It’s been six weeks since T.J. Dillashaw pulled one of the great upsets in the UFC’s nascent history by defeating Renan Barao at UFC 173. Dillashaw was the kind of underdog that carried an ominous "puncher’s chance" heading in. Not many even gave him that. He was a piece of patchwork matchmaking to help salvage a pay-per-view.
Yet what he did to Barao that night on May 24 was something like the exact opposite of what those projections were. He hurt Barao early, then proceeded to outclass him the rest of the way. If the fight had gone 10 rounds, Dillashaw looked capable of keeping his pace. By the time he put Barao away in the fifth, Dillashaw had rearranged the bantamweight division.
As things like this go, the aftermath has been a little complicated. The UFC recently announced that Dillashaw will defend his belt against Barao in a rematch at UFC 177 on August 30 -- a fight that many don’t like, given the first bout was as one-sided as it was and that there’s a challenger like Raphael Assuncao waiting in the wings.
But because the fight is in Dillashaw’s adopted hometown of Sacramento, and because it’s against a fighter that people had on a pedestal for so long, he’s more than happy to do for a second time what so many believed wasn’t possible the first.
"I’m fine with the rematch, man, I’m stoked," he told MMA Fighting. "I just proved what I can do to him, so I can do it again and get paid to do it, really soon. I’m going to get paid very well to do the exact same thing to him.
"And fighting in Sacramento, man it’s going to be so awesome. All my friends and family get to come, and I’m going to feed off the energy. The place is going to go crazy for me and I got to make sure not to put pressure on myself and have fun."
Much of Dillashaw’s development in the game has come through his best friend and training partner, Urijah Faber, as well as his coach, Duane Ludwig. Of late Ludwig and Faber are on the outs professionally, but the first man to carry a belt at Team Alpha Male won’t extend his arms to create a tug-of-war.
With Ludwig in the process of opening a gym in Arvada, Colorado, Dillashaw has figured out a way to keep the best of both worlds as he prepares for his rematch with Barao.
"We actually sat down with the team yesterday and had a good meeting about it," he says. "Duane’s actually going to be living with me for the next two months for my title fight. He’ll be living at my house. So I got the best of anything. I get to train at all times whenever I want. He’ll live with me for the next two months, then after that -- his academy is not officially opened yet, he doesn’t get the building until September, at the beginning of September, so it’s perfect timing for that."
As a gym rat, Dillashaw likes the idea of cramming as much training into his day as possible. It’s been one of his distinguishing characteristics since he appeared on the 14th season of The Ultimate Fighter. And even if things aren’t exactly how they were at Team Alpha Male as he came along as a contender, he says he’ll continue to figure out ways to get the best of training with both Ludwig and Faber going forward.
"After [Duane] goes to get [his academy] started, then we’ll cross-train," he says. "He’s going to come out here [to Sacramento] and live with me during my camps, or I’ll go out there and train in Colorado. So we’re going to continue to work as well as we can. We brought in Martin Kampmann, who’s bringing new light into the game. We’ll have new coaches coming in and out, but I’m going to continue working with Duane, so it’s going to be great."
As for one day fighting Faber, the perennial contender in the division who is coming off a victory over Alex Caceres at UFC 175? Right now he echoes Faber’s sentiments on the matter. He’s not particularly interested, but it’s a bridge they’d cross when they come to it.
"Offer me a billion dollars and then I’ll do it," he says. "The guy’s my best friend. We’re family. It would be tough. A lot of teammates that train together, they’re not best friends like we are. The team we have, we have a little clique that, we’re brothers man. It would be tough. It would be tough to fight any of my teammates."