T.J. Dillashaw wants to prove himself to be the greatest MMA fighter who ever lived. And the blueprint for that label is already being laid out.
Duane Ludwig, Dillashaw’s coach, told MMA Fighting this week that he would like to see Dillashaw, the UFC bantamweight champion, move down to flyweight next and challenge new champ Henry Cejudo for that belt.
Dillashaw wanted to fight Demetrious Johnson, the legendary 125-pound titleholder, this year, but the UFC booked Dillashaw in a title defense against rival Cody Garbrandt at UFC 227 earlier this month. Dillashaw stopped Garbrandt by TKO in the first round, topping his second-round TKO over Garbrandt at UFC 217 last November.
Even with Johnson having lost the belt to Cejudo by split decision at UFC 227 in Los Angeles, Ludwig will want Dillashaw to fight for and win the flyweight title to further his legacy. In the meantime, Ludwig said Dominick Cruz should fight Marlon Moraes for the No. 1 contender spot at 135.
“I would like to see T.J. drop down to 25 and take that title and then go back up to 35,” Ludwig said. “I think if you want to look at the division, statistically speaking, Cruz should fight Moraes and then that winner should fight T.J. after T.J. claims the 125-pound belt. As far as following an honest approach to have some respect for the belt and the rankings and how everything is set up.”
Ludwig said that Dillashaw is not a very big bantamweight, so it would make more sense for him to move down to flyweight than up to featherweight. The goal is to collect belts and upgrade his all-time great status.
Cejudo, for his part, wants to move up to 135 and challenge Dillashaw. So there could be some challenges in putting together a superfight between the two champions. Another option, Ludwig said, would be Dillashaw accepting a challenge at bantamweight against Cruz, who defeated Dillashaw by razor-close split decision for the belt in 2016. Ludwig acknowledged that Dillashaw taking on Cruz, a larger name than the others, is probably the biggest fight out there.
“Now the UFC is owned by an entertainment company, so it’s about whoever puts you in the seats,” “Bang” said. “So, in that instance it’s T.J. and Cruz. The money fight is T.J. and Cruz.”
Moraes is calling for a title shot against Dillashaw and has the résumé with three straight wins, two by violent knockout and his former distinction as World Series of Fighting bantamweight champ. Ludwig said Moraes deserves it more than some others, but he isn’t sure if that’s in Dillashaw’s plans. A fight with Cruz would also be big for “redemption,” Ludwig said.
“I would like to see that,” Ludwig said.
If “Bang” had his way, Dillashaw would take the rest of the year off to rehabilitate his body and continue the learning process. As it stands right now, the coach said he doesn’t see anyone out there who can compete with Dillashaw on a similar plane.
“He just has so many ways to finish the fight,” Ludwig said. “A lot of people say that, but they’re not on T.J.’s level. He’s literally at another level of martial arts. His martial arts skillset is the highest any human has ever had — ever.
“That’s what he is. He is the man. He is the current, modern-day, real-life Bruce Lee.”
And the plan to prove Dillashaw as the greatest of all time is underway.