UFC Fight Night: TJ Dillashaw is coming off a suspension and says he's ready to 'reclaim my belt'

5 min read
TJ Dillashaw (Getty Images)

At the beginning of 2019, things were looking like roses for TJ Dillashaw. 

He was the UFC bantamweight champion and one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in MMA. Dillashaw had been preparing to drop down to flyweight to challenge champion Henry Cejudo. 

Dillashaw got stopped by Cejudo in 32 seconds. Two months later, Dillashaw revealed he'd tested positive for EPO prior to the fight. Then, Dillashaw received a two-year suspension and had to reliquish the bantamweight title. Later, Dillashaw admitted to taking the banned substance because the weight cut to 125 pounds was brutal and not going as expected. 

Thirty months later, Dillashaw returns to the Octagon on Saturday against No. 2-ranked Cory Sandhagen from the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. A win over Sandhagen could vault the 35-year-old Dillashaw in position to become a three-time bantamweight titlist. 

Heading into his comeback fight, Dillashaw talked with DAZN about his thoughts when he was out and what he expects going forward.

(Editor's note: This interview was edited for length and clarity.)


Biggest thing Dillashaw missed during time away 

Nothing really (laughs). It’s kind of nice. But it's not all glory and awesome s—. I'm cutting weight right now. I'm stressed out about a fight. Training camp, especially when you take it as seriously as I do and you go as hard as I do, and now it's so freaking long. It’s not fun. I train two, three times a day. I love it. I'm talking like it's horrible. But, it is what I do. Maybe, that's what I love about it. I love how s—y, and I love how hard it is to be the best. I love though what I have to do.

When I get home at night, I’m so exhausted. Maybe that's what I missed.  I still worked hard with business, all the stuff outside the cage, but I missed getting home and knowing that I did my job like I am so tired that I can shut my brain off and go to bed very easy because I went and did three hard practices that day. When you're doing business stuff and talking with guys and still staying busy, it's a different kind of tired, you get home, and you’re like, ‘What did I do today? Am I worthless’? I'm used to grinding and working out six to eight hours a day and wanting to go to bed. It's hard to shut your brain off.

Thoughts about retirement because of successful business ventures during time off

Yeah, there's definitely that thought in your head. I always knew I was coming back. I'm not going to lie to you. There’s definitely been those thoughts like, ‘Damn, I don't have to do this shit anymore’. It was nice also to not to be in the public eye all the time. It's really nice to be a normal person and not have to worry about anything. There's definitely those thoughts, but my competitive edge, my competitive gene in my body is like, ‘No, I ain't done yet’.

I feel too good. My body feels too good. I'm still the best in the world. I really am, and it's time to reclaim my belt and be the three-time champ.

Why the UFC put him in high profile fight in his return despite PED suspension

Because I'm the best in the world. I asked for it. I asked for someone in the top five. I didn't want any tune-up fights. I'm 35-years- old and coming back. I'm the best. I wanted a title fight. I was going to get that s—, but the debacle between Yan and Sterling with (the) illegal knee and the rematch taking too long because of neck surgery (for Sterling) and all this stuff. I wanted someone top five, and they (the UFC) offered me Cory Sandhagen. I said perfect as that's the next best thing to a title shot to be honest. I think this is a title fight because my resume speaks for itself. All the s—that I've done, the people I've beaten, been there as long as I've been around.

Current landscape of bantamweight division

It's a very stacked division, but no one there's really defended the belt. Coming off of (Henry) Cejudo retiring and is not going to fight. Yan fought a guy that hasn't even won at the weight class yet. I love Jose Aldo. He's a legend. I love his name. I know who he is. I love the way he fights but let's be honest, he hadn't won a fight at 135. He's coming off a loss and got a title fight. He beat him and then fought Aljamain with an illegal knee. It's just all up in the air. So it's perfect timing for me to come back and reclaim it and be the king of the division and have someone defend that belt and be dominant.

What he learned most about himself in the last 30 months

That I'm a great father and that me being a fighter is not who defines me. It was always like, ‘TJ Dillashaw, UFC fighter. That's who I felt I was, what I was, everything I've ever done. I've competed since I was eight years old. I had some jobs over the summer, and my dad made me work my ass off for anything I wanted, but I never had a boss. I went straight from college to fighting. So it's just that competitor and now knowing that I'm going to be all right. Me not being a fighter, I'm good. I'm going to be successful whatever I want to put my mind to. TJ Dillashaw is not just the UFC fighter. He’s a great father, good businessman, and going to be successful.

Beating Sandhagen earn Dillashaw a title shot

100 percent a title shot is next. I go out and beat Cory Sandhagen, and I'm fighting for the belt. The only way I'm not fighting for the belt is because I don't want to wait. I don't know how long it's going to take for Aljamain and Yan to fight. I don't want to wait too long.

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