Dillashaw said he informed referee Marc Goddard of his potential shoulder issues prior to facing Sterling in Saturday’s pay-per-view co-headliner and apologized to other UFC bantamweights for taking the fight.
“It popped out right away – I’ve got to apologize to the weight class,” Dillashaw told Daniel Cormier in his post-fight interview at Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi. “I kinda held it up. I completely blew my shoulder out at the end of April, as soon as I started getting ready for this, and probably dislocated a good 20 times during training camp.
“This is by far the toughest training camp I’ve been through because of that, emotionally. That’s why I was talking some s*** about his standup, because I didn’t want him to wrestle. I knew that was the case. I told the ref in the back before we came out that most likely my shoulder was going to pop out – if it does, I’ll get it back in – please do not stop it. Unfortunately, in that second round, I couldn’t push off my shoulder. So hat’s off to Aljamain for doing what he does, and great win.”
Sterling took advantage of Dillashaw’s state with the wrestling-centric attack that made him champion, securing takedowns and position before pounding away with strikes. By the end of the first round, Dillashaw was floundering on the canvas, and Goddard immediately went to his corner and ordered the cageside doctor to check on the ex-champ’s shoulder. Dillashaw appeared to put his shoulder back in socket before answering the bell for the second round.
Asked how he made it out of the first, Dillashaw said his veteran savvy kept him in the fight.
“I just tried to control the hands the best I could,” Sterling said. “I knew I wasn’t going to be able to scramble to my feet because I couldn’t push off my arm. I thought I’d be able to get it back into the socket, but I wasn’t able to, so I knew I had to weather the storm the first round, come out and land some big shots.
“I was just in my head. It’s a tough one to come into, and I apologize to the weight class, because it’s a stacked weight class and I took up a position. But I wasn’t going to wait another year to get a shot.”
Dillashaw in 2019 underwent surgery to repair both of his shoulders as he sat out on a two-year suspension for EPO. Upon returning in 2021, he suffered a knee injury in a win over Cory Sandhagen. He was then booked against Sterling, who made his second title defense after defending the belt in a title rematch against Petr Yan.
The UFC has acted as the de-facto athletic commission in destinations without an athletic commission, though the UAE Mixed Martial Arts Federation served as a “shadow-sanction” for a previous UFC event in November 2021; MMA Fighting was unable to immediately verify the event’s regulator.
Fighters are required to undergo a pre-fight physical to assess whether they’re capable of competing on fight night. Dillashaw’s appearance meant he was cleared to fight, though UFC President Dana White said he had no knowledge of the ex-champ’s status and chided him from withholding information. He did, however, dispute the idea that the promotion would have been able to discover the injury beforehand.
“I had no idea, so that’s a problem,” White said. “How could the athletic commission know if he doesn’t tell us? You’ve got to tell us. He looked good. It’s not like he came in out of shape, or looked like he was injured, but yeah, that’s something he should have told us.”