SACRAMENTO, Calif. - T.J. Dillashaw successfully defended his bantamweight title with a fifth-round TKO over late fill-in Joe Soto at UFC 177 on Saturday night.
Dillashaw (12-2) was never hurt in his first title defense and playfully toyed with the crowd, sticking out his tongue and raising his hands in the air at one point during the fifth round. Dillashaw later landed a hard kick to the side of the Soto's head and followed with an equally hard left hand that dropped the challenger, then pounced on Soto and landed several more punches before the fight was stopped at the 2:20 mark.
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Dillashaw was originally slated to fight Renan Barao, the man he upset to win the title from in May at UFC 173. But Barao was a late scratch after he fell and hit his head while trying to cut weight on Friday.
The change seemed to throw Dillashaw slightly off track.
He pressed the action for a majority of the night but looked nothing like the fighter who dominated Barao for five rounds in one of the greatest upsets in UFC history. Many of Dillashaw's punches missed, especially early when Soto repeatedly covered up.
Still, Dillashaw was comfortably ahead on all three judges' scorecards when the fight was stopped.
"It's been crazy," Dillashaw said. "It was a tough one. To switch my opponent at the last-minute was a real stressful situation. I knew he was going to be a little better with his wrestling so I had to be hesitant with my stand-up (attack)."
Soto (15-3) was penciled in to fight Anthony Birchak on the undercard before getting the unexpected invitation into the main event in his UFC debut.
He turned out to be much more than just a fill-in fighter.
A one-time training partner of Dillashaw's, Soto looked comfortable in the spotlight and occasionally stung the champion with a stinging left jab. He ended the fight with blood streaming down his nose and received a warm hug from Dillashaw.
"It was a dream come true that UFC asked me to fight for the title," Soto said.
Dillashaw was in control from the start.
He dropped Soto to the mat with a leg sweep one minute into the fight. Soto returned the favor later in the first round with a kick that sent Dillashaw down briefly before the champion got up and unleashed a flurry of punches, though only a few landed.
Soto stayed on the defense in the second round before finally landing a left-right combination. Soto also scored with a straight left that caught Dillashaw on the chin but wasn't able to sustain his offense.
Dillashaw continued to score in the third then outlasted Soto when the two went toe-to-toe briefly in the fourth.
After Soto missed on a takedown attempt early in the fifth round, Dillashaw backed Soto against the cage and landed several left jabs. With the crowd chanting, "T.J., T.J.," Dillashaw stuck his tongue out and raised his hands before his final combination sent Soto to the mat.
"I got a little too loose at times," Dillashaw said. "I didn't want to put too much into each punch because I knew he was a good wrestler. And I was a little too kick happy at the beginning."
In the semi-main Tony Ferguson won his third straight fight with a split decision over Danny Castillo.
Ferguson (17-3) scored early but couldn't finish several submission attempts, then had to hold on at the end when Castillo (17-7) took the action to the ground.
On the undercard, 10th-ranked Bethe Correia (9-0) stopped Shayna Baszler (15-9) by TKO 1:56 into the second round of their women's bantamweight fight and immediately called out champ Ronda Rousey afterward.
Also, lightweight Diego Ferreira (11-0) stayed unbeaten with a TKO of Ramsey Nijem (10-5), and Yancy Medeiros (10-2) submitted Damon Jackson (9-1) in another lightweight bout.