Former UFC bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw has an incredibly important fight next week. He faces Raphael Assuncao at UFC 200 on July. The bout is not only a rematch - Dillashaw lost in their first meeting - but arguably, the winner gets a title shot.
Dillashaw will be the first to say that in an ever-growing division like bantamweight, it's no small achievement getting to a place like this. Keeping it is even more difficult.
"The way I see it, I definitely think whoever wins this fight gets a title shot. Me and Assuncao, which is going to be me after July 9. I should definitely be getting that title shot, at least that's the way I see it," Dillashaw said on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour.
"The weight class is very good. Very, very stacked guys. I'm excited about it. It's exciting to have a weight class at 135 that's just going to be well known. Hopefully these guys are going to be money makers soon. The more and more stacked it's going to get, the more challenging it's going to become, the greater fights are going to be there and we'll start getting paid more."
One of the top candidates - or, at least, one of the fastest rising names - is Cody Garbrandt. After brutally knocking out Thomas Almeida in May, the Team Alpha Male member's stock has never been higher. As a former member of the team, Dillashaw said no one is more aware of that than him.
The catch, however, is that Dillashaw isn't necessarily blown away by him.
"He's always been good," Dillashaw admitted. "He's fast, he hits hard. I think he's kinda a little one dimensional. He's a good fighter, he's got good wrestling, but if you watch his style, all he's really got, he bum rushes you with hooks. Kinda like the Wanderlei [Silva] style, Wanderlei punches. He's good, he's athletic.
"I knew he was going to make his way up the ranks in the UFC," he continued. "He's done a good job."
For now, Dillashaw has his hands full with Assuncao. Either the American wins that bout or all talk of what's next suddenly becomes meaningless. But Diillashaw is nothing if not observant. He's seen the back and forth between Garbrandt and current weight class champion Dominick Cruz. Dillashaw, while mostly complimentary of Garbrandt's ability, doesn't see anyone but himself as being in Cruz's class, least of all Garbrandt.
"I think Dominick's got too much movement for him. He's too well rounded," he argued. "Cody'd be too easy to game plan for. Like I said, he has to run at you and throw hands. Every combo you see him hit is pretty much starting overhands or hooks, sprinting at you. It's not the most technical, but it's very athletic and fast. But I think Cruz would be too smart for him, cut too many angles and outpoint him."
If it sounds like passive aggressive dismissiveness, maybe it is. One the one hand, Dillashaw asserts he has no issues with Garbrandt personally. On the other hand, he seemingly feels slighted by what he suggests is a story Garbrandt invented out of thin air.
"I got no bad blood with the guy," Dillashaw said. "I think he talks a little bit of crap and he likes to lie a little bit. He supposedly has said that he's knocked me out in practice, which is a complete lie because I've never been knocked out in practice, especially by him."
In fact, Dillashaw notes, the real issue is Garbrandt's age and maturity. The former champ believes when he first moved to Colorado and away from Team Alpha Male, Garbrandt expressed interest in joining him. That is, until someone got in his ear and convinced him it was a poor idea.
That, Dillashaw argued, is the best way to view the rising bantamweight sensation: a young kid who is doing well, but whose statements have to be viewed with a degree of skepticism.
"The whole deal with me moving out here and him talking crap about it was kinda crazy because he was one of the first guys talking about moving out here with me. I have full on, long text message with him and Leister [Bowling] talking about moving up to Colorado and how much better it'd be to train out here," he said. "Then some bad mouthing happens on me and he instantly switches his mind and says he's 'Alpha Male-bred' and that's the place he's going to stay.
"He's young. He's easily influenced," Dillashaw continued. "He'll bad mouth here and there, but I think it's just to sell his name."