SACRAMENTO – In a stunning development, former bantamweight champion Renan Barao is out of his UFC 177 main event rematch with T.J. Dillashaw – the day before the fight.
UFC officials announced the news Friday afternoon following an initial report from Brazilian news outlet Globo. Barao (32-2 MMA, 7-1 UFC) became ill during the weight-cutting process and was taken to the hospital, the UFC said. His fight against Dillashaw (10-2 MMA, 6-2 UFC) tomorrow is off.
Instead, UFC newcomer Joe Soto, a former Bellator MMA champ, will move up the card – and will fight Dillashaw for the title in his promotional debut. UFC officials announced that news about one hour before the UFC 177 weigh-ins in Sacramento.
Soto (15-2 MMA, 0-0 UFC) had been slated for his UFC debut against Anthony Birchak (11-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC) in the second fight on the preliminary card. Instead, on a day's notice, he finds himself in an historic position – fighting for a UFC title in his first event, and headlining a pay-per-view.
According to Globo, Barao was cutting weight in his hotel bathtub when he stood up, lost consciousness and hit his head. He was taken to a Sacarmento hospital, the report said, and was treated and released, returning to his hotel.
Barao put an unbeaten streak of nearly 10 years on the line against Dillashaw in May at UFC 173. But in that bantamweight title fight, he was brutalized by Dillashaw for more than four rounds, finally being stopped in the fifth with a TKO. It was one of the biggest upsets in MMA history, as Dillashaw was a 7-to-1 underdog against the dominant Brazilian champion.
The rematch was made during a bit of musical chairs for the UFC. It took the headlining spot at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, Dillashaw's home training base, when a planned Jon Jones-Alexander Gustafsson title fight was delayed to September. (That fight then was changed to Jones-Cormier, and then itself was delayed to Jan. 3 with a Jones injury.)
The development with Barao came just hours after another UFC 177 fighter was pulled from the card with a weight-cutting issue. Olympic gold medal-winning wrestler Henry Cejudo (6-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC) was set to debut in a flyweight bout against Scott Jorgensen (15-9 MMA, 4-5 UFC) on the preliminary card. But he, too, fell ill while cutting weight – and remains without a successful cut to flyweight.
After being such a heavy underdog in his first fight against Barao, Dillashaw found himself with a home-cage advantage – and a chance to prove wrong the naysayers who said his first fight with Barao was a fluke. Now that opportunity is put on hold, and Dillashaw has a little more than 24 hours to refocus on a new opponent for the first defense of his 135-pound belt.
Soto has won six straight fights, including one just three weeks ago for the California-based Tachi Palace Fights, where he held the bantamweight title. He won Bellator's bantamweight title in that promotion's first 135-pound tournament in 2009, but he lost the belt less than a year later in his first defense. He left the promotion after that fight and suffered a loss in his Tachi Palace debut, but has been perfect ever since.