NEW YORK—Cody Garbrandt dropped T.J. Dillashaw to the mat mere seconds before the first round of their bantamweight title fight at Madison Square Garden ended.
The horn quickly sounded, bailing Dillashaw out. Garbrandt stared him down before heading to his corner, flashing a choice finger toward Dillashaw before turning his back. Had the knockdown come any earlier, Garbrandt might still have his championship belt.
But Dillashaw survived the round, and he didn’t need much more time to turn the table on Garbrandt. Dillashaw landed a left high kick and a ferocious right hook shortly thereafter, putting Garbrandt on the ground—where he would stay. Dillashaw reclaimed his bantamweight title in an exhilarating second-round knockout over his former sparring partner.
Dillashaw left Team Alpha Male, with whom Garbrandt still trains, on bad terms. Garbrandt attacked his opponent in press conferences and social media leading up to UFC 217. In the end, it was the fighter who took pre-fight jabs without much resistance that landed the more meaningful blows when it mattered most.
“I was practicing to be tough. I wasn’t talking to be tough,” Dillashaw said. “I didn’t have to build my confidence up by talking trash. I put my nose in the ground and worked hard—worked really hard for a long time. And it paid off.”
Despite the loss, Garbrandt isn’t backing down. He said he doesn’t respect Dillashaw as a person and accused him of both using performance enhancing drugs and purposefully injuring another teammate while at Team Alpha Male.
“I still feel like he’s a piece of s*** teammate. I stand beside my facts,” Garbrandt said. “He lies still. Yeah, he won. Good for him. I’ll be back, and I’m going to come with a vengeance. And that belt is going to be mine.”
Garbrandt’s war of words possibly had more of an impression on Dillashaw’s family than it did on the fighter himself. After Dillashaw knocked Garbrandt out, his brother—who is always in Dillashaw’s corner—rushed to the middle of the octagon and screamed, “What!?” in Garbrandt’s direction.
Garbrandt, who Dillashaw labeled a “hot head,” wasn’t fond of the gesture. He tried to approach Dillashaw’s brother but had to be restrained. Dillashaw’s brother was escorted out of MSG, which Dillashaw joked as being “another one to put on the bucket list.”
“He’s been very offended by some of the things and accusations and the way that some of my really good friends that I thought were [still my friends] have treated me,” Dillashaw said of his brother. “He’s an emotional guy. He loves me more than anybody I know.”
Now that the fight is finished, Dillashaw finally opened up in saying that while he respects Garbrandt as a fighter, he has all but lost Dillashaw’s respect as a person. Though it was hard for him to stay focused in training because of the need to develop “tough skin,” as he called it, Dillashaw refrained from letting his emotions deter him throughout his camp and leading up to the fight.
He cited a loss to Dominick Cruz in January 2016 as what happens when a fighter competes with a grudge. Cruz called Dillashaw out for being a “fake person,” and Dillashaw let it get to him as he relinquished the title belt.
“That fight wouldn’t have been close if I would have kept my cool,” Dillashaw said. He kept his cool against Garbrandt, regaining his championship form in the process. Garbrandt, meanwhile, refused to admit that emotion played any part in letting his guard down. He chalked his loss up to a “tactical mistake,” one that he said won’t happen again.
“I truly am the better fighter,” Garbrandt said. “I want that rematch. I’m willing to put in the work and do whatever it takes to get my title back. This is something I was born to do. This is my passion. This is my love. I’ll do whatever it takes to climb back on that mountain.”
That mountain might be a rather tall one. Dillashaw said that he plans on moving down a division to claim another title belt in the 125-pound flyweight division. He wants to fight Demetrious Johnson, a matchup that UFC president Dana White said Johnson needs to take.
“He’s been crying for a long time about a big fight,” White said. “He’s got his big fight now. You know I’m down for it because I wanted to do it before. But now it’s even better because they both have belts.”
As for Dillashaw’s potential rematch with Garbrandt, it will probably have to wait. Garbrandt had the opportunity to back up his talk but failed. He’ll have to eat those words for longer than he’d like.
“I just finished him in the second round,” Dillashaw said. “He doesn’t deserve a rematch.”