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’.
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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.