T.J. Dillashaw knew his last-minute opponent, Joe Soto was coming for his belt, drenched in chance-of-a-lifetime adrenaline.
It didn't matter.
Dillashaw, successfully defending his
"I'll fight anybody they put in front of me, and I'll beat him," Dillashaw said in the octagon, referring both to his next foe and the circumstances that set up Saturday.
Dillashaw (11-2) claimed his victory by repeating the flurry of punches he sent at Soto (15-3) all night. As Soto covered, Dillashaw sent a right kick to the top of Soto's head, dazing the challenger, then knocking him down with a left-handed punch to the face.
As Dillashaw went to the canvas to finish the job, referee John McCarthy moved in and stopped the fight.
Dillashaw was due to fight former bantamweight champion Renan Barao in a rematch of their May bout in Las Vegas, in which Dillashaw handed the Brazilian his first loss in nine years.
Barao passed out trying to cut weight for the bout's 135-pound limit Friday afternoon, however, and hit his head before being told by doctors at a local hospital that the fight was off.
Barao is expected to huddle with UFC matchmakers in the coming weeks to plot his future.
His Saturday absence created the opportunity for Soto (15-3), a Porterville, Calif., product who gained a UFC contract this month after six consecutive wins. He was scheduled to fight a non-pay-per-view in his UFC debut and instead quickly agreed to the main event.
"It was a dream come true," Soto said of the fight. "I always wanted to be in the UFC since I was a kid. I didn't want to die knowing I've never fought in the UFC."
Dillashaw, who'd previously trained with Soto, said he respected the fighter's wrestling enough to remain leery of a takedown as the champion stood and struck from both southpaw and orthodox stances.
Soto continually moved forward, trying to jab his way to a power punch, but he usually got the worst of most exchanges.
Dillashaw ended up scraped under both eyes, but his hard, speedy combinations took their toll on Soto, discouraging him from a more aggressive fight.
The champion fought with more power than the inspired underdog.
"It's been crazy," Dillashaw said of the opponent change adjustment, "especially against a tough opponent like Joe Soto. But I wanted to do this for Sacramento."
Dillashaw raised his arms to encourage the home crowd before the fourth and continued wearing down the challenger with two hard rights and two kicks. "I trained for a long fight," Soto said. "I'm old school."
Soto was left cut at the right eye and on the nose by Dillashaw's final assault. The UFC probably will send Barao to another opponent next, with Dillashaw expected to have a rematch with Raphael Assuncao, who beat him by decision last year.