UFC bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw will make his first title defense in front of a hometown crowd, as the Ultimate Fighting Championship heads to Sacramento, California on Saturday, August 30 (10 P.M. EST, Pay Per View) for UFC 177. And standing across the Octagon from Dillashaw (10-2, 6-2 UFC) at the Sleep Train Arena will be none other than Renan Barao (32-2 1NC, 7-1 UFC), the former 135-pound strapholder.
It was just three months ago, at UFC 173, that Dillashaw captured the title with a near-perfect finish of Barao, forcing the stoppage midway through the fifth round with a head kick and punches. On that night in late May, Dillashaw demonstrated superior speed and striking, dazing the former champ in the first round with a knockdown blow, dominating in the rounds that followed.
Now it remains to be seen if Dillashaw can deliver a repeat performance.
Unlike the first contest, where Dillashaw was regarded as a huge underdog, the rematch will lack any element of surprise, as both fighters are expected to trade in the standup, each man able to deliver diverse punching and kicking assaults. But don't expect a kickboxing match like the previous encounter, as both athletes will likely implement more of a ground approach.
For Dillashaw, his biggest advantage lies in his wrestling attack and top control. For Barao, it's his jiu jitsu.
And while this rematch is likely to be more competitive than their previous bout, which Dillashaw thoroughly dominated, there is much less of a chance that either fighter will be finished. In the end, T.J. Dillashaw walks away with the belt via unanimous decision.
Co-main event: Danny Castillo vs. Tony Ferguson
A matchup of athletic and vicious finishers, rescheduled after the cancellation of UFC 176, this contest between Danny Castillo (17-6, 7-3 UFC) and Tony Ferguson (15-3, 5-1 UFC) is a frontrunner for the evening's "Fight of the Night."
Castillo, a Sacramento native who trains at local MMA hotspot Team Alpha Male with Dillashaw, is a wrestler with knockout power. Coming off a quick and brutal KO finish of Charlie Brenneman in his last outing, Castillo possesses tremendous poise and a controlling wrestling style. He's also known for being a quick starter.
A striker from southern California, Ferguson is a former The Ultimate Fighter winner with finishing instincts. Ferguson completely dismantled Katsunori Kikuno in his last outing, knocking out the Japanese karateka in the first round. He also possesses a slick jiu jitsu, a discipline he hones at Eddie Bravo's 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu.
Expect Castillo to come out charging in the first round, throwing heavy leather at Ferguson before taking the contest to the ground. But some time in the third frame, Castillo will tire, allowing Ferguson an opening to force a late submission.
Shayna Baszler vs. Bethe Correia
Women's MMA fans have been waiting nearly a year for Baszler (15-8, 0-0 UFC) to make her UFC debut, and after several failed attempts, she will finally enter the Octagon against Bethe Correia (8-0, 2-0 UFC).
Baszler is one of the more experienced mixed martial artists in the women's game. A grappler who has been fighting professionally since 2003, Baszler gained national attention as a contestant on The Ultimate Fighter. But after losing to eventual winner Julianna Pena, Baszler was forced from competition due to a string of injuries.
Undefeated in her MMA career, Correia is a surging bantamweight with solid striking and movement. Gunning for her third straight win inside the Octagon, Correia, a Brazilian, has made known her intentions to take out Baszler, much like she did with Jessamyn Duke, Baszler's teammate at the Glendale Fighting Club.
With a win, Correia may be fast tracked to a title shot against Ronda Rousey, another product of the Glendale Fighting Club and one of WMMA's "Four Horsewomen." And while Baszler still owns the experience edge, expect the Octagon jitters to catch up with her in the second round, when Correia forces the stoppage.
Ramsey Nijem vs. Carlos Diego Ferreira
Yet another TUF alumnus on the UFC 177 main card, Nijem (9-4, 5-3 UFC), is a wrestler with an ever-improving striking game, while his opponent Ferreira (10-0, 1-0 UFC) is an undefeated jiu jitsu specialist.
Nijem looked tremendous in his most recent outing, a first-round TKO of BJJ black belt Beniel Dariush, while Ferreira earned a "Performance of the Night" bonus for his 38-second rear-naked choke submission of Colton Smith.
A win for both fighters is crucial here, but Nijem clearly has more to lose in defeat. And while Ferreira has the better submission game, Nijem has the grappling credentials to play defense on the ground.
In the end, expect a standup battle on the perimeters of the cage, with Nijem grinding out a decision with dirty boxing and clinch work.
Yancy Medeiros vs. Damon Jackson
It's been over four years since Medeiros (9-2 1 NC, 0-2 1 NC UFC) earned his last professional MMA victory, after his 2013 knockout of Yves Edwards was overturned for a failed marijuana test. Jackson (9-0, 0-0 UFC) - who is stepping into the Octagon for the first time, filling in for an injured Justin Edwards on 10-days notice - has yet to taste defeat as a professional, never even going to the third round.
It's tough to give an edge to an athlete fighting on short notice, but Jackson has momentum, already collecting a pair of victories in 2014, one of them coming against former UFC veteran Leonard Garcia. However, Medeiros will fight with desperation, as a loss will likely come with a set of promotional walking papers.
Expect a fast and reckless fight. But eventually, Jackson will continue his hot streak and earn the submission stoppage.