SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- T.J. Dillashaw knew something about Joe Soto that the general public refused to believe: This his short-notice challenger was one tough hombre who was better than the fact he had never fought in the UFC would seem to indicate.
Soto, of Santa Rosa, Calif., has trained with Dillashaw at Sacramento's Team Alpha Male, and Dillashaw knew he was in for a tough fight when Soto took the UFC bantamweight title shot made available when Renan Barao had to drop out of the fight on Friday after weight-cutting issues.
So while Dilliashaw went on to victory at UFC 177 on Saturday night, Soto made him work for it. Soto hung with the champ for the better part of four and a half rounds before Dillashaw finally finished him in the fifth with a head kick, sending the local fans at Sleep Train Arena home happy. The stoppage came at 2:20.
"You guys don't know him, but he's a tough guy and a tough opponent," said Dillashaw (11-2). "He gave me everything he had."
The pace was established early in on the fight. Dillashaw came at Soto and worked a high volume in a bout almost entirely contested in the standup. But while Dillashaw used superior footwork and pitter-patter combos, Soto found his comfort zone in the pocket, as he'd cover up and crack him with solid counters.
By the third round, though, Soto, who had trained for a three-round undercard fight before getting the title shot, began to tire and Dillashaw really took control. While Soto looked like he was going to last the full 25 minutes, a head kick wobbled Soto and dropped him. Referee John McCarthy stepped in and called off the fight before Dillashaw could do much more damage.
The bout came after a bizarre 24 hours in which Barao, who was supposed to meet Dillashaw in a rematch of their UFC 173 bout in which Dillashaw took the title, was hospitalized after what he said was hitting his head in his bathtub after fainting. Dillashaw agreed to take the fight with Soto and the show went on.
"I was a little more hesitant with the standup, he's a tough guy," Dillashaw said. " My mind was on Barao like the last four months. I'd like to take a little break after these back to back fights and see what UFC wants. I'll fight anyone the UFC wants me to beat and defeat them."
For his part, Soto had no regrets and was appreciative of the opportunity.
"It was a dream come true, an honor," Soto said. "I've wanted to be here since I was a kid, I didn't want to die knowing I didn't fight in the UFC. My dream came true."