T.J. Dillashaw may still like Cory Sandhagen, but he does not sound too fond of some comments made by his upcoming opponent in the lead-up to their fight in May.
Dillashaw makes his return to the Octagon after serving a two-year suspension from the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) following a positive test for EPO days before his fight with Henry Cejudo at UFC Brooklyn in 2019. He became eligible to compete again this year, so the quest to find an opponent for the former bantamweight champion was quickly set in motion.
Although he had no shortage of opponents to choose from considering how many top bantamweights called him out, Dillashaw eventually settled on Sandhagen for his comeback. He explained why he took the fight in a recent interview with Brett Okamoto of ESPN.
“It definitely wasn’t the only option, but like I said. Everyone in the top five called me out and so it wasn't the only option, but it is the one that is great. I love it. I love this fight. He’s got a lot of hype behind him. He’s got two good wins [and] people are blowing him up right now. It’s such a good fight for me and to get right back on top, right where I left off. I’ll be having the belt around my waist by the end of the year.”
The appeal of returning to title contention with a win over Sandhagen was certainly a motivating factor for Dillashaw, but it would not be the only one. Dillashaw and Sandhagen have a shared history with one another stemming from previous training sessions that occurred when Dillashaw was still training at Team Alpha Male before their infamous split.
According to Dillashaw, they struck up a relationship that would see them work with one another on several occasions, so he was taken aback to hear what was being said about him by his former teammate.
“I think I was the biggest advocate of getting him into the UFC before he was even in the UFC, said Dillashaw. “Telling him he could be there and the fights he was taking and things like that. I remember when he first got into the UFC and he was fighting guys like [Raphael] Assuncao and [John] Lineker, we would reach out back and forth with each other in direct messages and ask my opinion on how he beats them and things like that.
“I had no problem telling him all that advice because I like Cory Sandhagen. He’s become a little bit of a douche lately, but talking that [expletive] which is what he’s gotta do. That’s the name of the game, but I like Cory Sandhagen. I like all of his coaches. I like Elevation Fight Team, but it’s business. We’re gonna go out there and handle it and I’m gonna come back and get my belt.”
Sandhagen had spoken about his disdain for Dillashaw potentially being rewarded with an immediate title shot when he was taking “some of the most serious steroids you can do in the sport”, but Dillashaw took issue with that framing of the situation.
“Oh, just talking [expletive] about me failing a drug test and then something about me taking the worst steroid you could possibly take, which I wasn’t even taking a steroid,” said Dillashaw. “Just running his mouth on certain interviews and stuff on things he knows is complete nonsense, you know? Just pumping himself up and making himself feel like he’s got a chance in this fight.”
Dillashaw is confident in his chances against Sandhagen and hopes to meet the winner of the rematch between Aljamain Sterling and Petr Yan after this fight.