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‘I’ve fought like this before’ - Dillashaw claims similar injuries in Garbrandt bouts after UFC 280 disaster

Dillashaw and the UFC may both claim that he kept his injury tightly under wraps, but the former bantamweight champ also wants people to know that it’s been a problem years in the making.

TJ Dillashaw eats a right hand from UFC champ Aljamain Sterling at UFC 280.
TJ Dillashaw eats a right hand from UFC champ Aljamain Sterling at UFC 280.
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Is TJ Dillashaw trying to have his cake and eat it too? Both the fighter and the UFC have claimed that his shoulder injury was kept secret from the organization ahead of Dillashaw’s disastrous showing against Aljamain Sterling at UFC 280 on October 22nd.

The former bantamweight champion was notably absent during open workouts, and even his opponent had to note Dillashaw’s lack of footage for the event’s series of ‘Embedded’ video blogs. That may have all been down to careful camp management, but in a recent interview with ESPN the Huntington Beach Ultimate Training Center athlete looked to downplay criticism he’s received from fans and fighters for hiding the severity of his problems—noting that he’s fought, and won, with his shoulders in a similar state before.

“I’ve fought like this before,” Dillashaw admitted (transcript via MMA Fighting). “I knocked out Cody Garbrandt twice with two blown-out shoulders. My shoulders were both dislocating for that Garbrandt fight. Before that first Garbrandt fight, I tore my left shoulder on The Ultimate Fighter doing the coaches challenge. We were playing tetherball on the balance beam, and I fell off and tried to catch myself and hurt my shoulder. In that fight camp, I dislocated my shoulder a good 10-15 times. ... It hurt and affected my grappling, but what was I going to do, not take the fight? I wanted to get my title back. Kind of the same situation I’m in now.

“Look, I believe I’m the best in the world, so I want to get my belt back and do these things before I go and get my body fixed. Because if you get your shoulder fixed, you’re out for a year and you’re never guaranteed to be back. ... So this isn’t new. I’ve fought in this situation before. I needed surgery, but it was something I wasn’t willing to do yet. I’d think about that when I got my belt back.”

The 36-year-old went on to explain that his apology wasn’t intended to cast blame on himself for intentionally deceiving fans and fighters, but rather “I apologized for the situation.” He also noted that—despite months of knowing he was injured—Dillashaw didn’t consider withdrawing from the bout until just three weeks before fight night, as the severity of the injury increased.

“It was hard to decide so far out, because it wasn’t as bad,” Dillashaw explained. “As I got closer and I’m three weeks out, it’s like, ‘Man, this isn’t looking good.’ I’m three weeks out, now I’m going to ruin the whole card. It’s like damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Say I’m two weeks out and I say my shoulder is too bad, then I’m going to get so much sh-t for pulling out of the fight, to where if I pulled out way in advance, that’s not the end of the world, but my shoulder wasn’t that bad then. It’s a culmination of things that happened that really led to that situation.”

Also of note, Dillashaw revealed in the interview that he was diagnosed with “a torn supraspinatus and infraspinatus in his left shoulder” early in 2022. So while he may have been hiding his injury from the UFC’s medical team, it wasn’t kept entirely in the training room. At this point it sounds like he’ll be spending significant time on the sidelines once again as he looks to undergo surgery. If fans hope to see the longtime Duane Ludwig protege back in the Octagon again, they may be waiting until sometime in 2024.

“I’m not done,” Dillashaw claimed. “You guys will see me again. There’s no way I’d go out like that, and if I come back, I’ll get back to the top.”