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T.J. Dillashaw explains why he’s fighting Cody Garbrandt, not Demetrious Johnson

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LOS ANGELES — T.J. Dillashaw wanted to move down to face UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson in a superfight next. The bantamweight champion said it over and over again earlier this year.

Dillashaw wanted it, UFC president Dana White wanted it, MMA fans loved the idea and Johnson himself even said he was interested.

Yet, after all of that, it’s not going to happen. At least not this summer.

Dillashaw will defend his 135-pound title against Cody Garbrandt at UFC 227 on Aug. 4 in Los Angeles. The California native said he can’t quite put his finger completely on the reason why he’s not fighting “Mighty Mouse.”

“I don’t really know,” Dillashaw said. “I think that’s a good question for Demetrious Johnson. Maybe he wanted some guaranteed money. Maybe he wasn’t willing to gamble on himself on the pay-per-view numbers. But as far as I was concerned, the fans wanted it, the UFC wanted it. Everyone knows I wanted it. I respect Demetrious Johnson as a person and as an athlete and that’s kind of why I was chasing him down. He’s got that target on his back. He’s got that pound-for-pound spot that I want to come in and take. Not only to make the big bucks on a big fight, but for the legacy. Chasing that spot down. So really I think it’s a question for him why it didn’t really happen.”

Johnson will instead defend his flyweight belt against Henry Cejudo ironically on the same UFC 227 card. Both top fights are title rematches. Dillashaw knocked out Garbrandt at UFC 217 last November to win the belt from him, while Johnson already owns a first-round finish over Cejudo in 2016.

“I was chasing that Demetrious Johnson fight,” Dillashaw said. “It just really didn’t seem like it wanted to work itself out. So I feel like the next biggest, hyped up fight was Cody. The one that kind of made the most sense for the attention. There was a lot of drama behind it, so run it back.”

Garbrandt and Dillashaw spent all of last year circling each other. They hosted The Ultimate Fighter opposite one another and were supposed to clash in the summer. But that didn’t happen due to a Garbrandt back injury. They instead met in November and Dillashaw prevailed.

There is a ton of history between the two men, who are former teammates at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento. Dillashaw had a messy split with the squad years ago and that was a big part of the talk before UFC 217.

After another tense build up concludes, Dillashaw said he plans on retaining the title and then targeting Johnson once again. He has not given up on that superfight.

“He’s got that spot and I’m looking to take it,” Dillashaw said of Johnson. “Our fight is ahead of us that we gotta worry about. And we’ll talk about it after the fight.”

Dillashaw said when there was a possibility he was going to fight Johnson after Garbrandt got hurt last year, he was able to get down to a walking weight of 140 pounds. He’s confident he would reach 125 if the “Mighty Mouse” fight got scheduled. But he is also willing to defend his bantamweight title against Johnson, Dillashaw said.

“I would love to do it at ’25, because I don’t want the excuse of me being the bigger man,” he said. “‘Oh, the only reason why he beat me is because he’s bigger than me.’ I can make your weight, I’m not bigger than you.”