On Saturday night the UFC’s bantamweight title will be on the line as TJ Dillashaw challenges the current champ Cody ‘No Love’ Garbrandt.
This is a very exciting match-up from a stylistic point of view. However, it has been the antics outside the octagon that have been the primary talking point in the build up to this long-awaited fight.
TJ and Cody are former teammates at Team Alpha Male (TAM) under Uriah Faber. However, when head coach Duane Ludwig left TAM to set up his own gym Dillashaw eventually followed him. The exact circumstances of this have been debated in depth.
The narrative from TAM is that Dillashaw was disingenuous for a length of time where he lied to TAM in regards to his intentions to leave the team and ultimately turned his back on them. However, Dillashaw has refuted these claims and adamantly maintains that he wanted to continue to be a part of TAM while training with Duane Ludwig in Colorado.
While Dillashaw has tried to stay out of the limelight as much as possible, Cody and his teammates have been relentless in taking to public forums to insult TJ. The two fighters went head-to-head as opposition coaches in The Ultimate Fighter TV show and it was clear that Cody and his team wanted to use this platform to antagonise and intimidate Dillashaw. A scene with Cody confronting and screaming at TJ became an almost weekly occurrence.
Of the numerous accusations from TAM, one of the major points made had been that TJ was overly aggressive in training to the point where he would hurt his training partners.
The prime example of this, per Team Alpha Male, was the fact that TJ had ended the career of team member Chris Holdsworth.
Uriah Faber stated (via MMA Junkie):
“T.J. was never the best teammate.. He would, like, try to hurt people.”
While Cody elaborated and went as far to say that it was an intentional knee after the session had finished that ended the career of his teammate.
“I guess Chris choked him out, and T.J. got up and (expletive) kneed him in the back of the head when he was down on the mat.”
TJ had vehemently denied these claims. However, the man at the centre of the controversy, Holdsworth, made an appearance on The MMA Hour this week where he not only claimed he was kicked but also made further accusations.
The retired fighter made clear allegations that Dillashaw was using performance-enhancing drugs.
“There was another instance leading up to the Chico fight, when he was getting ready for [Renan] Barao,” Holdsworth said.
“And then it comes to where I hear he’s on some special supplements and stuff, and I just lost respect for the guy. There’s no hard feelings, it’s whatever it is, but he’s a cheater.”
One can only speculate the effect these comments will have on TJ when he steps into the octagon on Saturday night. These are huge allegations and the timing could not have been worse, breaking at the beginning of fight week.
Dillashaw is naturally an aggressive fighter. He likes to rush the pace of the fight. It appears these allegations have been aimed at unsettling TJ in the hopes that he will lose his composure. Cody is extremely powerful and an intelligent counter-puncher. Therefore, an over-anxious opponent would play right into his hands.
An insight into the mentality of both men can be gained from looking at how each fighter handled their respective bouts with Dominick Cruz, who is notorious for getting inside the head of his opponent. There was bad blood between Cruz and both TJ and Cody when they faced off.
When TJ took on Cruz, he rushed the fight from the very start, punching and kicking, wildly at times, to hurt his opponent. Cruz’s fight style is based on his unorthodox movement and striking style. TJ struggled with this and it took a number of rounds before he found any real success. Although it was a very close split decision defeat, Cruz stuck to his game plan and got the win. TJ was tenacious but ultimately a number of uncharacteristic mistakes cost him. He over-committed at times and was even taken down four times by Cruz.
The fight between Cody and Cruz was equally tense. The build-up with was particularly nasty climaxing in an interview where Cody ripped off his headset and had to be held back after his girlfriend was brought up in discussion by Cruz.
One may have thought that Cody, as a young challenger, would have lost his cool and thrown the game plan out the window when fight night arrived. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Cody did not rush Cruz, and forced him to commit. And when he did, Cody took advantage with fast and precise striking. Garbrandt was the clear winner, taking a unanimous decision.
There is no doubting that both TJ and Cody are amazing athletes at the peak of their powers. However, it may be the fighter with the greatest mental fortitude who can leave their emotions outside the octagon that will be going home with the strap around their waist on Saturday night. Based on recent history, this may result in a long night for Dillashaw.
Cathal Geeney, Pundit Arena