They’re fighting for the same thing Saturday night, but it’s the disparate personalities of the UFC bantamweight champion, T.J. Dillashaw, and his predecessor, Cody Garbrandt, that makes their UFC 227 main event interesting.
It’s wholesome versus edgy, deliberate against daring, experience versus exuberance.
Orange County’s Dillashaw (16-3) recaptured his belt by knocking out Garbrandt (11-1) in the second round of their November meeting at Madison Square Garden and says their differences “absolutely” created the outcome.
“I’m a lot more smarter, cerebral fighter. I’m one of those who changes things up as the fight goes on. I’m able to see the angles, compared to a reactive fighter like him,” Dillashaw said. “I want a reactive fighter because I can push his buttons and get him to react a certain way and take advantage of it.”
Garbrandt, 27, counters that his less-coddled upbringing in Ohio ideally strengthens him for this rematch of former Sacramento stablemates at Staples Center.
“Sometime you get knocked down and have to get back up. There’s adversity in this life. Adversity can cause a man to crumble, but I’m more than a man. I’ll rise to the occasion,” Garbrandt said.
Dillashaw, 32, a former Cal State Fullerton wrestler, is resentful that the UFC made him endure two nontitle fights after he lost his belt to Dominick Cruz in a 2016 split decision before he was given a chance to fight for the belt again, while Garbrandt is right back in title contention eight months after getting knocked out.
“It definitely rubs me the wrong way. Cody absolutely does not deserve an immediate rematch … the one thing he deserves is to get his ass kicked,” Dillashaw said. “He’s a guy who never defended his belt .… I lose a controversial split-decision and have to work two years to get it back.
“Why it’s happening is because he’s a loudmouth. He’ll run his mouth, be flashy, be flamboyant — it wasn’t the sport that got him here, it was the drama. I’m happy to run it back and beat him again, and get rid of him once and for all.”
This subject stirs Garbrandt, who contends he was fully deserving of an instant rematch “because I outclassed one of the best bantamweight champions in the world [in Cruz], who outclassed T.J.
“Watch that fight. T.J. was swinging at air. He said it was close. You know why? He feels entitled. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth … and doesn’t know anything about adversity. ‘It took me two years to get back to the top,’ he says. OK, but you weren’t knocking people out. I was knocking out tough adversaries in the first round.”
Dillashaw has produced a bantamweight-record six stoppages and seven fight-night bonuses, while his seven knockdowns are second to Garbrandt’s eight.
The champion makes no apologies for how his parents raised him in Angels Camp, Calif., just west of Yosemite National Park.
“I don’t have the normal fighter’s story, the bad background. I was very fortunate. I owe my parents. They raised me the right way and I had to work for everything I got,” Dillashaw said.
He told of buying and rebuilding his first truck — a 1957 pickup — from money he earned by raising pigs and steers in 4-H and selling them at auction. He worked through college.
“I sold my truck the year I graduated because I wanted to start fighting, and I was able to live off that money for a year … I put everything I had into fighting,” he said.
Dillashaw has worked to sharpen his skills for the rematch with Garbrandt, which all expect to be a stand-up fight.
Dillashaw spent a few days working in the Oxnard camp of world boxing champion Vasiliy Lomachenko, then trekked to Indio to learn under veteran boxing trainer Joel Diaz, who’s cornered former world champions Timothy Bradley and Lucas Matthysse.
“Cody’s comfortable in that boxing range, so I might as well be as comfortable there for whatever happens,” Dillashaw said. “The great thing is that I’m well rounded and can take the fight wherever I want. He doesn’t want to go to the ground with me.”
Garbrandt, who compiled a 32-1 record as an amateur boxer, counters that he’s back to full strength after suffering a back injury that limited his training time before the November bout. This will be only his second fight in 20 months.
“I’m excited to be healthy,” he told fans in a Wednesday Q&A. “We had a 12-weeks camp, grinding …. I know what T.J. brings to the table and I know what I bring. I’m the faster, stronger fighter and when I’m feeling healthy, no one in this world can beat me.
Garbrandt blames Dillashaw for the ongoing tension between the pair, even though they’ve both experienced the joy of witnessing the birth of a son since their last fight.
At a press event where they came together for a handshake before Garbrandt’s son was born, the challenger said, “I told T.J., I don’t want to go back and forth with the trash talk and the banter. I don’t have time for it. With my son on the way, I told him I didn’t want that negativity in my life. I told him good luck on being a father ….
“He couldn’t even look me in the eye and said, ‘Man, it’s business,’ and the next thing you know he’s talking [stuff] on Instagram and Twitter .… So there will be no shakes on Saturday.”
Main Event: T.J. Dillashaw (16-3) vs. Cody Garbrandt (11-1) for Dillashaw’s bantamweight belt
Where: Staples Center
When: First fight 3:30 p.m. Pacific, pay-per-view portion begins at 7 p.m. Saturday
Television: Pay-per-view, $64.95
Tickets: $60-$350 at axs.com, Staples Center box office