TJ Dillashaw VS Renan Barao – UFC 173
This one is still making some people scratch their heads. How did a last-minute replacement who was not even the UFC’s first choice end up defeating one of the winningest athletes in current MMA history?
Dillashaw was originally scheduled to fight Takeya Mizugaki at UFC 173 in May, but the fates had other plans, as instead Dillashaw got his chance for the Bantamweight title. Originally, Raphael Assuncao was going to meet Barao, but that was scrapped due to a rib injury, leaving the champion without a challenge. Instead, the 9-2 runner-up from TUF 14 took on the 32-1 Brazilian for the title in a match that no one could have predicted the outcome.
From the moment the bell rung, Dillashaw swarmed Barao and overwhelmed him en route to a fifth round TKO victory to win the title. Commentator Joe Rogan celebrated with Dillashaw after he won the belt, saying, “That was the greatest performance I have ever seen in my life!… You surpassed all expectations tonight with this performance. This was just … stunning…. This was incredible…. T.J., this is one of the finest performances I have ever seen!”
The two were set for a rematch at UFC 177, but Barao had to pull out due to issues with his weight cut, and instead Dillashaw decimated Joe Soto, beating him by knockout. Barao is set to make his comeback later this week at UFC Fight Night 58, but he will have some ways to go before he can get his rematch.
Will Brooks VS Michael Chandler – Bellator 120
In a similar fashion to Dillashaw’s title win, Will Brooks also had some serendipitous luck on the way to getting his chance at Bellator gold.
Until he fought Brooks, Bellator lightweight champ Michael Chandler had only suffered one loss in 13 fights, and that one loss was to Eddie Alvarez. This event was going to Bellator’s big inaugural pay-per-view, but suffered all sorts of bumps in the road (this being their second attempt at making a PPV). Originally headlined by the rubber match to end the trilogy between Michael Chandler and Eddie Alvarez for the lightweight title, Alvarez was forced out due to an injury, and Brooks instead stepped in to face off against Chandler for the interim title.
No one expected Brooks to not only outstrike Chandler, but also outwrestle him for five rounds, winning the split decision in one of the best fights of the year. Chandler claimed he had a back injury heading into the fight and that affected his performance, but that may be questionable as the two had their rematch at Bellator 131 where Brooks had a much more convincing performance against Chandler, winning by TKO.
Bobby Green VS Josh Thomson – UFC on Fox 12
A former Strikeforce lightweight champion, Thomson had been a serious contender for the UFC LW title for some time, and was working his way back toward the higher rankings in the division when he was scheduled to face Michael Johnson at UFC on Fox 12. Johnson was injured, as seems to be a trend on this list, and Bobby Green stepped in to replace him on two weeks notice.
Green was a perennial underdog, but we should probably stop treating him as one after his win over Thomson. The fight was a tough one to call, but Green earned the split-decision win in the biggest fight of his career, and while he might not be in the running for a shot at the belt yet, it was hard not to take more notice of him after that performance. Unfortunately for Green, his next fight was a loss to Edson Barboza, but hey, at the time it was a huge deal and reminds you that anything can happen in the octagon (trademark pending Mike Goldberg).
Rafael Dos Anjos VS Benson Henderson – UFC Fight Night 49
In his fifth title UFC lightweight title defense, Henderson lost his belt to Anthony Pettis at UFC 164 in 2013. Bendo wanted his belt back, and racked up two wins to get back into title contention. That is, until he had to face Rafael Dos Anjos at UFC Fight Night 49.
Much like Chandler, Bendo had lost only once since 2007, and that loss was to Pettis. With a 21-3 record at that point, Bendo had a tough opponent in Dos Anjos, who had a record slightly larger than Henderson at 21-7. Bendo had been on a tear, and this event was expected to be his shot at making a big statement. While the event did make a statement, it was Dos Anjos who knocked out Bendo at 2:31 in the first round to let everyone know that he was legit, and may very well be on the way to his own title shot in 2015.
Joe Warren VS Eduardo Dantas – Bellator 128
The self-proclaimed “Baddest Man on the Planet” was already a former featherweight champion in Bellator when he decided to drop a weight class and fight in the bantamweight division. This may have been a smart move, as he ran through the Season 9 tournament and won the interim title against Rafael Silva at Bellator 118, replacing the true champ, Eduardo Dantas, who had suffered a hand injury.
At Bellator 128, Dantas returned to the cage to defend his proper belt against Warren’s interim title, in a match that many expected to be a repeat of Pat Curran’s performance against Warren (just hopefully not as brutal). Warren outworked Dantas through five rounds to win the belt from a man 10 years younger and who had never suffered a single loss in the Bellator cage. Warren is now officially the first and currently only fighter to hold Bellator belts in two different weight classes, and an inspiration to older fighters who want to grab that brass ring, or in this case a gold belt, before it gets too late.
Robbie Lawler VS Johny Hendricks – UFC 181
Lawler has not had an easy time in 2014. “Ruthless” had a shot at the welterweight title back at the start of the year, and lost to Hendricks in a very close and controversial fight at UFC 171. Lawler fought two more times to earn his chance at the gold again while Hendricks recovered from an injury.
Throughout his career, Lawler was tagged as a guy that had the potential to make it big, but as his career went on, he seemed to fall behind. Lawler had not held a title since 2009 during his time in Elite XC, and shuffled through weight classes for years that added up to an uneven record for the former Miletich protege. Now training at American Top Team, Lawler has seemed to have found his stride, and once he returned to the UFC in 2013 began showing new signs of life. At UFC 181, the fire was lit and the trigger was pulled, and Lawler came out on top and finally won the belt that so many fans predicted he would have won years ago against one of the toughest welterweights in the UFC.