Former UFC bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw says he and all fighters who compete in high-level MMA are ‘bred’ to believe they will succeed no matter what obstacles they face faced with training.
So even with a shoulder so badly injured that it dislocated about 20 times before a UFC 280 title fight with Aljamain Sterling, Dillashaw believed he could persevere. And more importantly, he wouldn’t let any other reality interfere.
“I’m addicted to being on top,” Dillashaw said Wednesday on MMA hour. “I thought I would go over there and do it.”
As the world saw, Dillashaw had no real chance of winning against Sterling. The ex-champ’s left shoulder dislocated in a takedown within the first minute of the fight, and from there he was just fighting to survive. He weighed in defending his head from the punches and standing up, hoping to wait enough time to pass the round so his corner could get his shoulder back in place (which they did, just before the doctor in the cage does not come to check it). Until the end, he never admitted that the fight was lost.
For the second time in his career, Dillashaw, who had previously been suspended for two years by the US Anti-Doping Agency for cheating, took on the villain role. Fans, media and the UFC lambasted his decision to fight the injury. Some, however, came close to accusing him of wrongdoing.
Dillashaw accepts his position as a villain, but there is one accusation he opposes: that he committed “borderline fraud,” longtime MMA analyst Luke Thomas, to describe his actions.
“As if I wasn’t thrown under the bus enough,” he said. “Like he thought I went there to collect a paycheck. I went there with the utmost belief that I was going to win and get my title back, something I was waiting for. doing for three and a half years and I was chomping at the bit. I just beat Cory Sandhagen on one leg, and why not? Why wouldn’t I believe I can beat a guy who’s less dangerous and with who I got along very well.
“The shoulder obviously came out a lot sooner than I expected and didn’t come back, which on average it didn’t – those kind of unfortunate events.”
Since the fight, Dillashaw said he had been diagnosed with “full-thickness” tears in his supraspinatus and infraspinatus (the two muscles connected to the shoulder’s rotator cuff), tears in his small teres and anterior labrum, and the humeral head in his shoulder is “lumped” due to dislocation.
On Nov. 8, the ex-champion will undergo what he says will be a third surgery to repair his left shoulder, adding to a list of procedures dating back to his days as a college wrestler. In 2017, Dillashaw injured himself again on the set of The Ultimate Fighter 25 while playing tether ball on a balance beam for a coaches challenge against former teammate and opposing coach Cody Garbrandt.
Dillashaw expects to be out for up to seven months before returning to training. That timeline — and a title shot offered by the UFC after Sterling called it out — played the most part in his decision to fight injured, he said. A paycheck was not his main motivation, he added, despite long spells of inactivity stemming from his two-year suspension and undergoing knee surgery after his victory over Sandhagen in 2021. ex-champion said he no longer needed to fight for money, having invested his money wisely and created several businesses outside of fighting.
Being a champion is the greatest reward he can’t pass up.
“I lost way more money than anyone else,” Dillashaw said. “Losing a world title is millions of dollars out of my pocket. I should be sitting at the top, looking for the next big fight.
Following Dillashaw’s defeat, fans and the media wondered if online bookmakers should refund bets following his revelation. For Dillashaw, this implies that he was not fighting in good faith, when in fact he was taking the greatest risk – his own body – to defeat an inferior opponent.
“I also took a bet, and that’s why it’s called a f****** game. You don’t know the situation. I took a bet. I could have sat down and surgery, but when I come back, who knows if I’m going to have a title shot right away, or if I’m going to have to fight my way back up, or how bad the shoulder is. This is my third left shoulder surgery. It’s not like I’m a fucking spring chicken and it’s going to be an easy fix. It’s a serious thing.
” I’ll be back. I’m not going to let my story end like this. But it’s always in the back of your head – I’m going to have surgery, I’ve been away for a year and had just come out for surgery. There’s no guarantee you’ll get a title fight when you return. There are a lot of options that I weigh, me getting this fight, against a champion that is very beatable. I think he’s the most beatable champion right now in the division. I think he has big holes in his game, and I’m fine with him, I’ll roll the dice and bet on myself, even with one arm.
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