Renan Barao would share the painful details if he could remember them. He can’t. TJ Dillashaw’s powerful overhand staggered him in the opening round, leaving him dazed and confused and soon to be dethroned.
The former UFC bantamweight champion didn’t even realize what had happened until he underwent a post-fight physical at a Las Vegas area hospital.
“Did I win?” Barao asked. “Did I win?”
After hearing he lost his belt, the heavily-favored Brazilian was given a blow-by-blow of Dillashaw’s quickness and surprising kicks, the reaction of the stunned sellout crowd, the final strikes that ended the fight 2:26 into the fifth round.
Three months later, Barao and Dillashaw are promoting and preparing for an Aug. 30 rematch at Sleep Train Arena. On Wednesday, they were two fighters passing in the wind – actually, two athletes in a chance encounter at The Bee – and going to great lengths to keep their distance.
Mixed martial arts clearly isn’t the NBA, NFL or NHL. The scene was more like a brushback pitch, or quietly macho posturing: As Barao sat in the second floor lobby with a publicist and two translators, Dillashaw rode down an escalator, his championship belt in his possession, seemingly, if deliberately, oblivious to the Barao interview session.
There were no hugs, no dinner plans, no friendly exchanges. As one of Barao’s interpreters observed afterward, three months ago these guys pummeled each other in an octagon. Why would they pretend to be best friends a few weeks before a rematch?
The more interesting question is why the UFC scheduled Dillashaw-Barao II so quickly. Dillashaw had expected to face at least a few challengers, including Raphael Assuncao, before a rematch. In a previous meeting between the two, Assuncao won in a split decision that continues to rankle. Dillashaw, the former wrestling star from Angels Camp who fights for Urijah Faber’s Team Alpha Male, insists he won the fight.
But he has no complaints – and no fears – about the rematch.
“I understand it,” Dillashaw said. “Renan (pronounced Heh-NAN), he’s been such a dominant fighter. He was undefeated for nine years and 35 fights, and I whupped up on him in awesome fashion. I think people want to see it again. It was a very, very entertaining fight.
“And then we knew UFC was going to come to Sacramento anyway, so since I was healthy, they wanted the champ to fight. There are so many great story lines. Why not?”
Dillashaw, 28, who wrestled for Bret Harte High and Cal State Fullerton before turning to martial arts, is still exhaling. His international celebrity is a relatively unique phenomenon. His sleepy hometown in the Gold Country – known as “Frogtown” – has one McDonald’s, three stoplights and approximately 3,000 residents, several of whom are relatives.
Since the fight, he has traveled to promote MMA, visited Mexico, agreed to a much-anticipated celebration this Sunday in Angels Camp, and married his fiancée, Rebecca ... twice.
“We got married in Mexico so we had to come back and have a civil ceremony,” Dillashaw said, grinning. “Yesterday, about 3:30, at the courthouse. My grandparents couldn’t make it to Mexico because of passport problems, so they were our witnesses, our only witnesses.”
With Faber coming off a victory earlier this month and Team Alpha Male teammate Chad Mendes’ scheduled fight against Jose Aldo (shoulder injury) postponed, the local MMA scene shifts onto the shoulders of the 5-foot-6, 135-pound Dillashaw. Between marathon interview sessions Wednesday and Sunday’s hometown celebration, the East Sac resident will be at Sleep Train Arena when tickets for UFC 177 go on sale Friday at 10 a.m.
Barao, 27, traveled far greater distances for Wednesday’s media tour. He flew from Brazil to Sacramento on Tuesday – via Atlanta and Newark, N.J. – and planned to return to Rio de Janeiro early this morning. Though visibly fatigued, he was warm and engaging during a 30-minute conversation, smiling and laughing, at times communicating with sweeping hand gestures.
A native of Natal, a beachside community located on the far eastern tip of Brazil, he grew up in modest surroundings and took up boxing at age 13.
Asked about any interest in soccer or basketball, Barao shook his head vehemently, grinning but then almost snorting his response. A translator provided background information and said the former champion is approaching the rematch “with the thirst of a lion.”
The defeat shocked Barao, who is 5-6 and 135 pounds and uses his long arms and length in an aggressive, attacking style. With a near decade-long winning streak that included a victory over Faber last February, he was the overwhelming favorite against Dillashaw. Instead, he was kept off balance by his challenger’s quick footwork, constant elusive movement, and strikes from different angles.
When the overhand right landed, Barao said, he was done, dazed, surprised he lasted into the fifth. But he doesn’t expect to be surprised when the two meet again next month. Nor does he have any issue with the venue.
“I think it’s fair,” said Barao, referring to a rematch in Sacramento. “I’ll fight anywhere. My whole goal is to come here and take what’s mine back to my home, which is my belt.”
With that, he smiled, shook hands, and was off.