T.J. Dillashaw is seeking to make a final mark in the Ultimate Fighting Championship as something more than a belt-holder.
Accepting his first title defense with one day’s notice and winning by technical knockout is
a good start.
Dillashaw, a former Cal State Fullerton wrestler, successfully defended his UFC bantamweight
championship Saturday night with a fifth-round technical knockout of last-minute replacement fighter Joe Soto.
“I knew Joe Soto was a tough performer. … I had practiced with him eight to 10 weeks ago. Tough wrestler, great grappler. I’ve seen a lot of his fights,” Dillashaw said late Saturday in his post-fight news conference.
“To switch opponents like that was a real stressful situation. … It was a real stressful night. I was up until 1 in the morning doing interviews about Soto. It was a crazy situation.”
“I had to man up and do it … to start my legacy like that put a smile on my face. I’ll take it.”
Boosted by a crowd that generated a $700,000 live gate at Sleep Train Arena in his training hometown, while more than 600 others came from his small hometown of Angels Camp, Calif., Dillashaw not only bought his friends three beer kegs for their tailgate party, he subjected Soto (15-3) to a repetition of combinations.
In the fifth, he backed Soto toward the cage, blasted a right kick to the challenger’s temple, then knocked him down with a hard left hand and finished him.
Quite a performance on the fly.
“I don’t think anybody -- not me, not my staff -- had any more pressure on him than T.J. Dillashaw,” UFC President Dana White said. “He carried himself like a champ through this whole thing, defended his title at home."
Dillashaw (11-2) was supposed to have a rematch with Brazilian Renan Barao, the former bantamweight champion who suffered his first loss in nine years when Dillashaw beat him by fifth-round TKO in May.
Barao passed out cutting weight Friday, hit his head and doctors ruled him out. The Brazilian couldn’t get any lighter than 138 pounds, White said Saturday, and will now have to determine if he can fight again at 135 pounds or move up to featherweight (145).
Barao left for home without a purse, which White called “the ultimate penalty.”
Soto, making his UFC debut, produced a resilient effort, cutting Dillashaw under both eyes.
“I thought I made it competitive,” Soto, of Porterville, Calif., said before being taken to a hospital for precautionary reasons. “I had wrestled with him before, but I never trained against him in standup.
“I'm disappointed that I didn't win. I didn't get my offense going and made it tougher on myself. I trained for three rounds, going five rounds was a little tiring, but I always prepare for the worst-case scenario.
“This experience is going to make me a better fighter. I was having fun in there. When you get in the octagon, that fighting warrior spirit comes out.”
White said Raphael Assuncao (21-4), who beat Dillashaw by split-decision in 2013, or former champion Dominick Cruz (19-1) are the front-runners to be Dillashaw’s next opponent. White seemed to lean to Assuncao, who has to win an Oct. 4 fight first. Cruz, sidelined by injuries since 2011, fights Sept. 27.
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