In January 2016, T.J. Dillashaw's first UFC Bantamweight Title reign came to an end, losing a tightly-contested split decision against Dominick Cruz. Years later though, Dillashaw believes that the rivalry guided him back to reclaiming the crown.
Appearing on Chael Sonnen's You're Welcome podcast, Dillashaw reflected on the feud as well as the reason for Cruz's approach. “It was almost like jealousy because it was his belt, he got out because of injury, never lost it, I had the belt. He also comes in and I think he wants that animosity to build the fight. He’s trying to play mental warfare as well too. I think most of his was trying to get under my skin and then obviously, it led from back and forth.
"I think he was trying to beat me up mentally and to be honest, it worked. That was my first fight where I had to fight angry and that’s something I had to learn throughout my career not to do. Some people fight better angry, some people fight better happy, having fun. If I go out there looking to show off and have fun, that’s better for me. Even when I fought Cody, I learned from fighting Dominick Cruz how to handle myself," he said.
"Even in the practice room, no matter what we’re doing, I’m ultra-competitive. I get, I’m very aggressive. Every training partner will say it and I don’t mean to be a dick but when we do train I do get that in me. It’s the same thing within my fights and Dom got at me. I tried knocking him out. I still believe I won that fight but those first three rounds, those first couple rounds I was out there to try to knock his block off and knock him out.
"I was chasing him and that’s what he wanted. The 4th and 5th round if you go back and watch it, I finally settled down and I started piecing him up and almost finished the fight. I really do believe that it worked. I didn’t realize what he was doing until after the fight, until I went back and watched it. That was a big stepping stone for me in my career because I had to learn how I fight and what’s better for me."
Dillashaw impressively rebounded from the affair, earning a title shot and maximizing it, stopping Cody Garbrandt to become UFC Bantamweight Champion again. The rematch with Cruz never came to fruition but while Dillashaw is now suspended until January 2021, his former rival is seemingly preparing to return after yet another lengthy lay-off. Dillashaw speaks from experience regarding Cruz's return though, suggesting that it won't have been an easy recovery.
"I know he had shoulder surgery. I just had shoulder surgery as well too and I had it also back in 2004 so I know what that layoff is. It’s a very rough one. It’s 10 months of you doing recovery and now you’ve gotta get in fight shape. I imagine he’s still gonna be out for a little bit, probably wait around until the right fight comes up."