T.J. Dillashaw recaptured the UFC bantamweight title this past weekend at UFC 217 with a highlight-reel, second-round knockout of his former teammate Cody Garbrandt. However, the journey wasn’t all smooth sailing.
A now two-time bantamweight champion, Dillashaw was forced to overcome early danger when he suffered a knockdown in the closing seconds of round one, having eaten a hard right hand from Garbrandt. Thinking quickly, Dillashaw latched onto a desperation single-leg takedown attempt and avoided further damage until the horn. Reflecting back on the sequence on Monday, Dillashaw revealed that he “definitely” was rocked by Garbrandt’s punch, however he also had a little bit of inadvertent help clearing out the cobwebs between rounds from his former Team Alpha Male teammates in Garbrandt’s corner.
“I walked back to the corner and I heard their cornermen being jerks, just like they’ve been the whole camp, saying they’ve got my number,” Dillasaw explained Monday on The MMA Hour. “‘We’ve got your f’ing number, Dillashaw! We’ve got your f’ing number!’ I heard that. As soon as I heard that, I turned back to my corner and was like, ‘Alright, let’s get our sh*t together.’
“I kinda hit my hands together and I was like, ‘Alright, I’ve gotta change it up.’ So I sat down in the corner and just listened to (coach) Duane (Ludwig). He’s the one looking from the outside in. That’s why he’s in my corner, he’s got great eyes and we changed up the tempo. We decided to come out for the second round a different fighter.”
The enmity between Dillashaw and Team Alpha Male isn’t anything new. The two sides have been warring publicly for years now, stemming from Dillashaw’s split with the Sacramento-based team in 2015 to continue learning until the tutelage of Ludwig. And according to Dillashaw, the post-knockdown trash talk he heard from Garbrandt’s cornermen at UFC 217 wasn’t an isolated incident.
“I could hear them talking sh*t the whole time, actually,” Dillashaw said. “Stuff like when I’d a leg kick or something, like, ‘You’re too slow! T.J., you’re too slow! All you’ve got is a right hook!’ All of this stuff, just trying to just continue, just continue to break me, you know?”
Dillashaw said that bad blood didn’t stop after the fight. While he and Garbrandt embraced inside the Octagon after his second-round victory, Dillashaw said that only one of his former coaches and teammates at Team Alpha Male approached him backstage once the dust had settled.
“In the back, the one guy who was willing to come up to me and shake my hand was (Team Alpha Male coach) Justin Buchholtz,” Dillashaw said. “All of the other guys still seemed pretty bitter. They put a lot on this. They put their whole legacy of Team Alpha Male behind Cody. They put a lot of pressure on that guy to live up to what they wanted him to be, and I didn’t feel like that was really fair to him either. But they put all of their eggs into Cody, and I smashed them. I smashed their dreams. I smashed who they were, and they’re all bitter about it.”
In the aftermath of the fight, Dillashaw explained that the constant back-and-forth between the two sides had long grown wearisome for him. For more than two years, Team Alpha Male members attacked Dillashaw at every turn. Not surprisingly, that animosity increased tenfold in the lead-up to UFC 217, with Garbrandt even releasing an old clip of him knocking down Dillashaw in a sparring match in the gym on the Friday before fight night.
But despite everything that has happened between the two sides since their split, Dillashaw said UFC 217 felt like just those old gym sparring sessions once he and Garbrandt started throwing leather.
“To me, he was the same guy,” Dillashaw said.
“This sport, one of the things is you’ve got to very well-rounded, and I think that’s just something he doesn’t have. I think more people are going to take advantage of it. If he continues to fight, we’ll see more and more of that. He’s a really good athlete, he’s good at what he does, and the guys that he’s fought have played into his game. So I’m not saying he’s plateaued, but I just don’t think he has grown that much. He hasn’t showed me that he’s [gotten] better other than what he’s good at.”
Despite their post-fight embrace, Garbrandt continued his assault on Dillashaw at UFC 217’s post-fight press conference, calling Dillashaw “a piece of sh*t teammate” and insisting that, “I’m still the better fighter in there and I’ll show that in the rematch.”
At this point though, with the belt back in his possession, it’s all just noise to Dillashaw. The 31-year-old two-time champion noted that “of course” he wishes the beef was squashed more after the fight, but he also isn’t wasting any time worrying about it.
“I’m not one who looks for the drama,” Dillashaw said. “I’m not one who wants to hate on anybody. I didn’t leave because I hated anybody. I didn’t want all of this bullcrap. So yeah, I was hoping it would get squashed a little more than it was, and they’d be a little more mature about this whole thing and be professionals. I was hoping it was more about him hyping it up, but I guess that’s how he feels, so whatever, man. I’m not too worried about it. He’s going to have to fight. We have a very tough weight division.
“He will be around, but he’s going to have to have some tough fights to even get back to me, so who knows if I showed his weakness. You know, I don’t think he actually has a chin. Even Cruz hit him a couple of times and wobbled him, and Cruz is no power puncher. So I think if people aren’t that scared, he drops his hands — always dropping his hands, they’re real low. That’s why I caught him with a head kick. Every time he throws a punch, he drops his opposite hand. He gets away with being fast and having power, so I think he’s got a long road ahead of him.”