LAS VEGAS -- Fight fans will forever remember where they were on May 24, 2014.
In front of a sold-out crowd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, T.J. Dillashaw put on the performance of a lifetime Saturday in the main event of UFC 173, knocking out bantamweight kingpin Renan Barão.
Leading up to their bout, all anyone could talk about was Barão's incredible 33-fight unbeaten streak and how the young Brazilian was well on his way to superstardom. UFC President Dana White even labeled he 135-pound champion the best pound-for-pound fighter on planet.
Dillashaw was little more than an afterthought, essentially just another body for Barão to add to his legendary résumé. The oddsmakers seemed to agree as Dillashaw entered the cage a 9-1 underdog.
But once the cage door closed and the fans settled in their seats, the unthinkable happened. After a short feeling-out process, Dillashaw connected with a powerful overhand right that floored the champion. With the entire arena erupting around him, Dillashaw leaped onto his downed opponent and looked to mount some vicious ground-and-pound before attempting to lock in a rear naked choke. While Barão managed to survive the onslaught, he never seemed to recover as he wobbled back to his corner at the end of the round.
"I'm glad I didn't get (the choke)," Dillashaw said when asked about his near finish in the opening round. "I got to prove myself even more than if I just finished the choke."
Dillashaw looked to pick up right where the first round ended, but the defending champion seemed to finally find his range with several left counter strikes. But even a cut over the eye couldn't slow down Dillashaw as he closed the second round with powerful right knee and left hook combination. This would end up being the only round Barão would look competitive in.
As the fight reached the later rounds, Dillashaw continued to rely on his stiff jab while switching back and forth between the orthodox and southpaw stance. Barão, who was visibly hurt from a head kick in the third and right cross in the fourth, simply had no answer for Dillashaw's gameplan.
"That's who I am," Dillashaw said. "I want to finish every fight. I'm at my best when I'm coming at you."
As the fifth and final round began, the entire arena rose to its feet as fans knew they were five minutes away from witnessing history.
Dillashaw could have easily just cruised through the final sequence and walked away with both the belt and the unanimous decision victory. However, his warrior spirit manifested as he plotted forward and pushed Barão right into the fence. After a thunderous head kick rocked the Barão, Dillashaw planted a perfectly timed left hook to the chin of the champion.
With his opponent crashing to the floor, Dillashaw swarmed and landed a series of powerful shots to Barão's unprotected skull before the referee jumped in between them and called a stop to the fight.
One of the longest winning streaks in all of MMA had been snapped.
Dillashaw raised his hands in triumph as his coaches and teammates, many of whom were crying, swarmed him inside the octagon.
"I've dreamed it for so long. It's unbelievable. It's the greatest feeling in the world," Dillashaw said. "Barão's the best in the world in my eyes. I've been looking up to the guy. That's what brought it out in me. I knew I was fighting the best. I knew I had to bring my best to become the champion of the world."
Barão, who had just experienced his first defeat in nine years, praised Dillashaw's gameplan and vowed he would rebound from this loss.
"It was a really tough fight," Barão said. "I have to congratulate him. I'm coming back."
Dillashaw has now won six of seven fights -- with his lone loss coming at the hands of Rafael Assuncao, who walked away with the controversial split decision victory following their bout at UFC Fight Night 29. While the matchup makes sense since Assuncao is currently riding a six-fight win streak, White revealed he would not rule out an immediate rematch for Barão.
"(Barão) hasn't lost in 35 fights," he said. "Yeah, that's on the table, too. It wouldn't be insane to give him a rematch."