When it came to coaching on The Ultimate Fighter, former UFC bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw was seemingly destined to always be the bridesmaid, never the bride.
As a guest coach for Urijah Faber, Joseph Benavidez and Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Dillashaw was a regular visitor to the training center in Las Vegas, and unlike some of his peers, he actually wanted the head coaching gig.
“It was kind of like, ‘All right, when do I get to coach my own team? I want my name on the door.’”
He’s got it.
This Wednesday, The Ultimate Fighter: Redemption premieres on FS1. It’s a season in which welterweights from past editions of the show return to the series in an attempt to revitalize their careers and get another shot at UFC glory. It’s also a chance for Dillashaw and the current UFC bantamweight champ, Cody Garbrandt, to square off as coaches before they meet in the Octagon later this year. But for Dillashaw, it’s all about coaching, not drama with his former teammate.
“(Seeing Garbrandt during taping) could have been very distracting, but I did a good job of keeping my focus on my team,” he said. “I like to coach and give back, and that kept me on the straight and narrow. It kept me in line and away from the drama. (Dealing with drama) is just not my style. I always feel like doing right, not easy, is the best way to go about it. It’s easy to try to get attention by acting like a jerk, but doing the right thing is the harder path and it’s the way I’ve wanted to go my entire career.”
Former college wrestler Dillashaw was 4-0 when he got his UFC career underway by way of a run to the finals on season 14 of TUF. And while he lost that final bout to John Dodson in 2011, wins in five of his next six bouts led him to a world title shot against Renan Barao. And in that 2014 meeting, Dillashaw shocked the world with a master class that resulted in a fifth-round TKO and the 135-pound crown.
Now firmly entrenched among the best fighters on the planet, with a 4-1 record since his title-winning effort, Dillashaw is a prime example of someone who has continually evolved, and that made him a great candidate for coaching on TUF, despite the fact that he was coaching some athletes that were fighting before he even put the gloves on.
“Most of them, if not all, have been fighting a lot longer than I have, so to see them want to absorb the information I was giving them and to acknowledge it and want to follow in my footsteps is a huge compliment,” Dillashaw said. “All these guys have been fighting for a long time. I remember watching The Ultimate Fighter with Joe (Stevenson) on it when I was still wrestling in college. So it’s a big compliment to have these guys want to sit down and really listen to what I have to say.”
As for the biggest nugget of knowledge he could give his TUF 25 team, it was to embrace everything that happens because it will be over sooner than they realize.
“You have to stay mentally tough while you’re in the house,” he said. “It feels like a long process while you’re doing it, but it’s a lot shorter than you think when it’s all said and done, and there are so many things you wish you’d done differently. So you have to stay in the moment and absorb this whole process because it will go by real quick.”
Not quick enough for Dillashaw and Garbrandt.
“You definitely learn some new things about his character and who he is,” Dillashaw said of his time with Garbrandt. “In my mind, he’s not a very good person; he’s about himself and very selfish, and that also comes across in training. I saw a lot of new things that I’m going to be able to use to my advantage in this training camp and in our fight. I don’t feel like he shows anybody any respect. He’s got a chip on his shoulder and I can’t wait to make him pay for it.”
But there’s more payback to be issued out from the 31-year-old Dillashaw, who is taking this season’s redemption theme to heart, not just for his team, but himself.
“I think the redemption theme for me is redemption against my old team (Team Alpha Male), the guys that have kind of burned me, the guys that stabbed me in the back a little bit,” he said. “My redemption is proving them all wrong, showing that I did make the right choice in my life and telling my story. Everything’s been in the public eye so much about me moving and following (coach) Duane (Ludwig) out to Colorado. But I don’t feel like the true story has ever been told.”