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TJ Dillashaw had ‘utmost belief’ he would win against ‘most beatable champion’ Aljamain Sterling

The former bantamweight champ is bristling at the idea that fans and pundits think he walked into UFC 280 knowing he was going to lose.

Aljamain Sterling lands heavy ground-n-pound on TJ Dillashaw during their UFC 280 title bout.
Aljamain Sterling lands heavy ground-n-pound on TJ Dillashaw during their UFC 280 title bout.
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

How could anyone have expected things to go differently? That’s the question many fans and pundits found themselves asking after UFC 280, where TJ Dillashaw revealed a longstanding and debilitating shoulder injury in the aftermath of a one-sided beatdown at the hands of Aljamain Sterling.

By his own admission, the injury had been plaguing Dillashaw since April, and his shoulder had dislocated somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty times over his months of training heading into his October title shot against the bantamweight champion. Shortly after the fight began, it dislocated again, rendering Dillashaw largely helpless against Sterling’s wrestling attack. But, what did he expect?

To hear him tell it, the 36-year-old stepped in the Octagon that night with full confidence that he could beat Sterling. Even, as it were, with one arm tied behind his back. On a recent episode of the MMA Hour, the longtime Duane Ludwig protege responded to comments from MMA analyst Luke Thomas, who was one of many voices accusing the fighter of “borderline fraud” for his performance in Abu Dhabi.

“Like I’m not being thrown under the bus enough,” Dillashaw shot back (transcript via MMA Fighting). “Like he thinks I went in there to collect a paycheck. I went in there with the utmost belief that I was going to win, and I was going to get my title back—something I’ve been waiting to do for three-and-a-half years, and chomping at the bit. I just beat Cory Sandhagen on one leg, and why not? Why would I not believe I can beat a guy who’s less dangerous and that I matched up with really well?

“The shoulder obviously came out a lot sooner than I hoped and didn’t go back in, which—on average—was not the case. So, unfortunate kind of events.”

Dillashaw added that he feels he “lost a lot more money than anyone else” over the fight, since—in his mind—the injury cost him a world title and the prize money that comes with it.

“I took a gamble as well, and that’s why it’s called f-cking gambling. You don’t know the situation. I took a gamble. I could have sat out and got surgery. But when I come back, who knows if I’m going to get a title shot right away, or I’m going to have to fight my way back up in it, Or how bad this shoulder is? Let’s be honest, this is my third surgery in my left shoulder. It’s not like I’m a spring f-cking chicken and it’s going to be an easy fix. It’s a serious thing.”

The former bantamweight champion strongly restated his desire to return to competition after surgery and rehab as well, noting that the potential difficulty of that journey—and his own feelings as to just how poorly Sterling matches up with him—were major factors in why he chose to take the fight, even injured.

“There’s a lot of options [I was] weighing out: me getting this fight, against a champion that’s very beatable. I think he’s the most beatable champion right now in the division. I think he’s some big holes in his game, and I match up well with him. I’m going to roll them dice. And I’m going to bet on myself, even with one arm.”