What a disappointment UFC 177 could have been after Renan Barao bowed out just a day and a half before his rematch with TJ Dillashaw. Thanks to a more than capable last minute fill in, Joe Soto, this UFC pay per view was a hit. I know my disappointment in the Barao absence was replaced with a surprising enjoyment of the whole card.
Let me just say that I was tempted to not even buy UFC 177 after finding out about Renan Barao being off the main card. I had been wowed by the excellent previews of the upcoming rematch between Barao and TJ Dillashaw. The first fight was fascinating and I thought that the former champ would be on a maniac like mission to regain his belt. I can’t say that Barao was not being a pro. Maybe he had a serious health issue that resulted from cutting weight. I don’t know. But I know I was very disappointed with him being out as the challenger to TJ Dillashaw.
My level of excitement for this PPV returned as fight after fight got me going. When I got to the co-main event between Danny Castillo and Tony Ferguson, I had forgotten about Renan Barao for the most part. Ferguson and Castillo didn’t put on an epic display of action but the fight was close and hard fought. There are many fights that end up very boring when one fighter is on the bottom for the majority of the fight and the top man does little to push the action. However in this match Ferguson was on the bottom much of the latter two rounds. But he was the aggressor from the bottom position. If he was only able to land ear slaps, that is what he did to ensure that he was pushing forward, even underneath Castillo.
The start of this lightweight battle saw Castillo, of the Alpha Male camp, throwing big shots that never connected. He was in and out on the dangerous Ferguson. For the record, anyone who knows nothing of MMA fighting can just look at Tony Ferguson and see he is not a guy to be trifled with at a bar. The man is the picture of toughness. In round one I thought Ferguson would end the battle with the D’Arce choke he had firmly locked in on his opponent. However, Castillo survived the choke to my surprise.
Rounds two and three of this fight were very similar. Castillo was able to gain the advantage on the ground. Once he was there and on top he made few offensive moves. And by few, I mean none. He basically laid on top of Ferguson. I will admit that Ferguson could do little to escape the grounding, although he was attacking from his pinned position. This fight was hard to judge. I would have given the fight to Ferguson, but if Castillo had won a unanimous decision, I would not have been shocked. He was on top the majority of the time after all. I would not have wanted to be a judge for this one. The end of the fight saw Tony Ferguson wind up in a choke hold. I don’t think he made a mistake to end up there. I believe he knew he could survive the last few seconds, so he took some chances at the end of round three. Ferguson got the split decision much to the dismay of Danny Castillo. I can see both guys thinking they truly won this match.
The main event could have shaped up like a propped up Dana White concoction to save a PPV from flopping. Joe Soto made sure that was not the case at all. The young man, in his first UFC fight, showed the heart of a warrior. He took this fight at truly the last minute, a day and a half before the fight! Who does that? Dana White loves guys who are not afraid to step up when they are needed. Joe Soto may have earned himself a lot of leeway in his UFC career. Not only did he fill in for a fight that no one else was apparently up for. He fought very well and gave Dillashaw a real title match.
I want to make sure I give TJ Dillashaw all the credit in the world as well. He took on an opponent that he had not trained for and was in a no win situation against. If he lost, he got beaten by an unknown. If he won, then he beat a nobody. All the pressure was on the champion.
As this fight started, it was clear that Joe Soto’s confidence at the weigh in and his ring entry was not phony. He was not afraid of TJ Dillashaw. Not afraid at all. He came to fight and win, not to fill a void. If there was any doubt that Soto was in an unfamiliar place though, his corner crew looked like they were pulled from the stands. No insult to them, but this stage was a bit more than they were prepped for initially. The first round was basically a feeling out process. Neither fighter wanted to do anything rash. The first five minutes of the fight were a substitute for weeks of preparation that was not available due to the card change.
Round two was more striking exchanges with the champion just throwing tons of shots. Dillashaw caught Soto with a nice knee and a hard jab early on. Soto connected with a great hook of his own, but looked a bit less active in this round. The newbie to the UFC showed some good defense as the round went on as well. I do think that TJ Dillashaw could have exploited more body shots if he had chosen to do so. Strategy can get tricky when you have less than a day to prepare for a new opponent though.
Round three saw mostly stand up action again. There were a couple takedown attempts that were stuffed by Soto. The challenger countered well but still ended up getting hit more than any fighter would like. Round four is when you could see Soto tiring more and more. He would not use this as an excuse, but he trained for a three round fight originally. So if he was gassed, it was not because of a lack of preparation.
The champion ended the main event in the fifth round with a rowdy head kick that knocked Joe Soto out for all intents and purposes. Big John saved Soto from any follow up damage as quickly as possible. Dillashaw did what he needed to in order to win the fight and keep the belt. Soto went above and beyond in saving this card from embarrassment. He answered the bell when the UFC needed him and gave the fans a fight worth the price of admission.
Joe Soto looks to have a bright future in the UFC. He certainly got thrown into the fire in a hurry. He presented himself very well and I hope he is rewarded with a great UFC career. The champion will now look to his next opponent. That will definitely not be Renan Barao, who will have to work his way back to another title shot. Dillashaw proved his worth as the bantamweight champion. He overcame a bad scenario last night and is obviously not going to duck anyone going forward. It would have been easy for him to bow out of UFC 177 after Barao dropped off. But that may be why he has the belt that Barao once held. He was game and Barao was not.