UFC bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw has been called a snake by Conor McGregor for leaving his Team Alpha Male squad. He’s been called a fighter trying to kill off the flyweight division by the man he will fight for that weight class’ title this weekend, 125-pound champion Henry Cejudo.
In pro wrestling jargon, Dillashaw might be called a heel. In mixed martial arts, Dillashaw is apparently fine with being the “bad guy” as long as he gets what he wants on fight night in Brooklyn.
“I’m pumped about this,” he said of the UFC Fight Night main event. “I get to go out there and make history, become a champ-champ and be dominant. I’ll steal his gold medal from him as well.”
Dillashaw is in a good place these days. After regaining his bantamweight title by knocking out heated rival (and former teammate) Cody Garbrandt in November 2017, he repeated the feat last August, again picking up a Performance of the Night bonus for a stoppage of “No Love.”
If you’re looking up and down his resume, you’ll see wins over Garbrandt, Renan Barao, Raphael Assuncao and John Lineker, cementing his place as the top 135-pounder in the game.
But for now, Dillashaw is looking ten pounds south, and Cejudo wasn’t his first choice when he was thinking of a SuperFight at flyweight.
“I’ve been throwing my name in the flyweight division since Demetrious Johnson was known as the pound-for-pound, the GOAT,” said Dillashaw. “He didn’t have anybody to fight, so I was interested in going down there and stopping his win streak. When I started training to fight flyweight, I got really intrigued in knowing how doable it was. It lit a fire underneath me to think about dropping a weight class.”
That fire burned nice and slow, and with Dillashaw and Johnson both fighting on the same UFC 227 card in August, the stage was set for both champions to successfully defend their titles and then meet up at a future date.
Cejudo had other plans, upsetting Johnson in that night’s co-main event. And if Cejudo was shy about taking on the bantamweight king, he certainly didn’t show it in the Octagon after he secured the flyweight crown as he called for a bout with Dillashaw. For a fighter frustrated at not getting “Mighty Mouse,” it was music to his ears.
“Demetrious Johnson was dodging me when he was the champion of the weight class,” said Dillashaw. “It was very frustrating. It was a hyped-up fight and people wanted to see it. He was pound-for-pound number one at the time, and that’s my spot, that’s where I want to go, so it was very frustrating that I couldn’t get that challenge. And for Henry Cejudo to call me out after the fight, I’m never gonna run away from a challenge and I accepted it with open arms.”
He did. But while he was happy that Cejudo wanted to fight, a part of him also took it personally that “The Messenger” was that bold to call him out.
“The biggest mistake of Henry’s life was to call me out after the fight,” said Dillashaw. “He won’t even be known as a champion when I’m done with him. He will never defend his belt. Just like Garbrandt, I’m gonna come through, run through him and I’m gonna be the last flyweight champion ever.”
Strong words, and Dillashaw isn’t backing down from them. It’s the confidence of a champion who wants to add more gold to his trophy case before chasing down the mythical title of best ever.
“I don’t think I can be too greedy in this sport for how hard I train,” he said. “I’ve tried to be the nice guy, the martial artist, sit back and wait for your turn, wait for it to come, but nice guys finish last. Being greedy in this sport is gonna be good. I am being greedy jumping down to ’25 and taking that belt. I might even go to ’45 and get that belt as well too. I’m gonna be known as the belt collector. I’m working too hard, too smart, I’m too good, and it’s my time.”
As for Cejudo, Dillashaw doesn’t dismiss his foe.
“Henry Cejudo’s a very game opponent,” he said. “I expect the best Henry Cejudo and I expect a great athlete to come out there. The guy’s an Olympic gold medalist, he knows how to compete. So I’m expecting a great fight and a great athlete, but he’s just not as well-rounded as I am. I’m the better MMA fighter.”
That was kind of nice, at least until Dillashaw reveals how he sees the fight going at Barclays Center.
“I’m gonna finish him,” he said. “It’s gonna be too much. I’m gonna have too much pressure on him and he’s gonna want out. He’s gonna want the fight to stop and I’m gonna finish it."