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Opinion: Has Conor McGregor’s Influence Warped Our View Of TJ Dillashaw?

The former UFC bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw is something of a divisive figure within the MMA community but is there really that much depth to the world’s very sudden U-turn on the former Team Alpha Male member?

MMAFighting‘s Luke Thomas made a very interesting video recently where he discussed this year’s season of the Ultimate Fighter and how the heavily-publicised divide between Urijah Faber’s Team Alpha Male and their former member TJ Dillashaw has now boiled over to new levels of petulance and vitriol.

With Dillashaw coaching opposite the Team Alpha Male standout and current-bantamweight kingpin Cody Garbrandt, the stage has been set for some seriously entertaining television over the course of the season’s run but with us now approaching the third episode, Thomas correctly pointed out that the behaviour of the Alpha Male members – and in particular the aforementioned Garbrandt – may well cause the usually-divisive Dillashaw to become something of a sympathetic figure.

The question I’m going to raise here is one I first thought about when TJ and Cody were announced as coaches for this season but now, with tensions at an all-time high, it seems a good time to bring it up.

Why exactly is TJ Dillashaw disliked to the extent that he is?

Ever since his brief cameo on the twenty-second season of the Ultimate Fighter, Dillashaw’s stock – in the eyes of the mainstream MMA community – has taken a massive hit. McGregor’s ‘snake in the grass’ comments seemed to resonate with the public so much that the title has become synonymous with TJ ever since.

But if you think about it, the fact that he left Team Alpha Male shouldn’t offend you. It shouldn’t offend anyone.

Camp-switches are part-and-parcel of this game and when TJ made the decision to follow his coach Duane Ludwig away from his Alpha Male brothers, it really shouldn’t have been the massive debacle that it became. Fighters move camps all of the time. In the last year, two former champions in Robbie Lawler and Rafael dos Anjos decided a change would do their respective careers some good and for the most part, these moves went completely under the radar.

So why is it different in this case?

Well, it all boils down to Team Alpha Male’s emphasis on brotherhood and the ties that bind everyone within their gym. Urijah Faber has instilled a very positive sense of team spirit into his fighters and though this approach is not one that is taken in all gyms, it’s one that has worked for him for years and one you could clearly even see in his approach to his coaching role during his stint on TUF opposite McGregor.

I’m not defending the manner in which TJ left his friends and long-time team-mates but that conflict is one that is between himself and those who still reside in the Sacramento gym and I really don’t think it should effect your opinion of him. Of course, I don’t know all of the details but that changes very little.

What I do know, however, is that Dillashaw is one of the most entertaining fighters on the roster from a technical perspective and his shocking victory over Renan Barao at UFC 173 still stands as one of the most impressive championship-winning performances of all time, period.

As a person, he seems humble, relatively quiet (when compared to the fiery Garbrandt, at least) and driven and if you’ve followed his career since his days on the Ultimate Fighter as a contestant, there is absolutely no denying the effect that introducing Duane ‘Bang’ Ludwig had on his striking game.

This is not a team sport, whether some claim to be or not, and the Dillashaw who operates under Ludwig is a completely different animal to the one who had competed prior to them meeting so why is it that hard to understand why he made the move when he did?

It clearly worked! Dillashaw has looked like an absolute killer in virtually every fight since his switch, with him combining genuine knockout power with superb footwork and versatility on the feet but still, the ‘snake in the grass’ comment has followed him without fail.

Conor McGregor’s influence in the modern world of MMA just cannot be understated anymore. With the ever-increasing role that social media plays these days he can brand you for life with one sentence, just ask Jeremy Stephens.

For many, Stephens still stands as the hard-handed former-lightweight who nearly decapitated Rafael dos Anjos back in 2008 with an uppercut and in his new home at 145lb, he has looked impressive without being outstanding but to those who are perhaps unaware of these things, he will forever be known as the guy who interrupted the Notorious One at the UFC 205 press event in New York City.

That’s real power right there.

I know these are two very different cases but I think there’s a lot of merit to this comparison.

Has Conor McGregor’s fame and influence marred the public’s perception of TJ Dillashaw in a way that is perhaps unfair to the man in question? People are very quick to throw the word ‘snake’ around and make their hopes for a ‘quick Garbrandt KO victory’ known but is this all not just a case of an internal (and very common) dispute that was just taken way too far because of the intervention of the sport’s biggest star?

And if so, how long will it take for the (mainstream) MMA world to move on from this overblown mess and give poor TJ a break?

Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena

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Author: Cillian Cunningham

Lead mixed martial arts writer who can be contacted at [email protected]