Almost immediately, Dillashaw dislocated his left shoulder while defending a takedown, and though he was able to survive until the second round, the injury happened again, leading to a quick finish for Sterling. After the fight, Dillashaw apologized for holding up the division, noting that he’d been dealing with issues in that shoulder for months, which immediately drew heaps of criticism.
But speaking with ESPN on Thursday, Dillashaw clarified his injury is not a new thing. In fact, the former two-time champion noted he had faced similar issues before several other fights, including his title wins over Cody Garbrandt.
“I’ve fought like this before,” Dillashaw said. “I knocked out Cody Garbrandt twice with two blown-out shoulders. My shoulders were both dislocating for that Garbrandt fight. Before that first Garbrandt fight, I tore my left shoulder on The Ultimate Fighter doing the coaches challenge. We were playing tetherball on the balance beam, and I fell off and tried to catch myself and hurt my shoulder. In that fight camp, I dislocated my shoulder a good 10-15 times. ... It hurt and affected my grappling, but what was I going to do, not take the fight? I wanted to get my title back. Kind of the same situation I’m in now.
“Look, I believe I’m the best in the world, so I want to get my belt back and do these things before I go and get my body fixed. Because if you get your shoulder fixed, you’re out for a year and you’re never guaranteed to be back. ... So this isn’t new. I’ve fought in this situation before. I needed surgery, but it was something I wasn’t willing to do yet. I’d think about that when I got my belt back.”
Dillashaw revealed that at the beginning of the year he was diagnosed with a torn supraspinatus and infraspinatus in his left shoulder, but he was still mostly full functional. As the months passed and he began training for Sterling, he said, the shoulder became increasingly more injured, with multiple instances of subluxation (partial dislocation) occurring.
Still, Dillashaw said that the injury was only really affecting his striking, and having overcome previous similar injuries, he still felt confident he could beat Sterling.
“I’m weighing out my options,” Dillashaw explained. “Who am I fighting, what’s going on? I’m fighting a guy in Aljamain Sterling that I don’t think is the best bantamweight in the division, I don’t think he’s very dangerous, I fully believe I’m going to go out there and get this win. I just fought [Cory] Sandhagen, A guy I think is very dangerous, on one leg and one eye. I knocked out Garbrandt twice with my shoulders messed up, and I feel like he’s a more dangerous fight too. So I’m weighing out my options, and I still believe to my fullest I’m the best in the world, and I’m going to go out there and get that belt.”
“The reason why I apologized to the weight class is because it’s so unfortunate,” Dillashaw continued. “I was really pissed off at the situation personally, but I can guarantee you there’s a lot of guys waiting in line to take that shot as well, too. So it wasn’t like I apologized because I did it on purpose. I apologized for the situation. I apologized that, this sucks. Aljamain Sterling is not the best guy in the weight class, and I feel like many guys know that. It was a very awesome opportunity. I feel like I matched up with him very well, it was a very winnable fight for me, I feel like there are harder fights out there for me to get the belt back, so it was an opportunity I wasn’t going to miss out on.”
Sterling was in a difficult situation. The former two-time champion never lost his title in the cage, instead vacating the belt after getting caught using EPO. He took a two-year suspension from USADA before returning in 2021, winning a controversial split decision over Cory Sandhagen, before again being sidelined for a year, this time due to injury. Given his prolonged time off, and the depth of the bantamweight division, another shot at the title was never a guarantee for Dillashaw, and so even with the benefit of hindsight, he says wouldn’t change how he handled things.
“It was hard to decide so far out, because it wasn’t as bad,” Dillashaw said. “As I got closer and I’m three weeks out, it’s like, ‘Man, this isn’t looking good.’ I’m three weeks out, now I’m going to ruin the whole card. It’s like damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Say I’m two weeks out and I say my shoulder is too bad, then I’m going to get so much s*** for pulling out of the fight, to where if I pulled out way in advance, that’s not the end of the world, but my shoulder wasn’t that bad then. It’s a culmination of things that happened that really led to that situation.”
Now, Dillashaw faces another extended layoff as he needs shoulder surgery and time to recover, before he can begin training again. And while he doesn’t want to put a timeline on his eventual return, Dillashaw said fans have not seen the last of him.
““I don’t feel that my ability has gone anywhere, maybe a little bit of want,” he said. “This sport is a tough one, and then all the bulls*** I go through here and there kills a little bit of the fire, but I think my competitive edge will always drive me. So I’m not done. You guys will see me again. There’s no way I’d go out like that, and if I come back, I’ll get back to the top.”
You can see Dillashaw’s full interview below.