real case for the imaginary title. Until the Dillashaw loss, Barao was unbeaten in his past 33 outings, and his last 6 wins had come against very reputable competition. However, he did not have a long, illustrious championship run. He defended the interim bantamweight championship twice; upon being promoted to undisputed champion, he made just one defense before surrendering the belt to Dillashaw. Fans may have accepted immediate rematches for past pound-for-pound list-toppers like Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre, and Fedor Emelianenko after one-sided losses, but Barao's medium-length run at the top provided him with no such free pass.
In the immediate view of things, Barao is a superior choice to Assuncao. In combat sports, the rule with money matches has always been to make them as soon as possible. UFC's booking usually follows that mantra, but what is best for now is not always what is best for the future. Here, the UFC turns a blind eye to future benefits for a match that is hardly compelling so close to the May outing and does not promise to be a significant money draw.
Nothing is a certainty in mixed martial arts, but Barao, if made to work back to a title shot, would likely beat any two fighters thrown in his path. Dillashaw has yet to prove himself a world-beater, but if he can make a defense or two and get back to Barao, an opportunity would arise. In all likelihood, it still would not be a money match, but it would be a chance to tell a meaningful story in a division that has had very few of those in its history. The once dominant Barao may get his chance to avenge his loss to the unlikely usurper, but first he should prove that he belongs in the spot. In all of UFC's history, there has never been an immediate rematch after a one-sided loss such as Barao's to Dillashaw. Hopefully Dillashaw vs. Barao II does not become that exception.