UFC Bantamweight Champion TJ Dillashaw is already considered one of the best mixed martial artists in the world, but getting the opportunity to headline this weekend’s UFC 227 card carries some extra significance. For the former CSU Fullerton wrestler, being able to defend his title against the man he just won it back from — former teammate and training partner Cody Garbrandt — is sweet enough, but doing it as the main event on a night his friends and family can attend takes it to another level.
“I just got to fight at Madison Square Garden, and now I get to fight at Staples Center here in my backyard, so I’m psyched for it,” Dillashaw says. “I get to go out there and show off, and I don’t see it going any different — other than me looking even better and showing my dominance in more areas of martial arts. I may not be the flashy, in-your-face guy talking a bunch of crap to bring attention that way, but I’ve never had a boring fight, and I’m going to keep it that way.”
Although Dillashaw has a long history with OC, it wasn’t until late last year that the California native moved his training camp back to his home state. After spending the last couple of years living and training in Colorado following the falling out with Sacramento-based Team Alpha Male — Garbrandt’s current gym — Dillashaw met fitness guru Sam Calavitta and realized he could help the 15-3 fighter take his game to the next level.
“[The move to OC] has been very organic,” Dillashaw says. “I coached The Ultimate Fighter, and one of my training partners — Juan Archuleta — who was coaching with me brought out his strength and conditioning coach to help out and show some of the guys stuff like how to eat and train your heart rate. He blew me away, and I learned a lot from him. I’m a 32-year-old athlete looking to continue to make gains, so when I heard what he could do, I came out here to change some things up with my camp.”
For his training camp in preparation for last December’s championship bout against Garbrandt, Dillashaw also brought his head coach (and UFC veteran) Duane Ludwig out from Colorado to work with Calavitta. Unfortunately, that was about all he had, as the traveling team began with just a lone wrestling mat in an empty warehouse rather than the top-notch gyms they’d become accustomed to. But after picking up the knockout victory in New York, Dillashaw opted to turn that Anaheim warehouse into a world-class MMA facility for Calavitta’s expanding team, The Treigning Lab.
Of course, being able to serve as the centerpiece for an elite MMA gym is a bit of a change for a guy who spent the first two-thirds of his career fighting in someone else’s shadow. After cracking into the UFC as a competitor on The Ultimate Fighter, the then-undefeated wrestler came up short against future flyweight contender John Dodson in the reality show’s live finale back in 2011. For the next three years, Dillashaw would dominate five of his next six fights on largely untelevised preliminary cards before finally stepping in to fight 32-1 champion Renan Barão — who had just cemented his legacy as a seemingly-unstoppable force after twice destroying Dillashaw’s iconic former teammate, Urijah Faber.
“I was fighting a monster as a replacement just filling in,” Dillashaw says of his first fight with Barão. “I came in as an 8-to-1 underdog, but I believed in myself. I knew how good I was and my teammates knew how good I was, but I just hadn’t gotten a chance to proven myself yet. I hadn’t even been on a main card yet, and then it was the biggest thing as the main event on a pay-per-view card. I got to soak that whole event up and just cherish it, and the way it went down — the game plan worked perfectly. That was about four years ago now, and it’s changed my life forever. I’ll never forget that day.”
Since then, Dillashaw’s replaced Barão as the 135 lb. division’s top fighter and taken out every reasonable contender other than oft-injured former champ Dominick Cruz (who dropped the title to Garbrandt after a split decision over Dillashaw). With a Cruz rematch unlikely in the immediate future, Dillashaw sees his biggest post-UFC 227 opportunity as a matchup with the most dominant champion in UFC history (and this weekend’s co-main event) flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson for the 125 lb. belt.
“The biggest fight for me would be Demetrious Johnson at his weight class,” Dillashaw says. “I don’t want to hear excuses about me being the bigger guy because it wouldn’t be hard for me to make 125 [lbs.], and that would be the biggest fight for my career. I want that fight, the UFC wants that fight, the fans want that fight, and the stars are kind of aligning since we’re both fighting on the same night. We’ll see how it pans out.”
Josh Chesler used to play baseball for some pretty cool teams, but now he just writes about awesome stuff like tattoos, music, MMA and sneakers. He enjoys injuring himself by skateboarding, training for fights, and playing musical instruments in his off time.