One of the most logical next opponents for UFC bantamweight king T.J. Dillashaw would seem to be the last man to defeat him.
Not so fast, says the reigning bantamweight king. Even though he relinquished the 135-pound strap to Dominick Cruz in a split-decision defeat some two-and-half years ago, Dillashaw wants to see his old rival do something to earn another title shot. After defeating Dillashaw, Cruz defended the belt against Urijah Faber before losing a five-round verdict to Cody Garbrandt at UFC 207.
Since then, injuries have kept Cruz on the sideline, and Dillashaw has won four in a row – including back-to-back stoppages of the aforementioned Garbrandt. The latest triumph came via knockout 4:10 into the opening round of the UFC 227 headliner on Saturday night.
“I’m not ever afraid of a challenge, but hey, Dominick Cruz hasn’t even fought since he lost the belt. He made me chase around No. 1 contenders, so get to work, Dominick,” Dillashaw said on Fox Sports 1.
Unlike his five-round chess match with Cruz, both of Dillashaw’s bouts against Garbrandt have been action-packed but short lived. At UFC 227, the Duane Ludwig protégé already had an idea of what to expect from “No Love,” and that set him up nicely for an impressive finishing sequence.
“I kind of used his game plan against him. I know he likes to throw a big right hand; he drops his left hand every time he does it,” Dillashaw said. “So I was just waiting for him to charge. Usually I’m the one moving my feet, throwing kicks, being crazy and I knew he was expecting that, so I want to change it up. I waited for him to come in and throw a big right hand and I just met him with my own.”
Dillashaw was in more peril during their first meeting at UFC 217, as Garbrandt dropped him in the opening stanza with a right hook. However, he was able to rally in the in round two, first dropping “No Love” with a head kick before finishing off his triumph with a right hook and follow-up punches.
Through it all, Dillashaw has learned that Garbrandt’s tendency to brawl can get him into trouble. As a result, he wasn’t surprised the rematch ended as quickly as it did.
“I said from the beginning he’d be lucky to get out of the first round,” Dillashaw said. “I was looking to knock his head off. I don’t think he’s got a chin and he plays a very dangerous game of wanting to throw down. I was looking to meet him. I know I have a chin and I know I can throw hard, so I was going to meet him in the center of the Octagon and throw down.”
With two emphatic victories over his former Team Alpha Male stablemate, Dillashaw can put that rivalry to rest. Dillashaw’s exit from the Sacramento-based camp to train under Ludwig led to hard feelings from both sides. Dillashaw is glad to put that all in the past now.
“It feels great. I had to go through a lot to get back the belt that was always mine and then deal with all the ridicule from Team Alpha Male, the guys that I used to be friends with,” Dillashaw said. “It feels good to put this behind me and just kind of tell them, ‘What’s up now?’