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Editorial: UFC can’t – and shouldn’t – trust T.J. Dillashaw after UFC 280

T.J. Dillashaw’s apology at UFC 280 rings hollow. His actions, however speak volumes

T.J. Dillashaw’s stock was high with UFC president Dana White before UFC 280. However, it’s doubtful that White felt the same about the former bantamweight titleholder after current champ Aljamain Sterling dispatched an injured Dillashaw in the co-main event of Saturday’s pay-per-view fight card.

In the lead-up to UFC 280, White sang the praises of Dillashaw. The UFC boss said he felt Dillashaw handled his lengthy USADA suspension for performance-enhancing drugs following a positive test for EPO in 2019 better than most.

“I think he made a mistake and he handled it like a man,” White told Barstool Sports. “I’ll tell you what, we’ve had a lot of guys in the history of this company who have been busted for steroids and handled it the exact opposite way. They handled it not like men. Dillashaw did. He took it on the chin. You’ve got to respect him for that.”

If Dillashaw handled that incident “like a man,” the ex-champ’s actions in accepting a fight against Sterling at UFC 280 when he was injured and then — from all appearances — hiding that injury from the UFC and the athletic commission overseeing the event, fell far short of being praiseworthy.

Dillashaw apparently suffered a dislocated left shoulder in the early moments of his bout opposite Sterling. The ex-champ made it to his corner after the first round, and his team got the shoulder back into place, satisfying the cageside physician and referee Marc Goddard. They allowed Dillashaw to continue, but only long enough to absorb 68 more strikes from Sterling before Goddard finally waved off at the 3:44 mark of the second stanza.

After his loss, an emotional Dillashaw spoke to UFC commentator Daniel Cormier about the injury and revealed some details that probably left White regretting his accolades earlier in the week.

“I’ve got to apologize to the weight class,” Dillashaw said. “I kinda held it up. I completely blew my shoulder out at the end of April, as soon as I started getting ready for this, and probably dislocated a good 20 times during training camp.”

There was no “kinda.” Dillashaw screwed with Sterling, the UFC, the commission and the top fighters in the bantamweight division. That he “blew out” his shoulder in April only made his actions and remarks more egregious and his apology more hollow and meaningless.

The earliest we heard about the possibility of a fight between Dillashaw and Sterling was in mid-June when MMA Junkie reported the UFC was in the process of finalizing that matchup. That means Dillashaw accepted the fight with a “blown out” shoulder and then, even when the contest got pushed from UFC 279 to UFC 280 in July, kept up the appearance that he was going to be able to put up a title-fight-worthy performance.

As for the UFC knowing that Dillashaw was hurt, White said he, the UFC nor the UAE Mixed Martial Arts Federation (UAEMMAF), who served as the shadow sanctioning body for the event alongside the UFC, were informed of the injury beforehand.

“I had no idea, so that’s a problem,” White said after the event. “How could the athletic commission know if he doesn’t tell us? You’ve got to tell us. He looked good. It’s not like he came in out of shape, or looked like he was injured, but yeah, that’s something he should have told us.”

With his history over the past three years, Dillashaw has destroyed any trust the UFC might have had in him. With his positive drug test and use of performance-enhancing drugs in 2019, Dillashaw nearly screwed up two weight divisions. With his insistence on going through with a fight when he knew he was injured to the point where his shoulder had “dislocated a good 20 times,” the UFC can never trust Dillashaw to headline another UFC event.

Dillashaw showed his selfishness when he said he would fight Sterling, while he was seriously injured and didn’t have a realistic chance of even being competitive. Perhaps he convinced himself he could pull off a miracle. Perhaps he was desperate for a payday after only competing once in almost three years, and likely needing surgery again. Maybe it’s a mixture of several other reasons. Either way, he only compounded that selfishness for every second of every day after.

It was a constant decision to deceive the UFC, the athletic commission, and the fans, when there was a line of more worthy challengers available. This is why his apology rings hollow.

Dillashaw’s name wasn’t the cleanest before UFC 280. He sullied that even further by lying to everyone — and maybe even to himself — for the past six months.