T.J. Dillashaw unexpectedly found himself in the UFC’s sights earlier this year when Max Holloway’s injury withdrawal from UFC 222 left the March 3 pay-per-view in shambles.
With its original headliner of Holloway vs. Frankie Edgar scratched from UFC 222, the promotion turned to Dillashaw to save the card, with UFC matchmakers attempting to put together a rematch between the reigning bantamweight champion and his rival, Cody Garbrandt, on less than a month’s notice. The frantic push to book the fight led to another round of heated trash talk between Dillashaw and Garbrandt, but that was it — in the end, the UFC turned to its Plan B, booking a women’s featherweight title fight between Cris Cyborg and Invicta FC bantamweight champion Yana Kunitskaya as UFC 222’s replacement main event.
For Dillashaw, the reasons not to accept the short-notice rematch were obvious: The fact that he just celebrated the birth of his first child, his push for a champion vs. champion superfight against Demetrious Johnson, and his reticence to give Garbrandt a title shot that he felt wasn’t deserved. But according to the 32-year-old UFC beltholder, the biggest reason of all was simply that, as of right now, Dillashaw isn’t even healthy to fight.
“They just kinda wanted me to save the card, and unfortunately I wasn’t able to,” Dillashaw said Monday on The MMA Hour. “I’m dealing with some injuries that I was trying to keep quiet, but they kept hammering on me and hammering on me to take this fight. But I just wasn’t healthy. It’s not only to take a fight on four weeks’ notice, but also being injured and I haven’t been training and (recently) having a kid put a wrench in that whole thing too.
“It was a no-brainer, man. I mean, they kept trying to ask me to do it, but yeah, it was a no-brainer. I just knew it wasn’t the time.
“They thought I was, like, maybe holding back for more money or whatever it is,” Dillashaw added. “But it just came down to not being healthy.”
That’s not to say Dillashaw wasn’t resolute in his other reasons as well. Far from it.
The rivalry between Dillashaw and Garbrandt is one that stretches back several years to Dillashaw’s 2015 departure from Team Alpha Male. Following the split, the two former friends became bitter enemies, with Dillashaw seizing the ultimate upper hand when he scored a second-round knockout over “No Love” in Garbrandt’s first title defense at UFC 217. Garbrandt has yet to compete since his loss in November, and Dillashaw wasn’t going to give his ex-teammate the satisfaction of skipping the line for a short-notice rematch.
“It’s about this being a legitimate sport and doing it the right way,” Dillashaw said. “Tell me one other champion who never defended his belt and got an immediate rematch. He never once ever defended his belt — it wasn’t like he was a long-reigning champion or that he got robbed or whatever. There’s never ever been another champion that’s done it, so why are we making this precedent for Cody to get a rematch when he’s never defended his belt and then got knocked out? Like, how does that make sense whatsoever? So really, all I’ve got to do is state the facts.
“This is a sport. Get back in line. It took me two years to get a title shot off a split-decision loss to Dominick Cruz that the UFC told me they thought I won. It took me two years to get back to that case. Like, I worked my way back. I beat two No. 1 contenders to get there. It’s a sport, you’ve got to push hard and you’ve got to get after it. You can’t complain, you can’t be a sore loser and all this shoulda, coulda, woulda stuff.
“So it’s a little frustrating, but easy to put behind you. Let him continue to talk, be myself, and the more he talks, the dumber he looks, and more people will continue to realize it.”
For now, Dillashaw is simply content to focus on his recovery and continue his pursuit of a superfight against Johnson, the UFC’s record-breaking flyweight champion.
Dillashaw said Johnson is currently deep in negotiations with promotion officials over the bout, but both men want and expect it to happen.
“That’s my goal,” Dillashaw said. “I haven’t really heard much in the sense of [it being official]. They’re just telling me to get healthy, so obviously I’ve been doing some physical therapy and working on getting healthy and staying ready, and yeah, continuing to watch my body [composition], staying low (in weight) if this thing really happens. They know I want it. Demetrious wants it. He’s talking about how he wants to be on a big card; there’s a perfectly big card for it now coming up in July. They got Stipe (Miocic) and (Daniel) Cormier (headlining UFC 226), so all of the stars seem to be aligning. It’s just all about getting it done now.”
Dillashaw called the Johnson fight a “win-win” for every party involved: Johnson gets his highest-profile challenger to date, Dillashaw gets his chance at history, and the UFC gets a second highly-anticipated champion vs. champion fight to slot underneath Miocic vs. Cormier on July 7 at UFC 226 for this year’s International Fight Week.
Dillashaw also reiterated past statements that he would be more than happy to actively defend both the 125-pound and 135-pound titles if he defeats “Mighty Mouse,” and he continues to be confident about his potential cut down flyweight.
“I feel good about it,” Dillashaw said. “The reason why I’m so shredded at 135 is because I’m a professional athlete. I do everything the correct way. I put weight on to lose it. So I’ll do the exact same thing — I’ll just train my body differently. I’m already doing that. I’m not going too crazy because nothing’s official and I don’t want to get myself too low and have to worry about coming back up, but I’m normally waking up at 154 pounds in the morning when I’m fighting at 135. As of now, I’m waking up at 147. I’m lean and in shape.
“(I’m dealing with) some injuries, but other than that, I feel great about it. It’s something that, when I was told the first time I was fighting Demetrious, like I said, I was waking up at 140 pounds. That’s only a little cut for me, so I’m feeling great about it. I’m a small ‘35er as is. I don’t cut much weight to make 135. Like I said, I put the weight on to cut it, so it’s something that I’m excited to do. I’m excited to see the transformation. What it really comes down to is that I believe I’m the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, and to do that, I need to beat the best. And I can make his weight class.”