2014 featured an abundance of violent endings and dramatic finishes. Some were shocking upsets. Others were jaw-dropping displays of precision striking. It’s hard to pick one that stood out among the others. Everyone has their own criteria, but what was on the line and the rarity of the finish weighed heavily on MMAWeekly.com’s selection.
On May 24, 11,036 spectators filled the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas for UFC 173: Barao vs. Dillashaw. Renan Barao put his bantamweight title on the line against T.J. Dillashaw in the main event. Barao entered the fight having not lost in nine years and riding a 33-fight streak without a loss.
Dillashaw made his way to the UFC through The Ultimate Fighter reality series. He appeared on the fourteenth season and advanced to the finals, but was defeated by John Dodson at the finale. After finishing runner-up to Dodson, the Team Alpha Male trained Dillashaw reeled off a four-fight winning streak before losing a controversial split decision to Raphael Assuncao at UFC Fight Night 29 in April 2013.
In his next outing, Dillashaw bounced back from the loss with a clear-cut unanimous decision win over Mike Easton at UFC Fight Night 35. A fight between Barao and Assuncao was targeted for UFC 173, but Assuncao declined the bout due to a rib injury, and that opened the door of opportunity for Dillashaw.
Dillashaw entered the title fight as an underdog and most expected the champion to retain his title. Dillashaw’s camp felt Barao was most dangerous in the opening rounds, and for good reason. The Brazilian had fourteen first-round finishes on his resume.
When the bell sounded starting the bout and referee Herb Dean motioned for the fighters to begin, Dillashaw looked composed and light on his feet. He moved laterally along the perimeter of the cage bouncing inside and then out while Barao pressed forward.
Dillashaw rose to the occasion and pulled out everything in his arsenal. He was switching his stances, leading with uppercuts, throwing leg kicks and high kicks and superman punches. He bobbed and weaved with his hands low making the champion miss. Four minutes into the fight, Dillashaw unloaded a right hand that sent Barao crashing to the canvas. The crowd erupted and broadcasters Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg yelled into their headsets as Dillashaw pounced on his downed opponent.
Barao did his best to cover up and recover. The 34-fight veteran isolated a leg and bought himself some time. Dillashaw went for a choke, but the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt defended the submission attempt and survived the round. It was clear that the challenger came to become the champion.
Barao, known for his aggressive striking style, was advise between rounds not to trade punches with Dillashaw.
“Don’t trade punches with him right now. Don’t trade punches. He’s moving too much,” he was told while sitting on the stool. “You’ve got to come back in this round. You can lose the round but you have to come back.”
The Team Nova Uniao trained champion looked to have recovered in the early going of the second frame. He landed counter strikes and leg kicks, but Dillashaw continued to beat him to the punch, landing several lead right hands. Between rounds the crowd could be heard on the broadcast chanting, “USA, USA,” in support of the California native.
As Dillashaw’s camp predicted, Barao began to fade in the later rounds. Following the third round, Team Nova Uniao leader Andre Pederneiras told his fighter, “You got to try and take him down.” Prior to the fight neither Barao nor Dillashaw had ever been taken down. In the fourth frame, Dillashaw continued to dominate the exchanges and dictate the pace. No one had ever made Barao look so average.
Pederneiras tried desperately to motivate Barao heading into the final round. “It’s the last round. He’s winning the fight. This is the last round. You have to go knock him out or submit him, or you’re going to lose this fight. Everything or nothing — You have to give everything. It’s for your family,” he said to the damaged fighter.
Dillashaw could have cruised in the final round and won the title. Judges Derek Cleary and Tony Weeks had Dillashaw winning all of the first four rounds. Judge Chris Lee’s scorecard had him winning three with Barao taking only the second round. But Dillashaw had no intentions of cruising. Instead, he poured it on.
Midway through the last round, Dillashaw landed a head kick followed by a combination. He unleashed a left hook that dropped Barao. Unlike in the opening round, Barao could not shield himself from the onslaught of hammer fists and punches. Referee Herb Dean stepped in to stop the one-sided beating. The 31-fight winning streak came to an abrupt halt. It was the first time Barao had been finished in his ten-year career. The magnitude of the technical knockout was enough to earn MMAWeekly’s KO of the Year.
There were several spectacular finishes that deserve mention, too many to list all of them here, but some of the more notable ones were Josh Samman’s head kick KO of Eddie Gordon, Dong Hyun Kim’s spinning elbow that took out John Hathaway, and Fabricio Werdum’s finish of Mark Hunt for the interim UFC heavyweight championship.