Visit UFC.com/Fantasy to play...
The UFC returns to Sacramento this weekend with one of the biggest rematches of 2014 headlining the card as Team Alpha Male's T.J. Dillashaw looks to successfully defend his bantamweight title for the first time against the man he took it from, Renan Barao.
Barao was undefeated for nearly 10 years and over 30 fights before he ran into Dillashaw, who buzzsawed through the former champion for four rounds before finishing him off in the fifth. Now it's time to see if Barao has the ability to bounce back and reclaim the title or if Dillashaw is just the first fighter in almost a decade to have his number.
Also on the card, local fighter Danny Castillo gets the chance to shine in front of his hometown crowd when he faces former Ultimate Fighter winner Tony Ferguson in the co-main event of the evening. Both fighters seem primed for a run at the top 15 of the division, but only one of them will remain on that path after Saturday night in Sacramento.
In today's fantasy preview we're going to look at those key main card matchups, including the headline bout between Dillashaw and Barao, to see if the champion stays on top or if the Brazilian can reclaim his spot.
T.J. DILLASHAW (-150 FAVORITE) VS. RENAN BARAO (+130 UNDERDOG)
It would be easy to list the accolades for both these fighters as a statistical breakdown of the main event to pick and choose who will win. Barao has been a monster throughout his WEC and UFC career, winning nine fights, six by TKO or submission, while climbing the ranks as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport. Dillashaw isn't far behind with his incredible striking (highest striking rate in UFC/WEC bantamweight history and second highest accuracy) while also showcasing a versatile ground game where he lands over two takedowns per fight and has attempted 11 submissions in his UFC career.
As great as that would be to talk about, the fact is the statistics go out the window in large part because the sample that needs to be observed is the first fight between Dillashaw and Barao from UFC 173 in May.
Dillashaw was a phenomenon that night, beating Barao to the punch and knocking the Brazilian around in the striking category by 140 to 64 in significant strikes. The most demoralizing thing that Barao felt that night is that, unlike many other upsets that have happened in the sport, he got beat up by Dillashaw for four straight rounds before finally being finished in the fifth and final round. No one can say Dillashaw just landed a lucky punch and it was a fluke that he beat Barao. Instead, Dillashaw was crisp with his punches all fight long, his footwork was fast and elusive and he beat Barao from one side of the Octagon to the other before knocking him out to win the title.
How will this rematch fare?
Well, Dillashaw is brimming with confidence, which isn't a bad thing. He believed in himself in the first fight, but now he knows he can do it and that can sometimes make a fighter even more dangerous. Just ask Chris Weidman how he felt going into his first fight with Anderson Silva and the swagger he carried into the second bout knowing he could beat the fighter regarded as the greatest of all time. If there was even a sliver of a doubt in Dillashaw's head the first time, it's been eradicated and he's going to be ready to go on Saturday night.
Also it can't be ignored that Barao takes this rematch three months after being beaten for more than 20 straight minutes by Dillashaw. He didn't get six months off to recover, he didn't even get another fight in which to regain his confidence. He's thrown right back to the wolves and that could ultimately spell his downfall in the rematch.
Dillashaw doesn't have to change much to beat Barao again so long as he keeps his feet and head moving at all times and never becomes a stationary target for the Brazilian to zero in on with his massive strikes. Barao hits as hard as any fighter in the division so it only takes one mental slip and he could be dropping bombs on Dillashaw while smiling about regaining his title. Chances are Dillashaw was aware of that the last time and he'll be just as smart about it in the rematch. He might mix in a few more takedown attempts but as long as he doesn't try to reinvent the wheel, Dillashaw should walk out with the title belt still wrapped around his waist, although a decision would be more likely this time than a finish.
Barao might be the best bantamweight in the world right now without a title, and while an immediate rematch three months after the first fight probably sounded like a good idea at the time, in reality he probably could have used some time off and a warm-up fight before facing Dillashaw again. As it stands, that decision may cost him the UFC bantamweight crown.
TONY FERGUSON (-245 FAVORITE) VS. DANNY CASTILLO (+205 UNDERDOG)
Former Ultimate Fighter winner Tony Ferguson has found a new level of confidence lately with his training and preparation and it's shown as he's finished off his last two opponents - one via knockout and the other via submission. Meanwhile, Danny Castillo continues to loom around the top 15 of the lightweight division with wins over fighters like Charlie Brenneman, Tim Means and Anthony Njokuani.
Ferguson is a former college wrestler who has actually adopted a heavy-handed style where he uses his grappling pedigree to block opponents’ takedowns. He's had perfect takedown defense since coming to the UFC, with no opponents able to get him to the mat yet, and when he decides to wrestle he's had an almost 58 percent success rate. Where Ferguson picks up business is with his striking. He's got an incredible rate where he lands 4.48 significant strikes per minute, which is the fifth highest rate in the lightweight division.
Castillo will do his best to counter those attacks because he is a fighter who loves to wrestle, with almost 39 percent of his strikes taking place on the ground. He's landed 43 takedowns, which is the fourth most in UFC/WEC lightweight history, and he averages nearly three and a half takedowns per 15 minutes in the cage. Castillo isn't a slouch on his feet either, with knockout power from his hands and almost 45 percent accuracy when striking.
It would appear in this fight that Ferguson is the anti-Castillo with the way he competes, and that could be the key to putting him over the hump and getting a finish on Saturday night in Sacramento. Ferguson is quick to the punch and his wrestling is top notch, so even if he doesn't go for a single takedown, his ability to stuff Castillo's attempts will give him a big advantage. Ferguson is a nasty power puncher for 155 pounds, and given the way he's fought lately, it seems like only a matter of time before he finds an opening and slips a punch through Castillo's defense and puts him away.
BETHE CORREIA (-140 FAVORITE) VS. SHAYNA BASZLER (+120 UNDERDOG)
Brazilian fighter Bethe Correia has looked solid thus far in her UFC career, going 2-0, but her most important move happened after her last fight when she found a way to taunt UFC women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey and put herself into a position to potentially fight for the belt in 2015. Correia beat Jessamyn Duke in her last fight, and after the bout she motioned towards Rousey, who was in her corner, the four fingers held up before putting one down.
For those not in the know, Rousey, Duke, Shayna Baszler and Marina Shafir call themselves “The Four Horsewomen” styled after the famous professional wrestling faction known as “The Four Horsemen” and their signature symbol is holding four fingers in the air. When Correia took out Duke, she motioned as if she took out one of the Horsemen and there were only three to go. Now Shafir just turned pro and she's not even in the UFC, so really there's only one more woman standing in Correia's way before getting to Rousey and that's her opponent at UFC 177.
Baszler is a true veteran of mixed martial arts and had to be considered a heavy favorite to win her season of The Ultimate Fighter. Unfortunately, she suffered an upset loss to eventual show winner Julianna Pena and has been dealing with a series of injuries that have kept her out of action since the reality show ended.
Baszler is a very well-rounded fighter with solid stand-up and submission skills. Her wrestling is hit or miss, but she has a strong ground game if the fight goes to the mat. She doesn't stand out in any one area, but instead is defined as a jack of all trades with a really good skill set everywhere.
Correia is much more of a striker than she is a grappler, at least during her UFC career. She has an incredible output on the feet, landing 5.2 strikes per minute with almost 52 percent accuracy. She's capable of taking opponents down, but has rarely tried it in the Octagon. Instead, she peppers fighters with a blistering striking attack and beats them to the punch before they have much of a chance to counter.
Against Baszler, Correia just needs to continue doing what she's already done against her first two opponents in the UFC and she'll coast to another win. She's faster than Baszler and has a better striking arsenal than her American opponent as well. Correia has to be careful of Baszler's ability to switch things up and move this from a stand-up battle to a ground fight because she can turn on a dime and change her attack if she's not doing as well in one particular avenue or another. Still, Correia is a volume striker, and by the time the horn sounds she should have a lopsided number of punches in her favor to win a unanimous decision over Baszler.
If that happens, Correia will have two down with one more to go…
CARLOS DIEGO FERREIRA (-210 FAVORITE) VS. RAMSEY NIJEM (+175 UNDERDOG)
Submission specialist Carlos Diego Ferreira makes his second appearance in the Octagon against former Ultimate Fighter runner-up Ramsey Nijem, and he finds himself instilled as a very sizable favorite against a veteran UFC lightweight.
Ferreira made short work of TUF 16 winner Colton Smith in his debut and he's undefeated with a perfect 10-0 record while putting away six of his opponents, all by submission. His opponent Nijem has fallen prey to submissions before as well, most notably his guillotine choke loss to James Vick last year.
Don't let that one loss or Ferreira's record scare you away from making Nijem an upset pick on this card. Nijem has come a long way in his career lately, with a big victory over Justin Edwards as well as a knockout in his last fight against Beneil Dariush, who is a very accomplished grappler in his own right. Since beginning work with coach Tareq Azim (who works with former UFC fighter Jake Shields as well as lightweight contender Gilbert Melendez), Nijem has become a better and more confident fighter.
Nijem has a wrestling background, so he's certainly not afraid to go to the ground, and if he's rolling with Shields on a daily basis these days, he's working with one of the best jiu-jitsu practitioners in the history of MMA. Nijem also packs a serious punch and that’s where his edge goes in this fight to best Ferreira.
Nijem lands almost three and a half significant strikes per minute with 46 percent accuracy. His defense is also very solid as he blocks almost 65 percent of his opponents’ strikes against him. He averages over five takedowns per 15 minutes, but chances are in this fight he'll ward off Ferreira's takedowns and unleash a striking attack on the feet.
If Nijem avoids getting into too many scrambles on the mat with Ferreira, he could walk out of Sacramento with a decision win and an upset to boot. When it comes to getting a leg up in the fantasy competition, this could be a good one to look at on Saturday night.