Last November, after a year-long and very public war of words, Cody Garbrandt and T.J. Dillashaw finally locked horns at UFC 217 for the UFC bantamweight crown. And after the two former teammates dueled, it was Dillashaw who was the last man standing.
A right hook spelled the beginning of the end for Garbrandt, who was finished by Dillashaw by ground-and-pound in second round. It was first loss of Garbrandt’s professional career. For Dillashaw, the victory secured UFC gold for the second time in his career; the first coming at the expense of Renan Barao in 2014.
In his first run as champion Dillashaw defended the belt twice, once against Joe Soto and once against Barao, before losing the title in a razor-thin split decision to Dominick Cruz in early 2016. The first title defense of his second championship run will be against the man he just beat.
Bloody Elbow caught up with the 135 lb champion to talk about how he was preparing for his clash with Garbrandt, currently scheduled for the main event at August 4th’s UFC 227 in Los Angeles, CA. Asked whether the fact this was a rematch, versus a fight against a fresh opponent, factored into his plans, the champion said, “Nah.”
“You kind of prepare the same for every fight,” he said. “You add a few tricks to try and keep your opponents guessing, but that’s about it. I love rematches, though. I’ve always done great in rematches. The more I can figure out my opponent the better and I’m going to know Cody like the back of my hand. It’s going to be a good night for me.”
Dillashaw’s knowledge of Garbrandt extends further back than their fight last year. The pair trained together for years at Team Alpha Male, before Dillashaw moved to Colorado to continue working with former TAM coach Duane Ludwig. When asked if there was a risk of knowing too much about your opponent and whether this could lead to a dangerous surprise, Dillashaw said he didn’t think so.
“You always train for your opponent to be the best possible opponent no matter who it is,” answered Dillashaw. “You obviously look for their strengths and weaknesses. I know the technical difficulties [Garbrandt] has. I know where he’s good, where he’s not. But you always train for the best. You train for everything.”
Even though he is preparing for the best version of Garbrandt possible, Dillashaw said he believed his TKO victory at UFC 217 has to have had an impact on his opponent.
“He knows I’m the better fighter,” chirped Dillashaw. “He’ll pump himself up. He’ll talk; that he’s great, that he’s better, and all this stuff, but he knows. He knows the truth. I’m the better all around fighter. I’m the smarter fighter. And this is a bad situation for him, to go right back into a rematch for the title.”
Dillashaw claimed the potential baggage Garbrandt is carrying from their past fight — along with what he sees as his own superiority over ‘No Love’ — could have dramatic implications for Garbrandt’s future as a bantamweight.
“I’m going to ruin his career,” said Dillashaw, while switching his convivial tone to one that was dead serious. “I’m going to ruin his career at this weight class. He’s already getting his second shot, he should have worried about getting better, but I don’t know if he really can. I don’t know if he’s that smart of a fighter, but I plan on ruining his career at 135.”
“This sport’s crazy, obviously anything can happen,” continued Dillashaw, with more levity. “You’ve always got to be ready for it and be nervous for that fight, but he doesn’t have a chance. I’ll be ready for anything he can bring to the table. You’ve always got to expect the toughest fight, but he doesn’t have a chance.”
The build-up to their fight this time around has had substantially less promotion than what was seen in 2017. The constant sniping at scrums, press conferences, and media luncheons, along with an arduous stint coaching The Ultimate Fighter culminated in a frustrating experience for Dillashaw. However, rendering Garbrandt defenseless in the Octagon made it all worth it.
When that fight was waved off by Dan Miragliotta, it was obvious how much the moment meant to Dillashaw. As a foggy Garbrandt was making it back to his feet, the newly minted champ howled like a banshee; much to the delight of cage-side photographers.
“Yeah, there was a lot of build-up. Not only the build-up to get my belt back,” said Dillashaw when explaining where that outpouring of emotion came from at the end of the fight. “I felt like I should have never lost it and I should have gotten an instant rematch, which I didn’t. I felt like I got kind of screwed over in that situation. I was continuing to tell everyone that I was the best 135-lber, so for me to prove that, that was a lot of that coming out, as well as the whole year of build-up and me having to deal with Team Alpha Male and all their immaturity and all their bull crap and their accusations. So it was definitely a combo. I would have been just as excited no matter what, but that added to it.”
The second high-stakes chapter of the T.J. Dillashaw vs. Cody Garbrandt story will play out on Saturday, August 4th, at UFC 227. The pay-per-view, which has Demetrious Johnson vs. Henry Cejudo in the co-main event, begins at 10PM ET.