It’s all about perspective.
That’s why second-time UFC bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw would rather direct his energies toward the good in his life.
His infant son who arrived almost six months ago, the new Orange County home he purchased last week and his own image placed on the left (champion’s) side of all those UFC 227 billboards dotting Southland freeways bring a wide smile.
“That’s all my hard work. A lot of hard work to get there, so you have to stop and appreciate it,” said Dillashaw, 32. “My life is good.”
Last November, Dillashaw regained the belt he wore from May 2014 to January 2016. He had lost the title to longtime champion Dominick Cruz in a split decision, a fight so close that Cruz landed 112 strikes, Dillashaw 109.
Instead of getting an immediate rematch, the former Cal State Fullerton wrestler was sent back in the line and forced to defeat top-10 contenders Raphael Assuncao and John Lineker before earning a title shot against the brash, new champion Cody Garbrandt.
Garbrandt, 26, and Dillashaw formerly trained together in Sacramento, but Dillashaw’s personality didn’t mesh with the edgy youngster’s. They served as rival coaches on “The Ultimate Fighter”, and when they finally faced off at Madison Square Garden after months of trash talk, there was plenty of animosity.
Dillashaw (15-3) survived a first-round knockdown to hand Garbrandt his first loss, decking him with a right to the mouth in the second round and finishing him with a flurry of blows on the canvas.
“I knew before the fight” how to beat Garbrandt, Dillashaw said. “I trained with him and he has shown himself — in my fight, in previous fights, in our training.”
That outcome interrupted the UFC’s plans for the animated Garbrandt (11-1), but only briefly, because Garbrandt was granted a rematch with Dillashaw in the main event of UFC 227 on Aug. 4 at Staples Center.
Dillashaw disagreed with the choice, saying Garbrandt didn’t deserve a rematch.
“Sometimes you get rewarded for the wrong actions — you get rewarded for being a jerk and causing a lot of tension — and we’ve seen that time and again in this sport,” Dillashaw said. “It’s unfortunate, but it’s the truth.
“Act like a [jerk] and get what you want.”
Dillashaw has supplemented his kickboxing and mixed martial arts training for the rematch by embedding himself in local boxing gyms, including the Oxnard base of lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko. Dillashaw was able to spar with the Ukrainian as Lomachenko prepared for the third division belt he won May 12 against Jorge Linares.
“I’m a big fan of boxing and for this next fight, the boxing distance can be very important for me, as it was the last fight,” Dillashaw said. “Kickboxing range and angles are a little different, so your reaction time is going to be a little different than in boxing. So it’s good to get those live sparring rounds in and really test yourself against some of the best pound-for-pound boxers in the world.
“[Lomachenko] doesn’t speak much English, but I definitely learned a lot in seeing how he trains, to work with his sparring partners and him to get the movement down, to pick that stuff up from the best.”
That’s part of the old-school methods that have allowed Dillashaw to stand as the bantamweight with the highest finish rate in history, with eight stoppages in 14 UFC bouts.
“You’ve got to continue to add new things, to continue to sharpen up, no matter who’s next, especially in a rematch,” Dillashaw said.
Dillashaw and UFC president Dana White originally sought for his next fight to be against flyweight champion Demetrius Johnson, who has won 13 consecutive bouts, including a record 11 straight title defenses.
But Johnson opted instead for his UFC 227 co-main event to be a rematch with Henry Cejudo, whom he’s already defeated in the first round.
“You can’t force anyone to take a fight. It’s unfortunate he didn’t see the value of it like I do. The thing I see is that he’s unsure he can be victorious,” Dillashaw said.
Johnson has effectively cleaned out his division and stands as the UFC’s No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter. “He gets to keep beating these guys he’s beating and getting seen as ‘the greatest of all time’,” Dillashaw said.
Perhaps sharing the main event on the same card will compel a future showdown of the winners.
“That could hype it up, yeah, absolutely, but I haven’t been told that,” Dillashaw said with a chuckle. “I’ll never be told that, you know?