Bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw successfully defended his title at UFC 177, but not before getting a determined effort from last-minute challenger Joe Soto in Sacramento, Calif. “The Viper” delighted his hometown faithful by closing the show against the massive underdog in the fifth round after landing a vicious head kick and follow-up punch. The end would come at the 2:20 mark and would mark Dillashaw’s second-consecutive fifth-round stoppage. The effort earned him a Performance of the Night bonus.
Soto was surprisingly thrust into the spotlight in his first Octagon appearance after former champion Renan Barao was forced out of the event on the day of the weigh-ins. The Brazilian lost out on the chance to avenge his UFC 173 loss to Dillashaw after encountering medical issues during a tough weight-cut. Barao had a fainting spell and was removed from the event for health and safety reasons.
Soto, who had been slated to face Anthony Birchak on the preliminary portion of the card, jumped at the chance to fight for the title and acquitted himself well against the talented champion. He landed several strong punches during the contest, but in the end, was overwhelmed by Dillshaw’s precise striking and volume combinations. Soto saw his record drop to 15-3 and had his six-fight win streak snapped, but raised his stock dramatically with the performance.
The champion showed his professionalism by not allowing the bizarre series of events and late opponent switch to rattle him. Dillashaw was clearly up on the judges’ scorecards entering the final round, but displayed a strong killer instinct in looking to secure the finish. He upped his record to 11-2 while turning in the spectacular stoppage and has now won seven of his last eight fights.
It’ll be intriguing to see what’s next for Dillashaw after registering his third win of the year. UFC President Dana White has stated that Barao won’t be getting a title fight upon his return. That would seem to leave Raphael Assuncao and former champion Dominick Cruz as the front-runners to face the title-holder next, if they are successful in their upcoming bouts.
Cruz is set to return after a three-year absence at UFC 178 against Takeya Mizugaki, while Assuncao will seek a seventh-straight win in October against Bryan Caraway. Assuncao may have the inside track as one of those victories was a split-decision win over Dillashaw at Fight Night 29 in Brazil.
For an event that received a great deal of criticism for a lack of star power, Dillashaw and Soto capped a strong main card in Sacramento by producing an entertaining affair in their title clash.
Rick LaFitte is an MMA Writer for Rant Sports.