T.J. Dillashaw (11-2) did not seem too fazed by a late opponent switch, as he executed a strong five round title fight against his new opponent, Joe Soto (15-3). The champion successfully defended his UFC bantamweight title at UFC 177 with a head kick knockout in the fifth round.
The champion continued to put his Bang Muay Thai training on display inside the Octagon, his footwork, head movement, feints, and overall striking proved to be too much for Soto, who came in as a 9-to-1 underdog.
Having trained with Soto in the past, T.J. knew how tough of a fighter he was and that he was in for a fight in the main event. Soto would not attend the post-fight presser, being taken to the hospital after the five round battle with Dillashaw.
“I knew Joe Soto was a tough fighter. I practiced with him, 8-10 weeks ago. I knew he was a tough wrestler, great grappler. I’ve seen a lot of his fights–former Bellator champ, he’s been around, had some great fights,” Dillashaw said.
“It was a tough one man, to switch my opponent last minute like that. It was a real stressful situation that I just had to man up and do. That’s the positive I took out of it, it could’ve been a negative-negative. For me to start my legacy as champ, I’ll take fights on one day notice, opponent switch, and make a positive out of it.”
Stress from the opponent change came from more than one direction, as Dillashaw was up until 1 A.M. doing interviews. However he was able to get a good night’s sleep before having to fight.
“It was a real stressful night last night. I was up until 1 am doing interviews about Soto. The UFC was at my house coming to do interviews. It was just the fact that you train so much for this one guy, it’s just a mix up. Other than that I turned it into a positive.”
Comparing Soto to his originally scheduled opponent, Renan Barao, the biggest worry was the wrestling ability of Joe Soto, which led to Dillashaw ‘touching’ a lot more instead of putting power behind his punches.
“Yeah he did a good job with the defense and covering up. I got a little bit too loose somethings because I was able to be aggressive and then just covering up. I wanted to touch, I didn’t want to put too much behind my punches because I knew he’s a good wrestler. I didn’t want him to shoot underneath my punches so I had to touch a lot more.”
“Yeah he circled into it, he was circling hard the way I was pressuring him into the cage, he had to circle to his left. So I knew the right kick was there,” Dillashaw describing his head kick knockout finish.
UFC president Dana White praised T.J. Dillashaw for his ability to handle the pressure of stepping and taking an opponent switch, as well as performing the way he did on fight night.
“I don’t think that anybody, not even me, not even my staff, had more pressure this weekend than T.J. Dillashaw did,” Dana said. “He carried himself like a champ throughout this whole thing, defended his title at home. I think he hit it out of the park tonight. I’m happy for him.”
As for who is next in line for the champion, Dana White seems to agree that Dominick Cruz or Rafael Assuncao will be next, given that they win their upcoming fights.
“It’s a good problem to have,” White said of the bantamweight title picture. “Probably who ever doesn’t fight T.J. will fight [Renan] Barao.”
“I’ll be ready whenever they call me,” said Dillashaw.
As for a fight with Renan Barao, Dillashaw says “for now, it’s behind me”.