Joe Soto acquits himself well as T.J. Dillashaw retains UFC belt with a late TKO

Kevin Iole
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T.J. Dillashaw used a kick to the head to stop Joe Soto in the fifth round Saturday at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, Calif., and retain the bantamweight title in the main event of UFC 177. (File photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Guys like Joe Soto are what make professional sports so great. Soto said he didn't want to die without having gotten a chance to fight in the UFC, and on Saturday, he was going to get his chance.

He was set to face Anthony Birchak in the first fight of the night at UFC 177 at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, Calif.

But just an hour or so before he was to weigh in and only about 26 hours before he actually was supposed to fight, Soto was given the opportunity to fight T.J. Dillashaw for the bantamweight title when Barao passed out while trying to make weight.

Soto put on a significantly better performance on Saturday in the main event against Dillashaw than Barao did in May when he was pummeled from start to finish and lost his belt in Las Vegas.

Like Barao, Soto was finished in the fifth round, but other than that, there was few similarities between the two matches.

Soto was competitive, worked hard and was a threat from the beginning until he was stopped with a head kick at 2:20 of the final round.

It was yet another outstanding performance by Dillashaw, who coolly adjusted after the man he'd prepared to fight for more than two months dropped out only an hour or so before the weigh-in.

Dillashaw handled his business like a true professional. He spent time with his coaches Friday discussing how to best Soto, and then he went out and used a high-strike volume to gradually wear Soto down.

"Man, it's been crazy," Dillashaw said. "An hour before making weight, I get a call and I hear he's not making weight and there was a switch of opponents. It's [hard] especially when it's a tough opponent like Joe Soto."

Former bantamweight champion Renan Barao. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
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Former bantamweight champion Renan Barao. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Barao made himself look bad with comments he made before the fight.

At the weigh-in, Dillashaw accused Barao of being afraid. Everyone, including Dillashaw, knows that Barao wasn't afraid. He was highly unprofessional, and no one could blame Dillashaw, so soon after receiving the news, for being angry. It cost him money, as Barao was a much more high-profile opponent than Soto and likely would have sold more pay-per-views.

But Barao, who said he'd gotten dizzy and bumped his head in the bath tub while cutting weight, lit into Dillashaw on Saturday.

It was galling to hear him speak that way. He should have apologized to UFC officials, Dillashaw, the Brazilian media who traveled to Sacramento to chronicle his bid to regain the belt and the fans who bought tickets to see him compete. Despite his loss to Dillashaw at UFC 173 in May, Barao remains one of the best and most exciting fighters in the world and he has to know he has fans who paid good money to see him fight.

"I trained harder than ever for this fight," Barao said. "I wanted to make T.J. swallow his words from everything he's been saying. I used the same methods getting ready for this fight as I have for my last 35 fights. I didn't think there was any problem. I just got up too quickly, fainted and hit my head. I want to come back and tear T.J.'s head off."

Well, he didn't get the chance to do it because of his own lack of professionalism, and then he went and disrespected the company and Dillashaw by ripping him on Saturday.

He looked even worse compared to the way Soto carried himself. Soto accepted the fight without hesitation, despite having trained for three rounds and not five.

And then he didn't just show up for a slightly bigger paycheck. He went out and fought and tried to win.

"It was a dream come true," Soto said of landing the fight. "It was an honor I got the UFC to ask me to fight for the title. I love the UFC and I always wanted to be here since I was a kid. I always wanted to be interviewed by [UFC analyst Joe Rogan]. I didn't want to live the rest of my life, and die, without fighting in the UFC."

He landed a few hard right hands, particularly in the first two rounds, but he couldn't deal with Dillashaw's hand speed and contant punching. Dillashaw wasn't throwing hard, but he was throwing often. Soto was looking to counter, but Dillashaw rarely gave him an opportunity to get his counters off.

But he put forth maximum effort from beginning to the violent end, when Dillashaw kicked him in the head and then landed a straight left before referee Big John McCarthy jumped in at 2:20 of the fifth to halt it.

 Dillashaw, who became the first UFC fighter to ever score two fifth-round finishes in a career, acquitted himself well and proved his legitimacy as a champion. By showing up and being a professional and giving everything he had, Soto showed his class and essentially saved the night.

He was beaten, but he was no loser.

The only loser on this night was Barao, who lost a title shot because of his own lack of professionalism and then compounded his mistake by showing no class.

Fight fans have short memories and will forgive Barao if he comes back and performs at the high level he'd been at for nearly a decade.

But he'd do well to take a close look at T.J. Dillashaw and Joe Soto and learn a lesson about what it is to be a pro.