SACRAMENTO - T.J. Dillashaw is still the UFC bantamweight champion of the world. And he's still winning title fights with fifth round head-kick and punch knockouts.
Making the first defense of his 135-pound title in front of his hometown crowd, 11,100 strong, Dillashaw (12-2, 7-2 UFC) welcomed UFC newcomer Joe Soto (15-3, 0-1 UFC) to the Octagon at UFC 177, after original challenger Renan Barao was removed from the fight card on account of an injury incurred while cutting weight.
Dillashaw looked hesitant in the early going, changing his game plan at the last minute to account for Soto's wrestling prowess, as the two had previously trained together at Sacramento's Team Alpha Male.
But as the fight progressed, the champion settled into his fleet-footed form, delivering punch and kick flurries, out-pacing Soto. And after missing on a couple head kicks in the first frame, Dillashaw found his distance and timing, ultimately landing the knockout head kick, followed by a straight right to the chin, at 2:20 of the fifth frame.
"I was a little bit too kick happy, I think, in the beginning ... he did a good job preparing in one day notice of what I was gonna do," commented Dillashaw. "He ducks a little more than I'm used to ... and I was kicking three quarters cause I expected him to dip into it ... [it was] just a little adjustment I had to make and did so later on in the rounds."
With the win, Dillashaw earned his third straight UFC victory, his third of 2014, and a "Performance of the Night" bonus.
The co-main event also featured a local fighter, Dillashaw's teammate Danny Castillo (17-7, 7-4 UFC), who dropped a split decision to The Ultimate Fighter season 13 winner Tony Ferguson (16-3, 6-1 UFC).
Starting the fight with a leg-kick assault, Ferguson nullified Castillo's takedown attempts in the early going, locking up a d'arce choke midway through the first frame. Castillo was able to outlast Ferguson's submission attempt, eventually slipping out of the choke to take top position, but the cageside judges did not reward his wrestling approach.
The second round proved to be the difference maker, as Ferguson continued his varied approach, trading punches and kicks with Castillo, throwing in a flying knee while attempting guillotine and kneebar submissions.
Castillo dominated the third frame with takedowns and control from top position, but it proved to be too little for at least two of the judges.
"I threw kicks but he just laid there and didn't do anything. I'm just mad I didn't finish him. If you can't pass my guard, you can't do anything off the top," stated Ferguson. "When I was on the bottom, I was busy. He threw maybe one shot per round, but there wasn't much he could do."
In the night's featured bout, Brazilian Bethe Correia made a strong statement for garnering a shot at the women's bantamweight title, upping her undefeated record to 9-0 with a second round technical knockout of TUF veteran Shayna Baszler (15-9, 0-1 UFC).
"My corners told me to use my hands, and that's what I did in the second round," offered Correia. "My plan was to go for the body and gas her out, and that's exactly what I did."
After surviving a number of submission attempts in the first round, Correia regrouped in the second frame, overwhelming Baszler with a barrage of standing elbows and punches against the cage. Completely gassed out, Baszler failed to exchange in the brawling affair, unable to intelligently defend herself.
Finally, referee John McCarthy waived off the contest at 1:56 of the second, awarding Correia the victory, her third straight in the UFC.
Now with her eyes set on Ronda Rousey's championship belt, Correia offered the following message.
"If there's someone who will retire without any losses in the UFC, it's going to be me. I'm going to retire with the belt, not her."
Earlier in the evening, Carlos Diego Ferreira (11-0, 2-0 UFC) nabbed his second straight finish inside the Octagon, earning the technical knockout victory over Ramsey Nijem (9-5, 5-4 UFC) in a contest that was given "Fight of the Night" honors.
Nijem came out aggressive early on, throwing low kicks in an attempt to slow Ferreira. Still in the first, Nijem landed a brief knockdown blow, but Ferreira quickly recovered and stunned his opponent with a right hook that landed behind the ear. With Nijem wobbled, Ferreira followed him to the mat, but was unable to complete the stoppage before the bell to end the round.
In the second stanza, however, Ferreira continued where he left off, briefly taking the contest to the ground before landing a perfectly placed right hook to Nijem's chin. With Nijem hurt, referee Herb Dean stepped in to waive off the bout at 1:53 of the second round.
"I fought really hard and got a win over a really tough guy, so I'm very excited right now," commented Ferreira. "I felt tired, so I knew I needed to try something different and then I got the knockout."
Kicking off the UFC 177 main card, lightweight Yancy Medeiros (10-2 1 NC, 1-2 1 NC UFC) earned his first official Octagon victory, with an unorthodox reverse guillotine choke of newcomer Damon Jackson (9-1, 0-1 UFC).
Dominating the first round with crisp punches, clinch work against the cage, and a bevvy of knees to the body, Medeiros looked impressive, earning a "Performance of the Night" bonus.
Evading Jackson's repeated takedown attempts, Medeiros attempted to keep his distance with an effective jab. But eventually, Jackson stormed in, leaving the two pressed against the cage wall. From there, Medeiros locked in the guillotine, tightening his grip as Jackson tried to turn out of the choke. The tapout came at 1:54 of round two.
"I'm a martial artist ... I train with a lot of high caliber fighters, so I was ready for Damon," offered Medeiros. "I was happy he wanted to stand because I wanted to slug. I just caught him. I try to take advantage of every situation and that's part of being a marital artist."
UFC 177 Results
TJ Dillashaw def. Joe Soto via KO (head kick and punches) R5, 2:20
Tony Ferguson def. Danny Castillo via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Bethe Correia def. Shayna Baszler via TKO (punches) R2, 1:56
Carlos Diego Ferreira def. Ramsey Nijem via TKO (punches) R2, 1:53
Yancy Medeiros def. Damon Jackson via submission (reverse guillotine choke) R2, 1:54
Derek Brunson def. Lorenz Larkin via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Anthony Hamilton def. Ruan Potts via TKO (punches) R2, 4:17
Chris Wade def. Cain Carrizosa via submission (guillotine choke) R1, 1:12