T.J. Dillashaw could join Conor McGregor, Daniel Cormier and Amanda Nunes as what has come to be known as a “champ-champ” when he challenges flyweight champion Henry Cejudo for the belt Saturday in the main event of “UFC Fight Night” from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on ESPN+.
Dillashaw is already the UFC’s bantamweight champion and one of the pound-for-pound best in the world.
But if Dillashaw can pull off his grand plan, there may not be a proper word or phrase to describe it.
So how about this:
Yeah, it’s all capitals and bold-faced with three exclamation points, because Dillashaw’s long-term goal is to defeat Cejudo to add the flyweight title and then move up to 145 pounds to try to win the featherweight belt.
If he does that, it will be the single greatest accomplishment by any MMA fighter in the 25-plus years since the UFC began in 1993.
Here’s the thing, though: It’s not out of the realm of possibility it could happen. Dillashaw is a minus-210 favorite at the Westgate sportsbook in Las Vegas. It wouldn’t be easy, because if he defeats Cejudo on Saturday, he’d then have to beat Max Holloway to become the featherweight champion.
Holloway not only would have a big advantage in size, but he’s won 13 consecutive fights, the third-longest UFC winning streak in history. John Murray, an oddsmaker at the Westgate who specializes in MMA, said he’d make Holloway a minus-260 favorite, with Dillashaw at plus-210, if they ever met.
Anyone who doubts Dillashaw, though, hasn’t been paying attention.
He hasn’t weighed 125 pounds since he was a senior at Bret Harte High School in Angels Camp, California, in 2005.
And he’ll face an Olympic gold-medal winning wrestler on Saturday.
“I want to prove I’m the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world,” Dillashaw said. “I have proven my dominance wherever I go and I’m going to continue to prove that.”
It’s getting way ahead to talk about a featherweight title challenge when he hasn’t defeated Cejudo, and that’s no slam dunk. Cejudo won his belt by scoring a decision over long-time champion and pound-for-pound king Demetrious Johnson at UFC 227 on Aug. 4 in Los Angeles.
It was the performance of Cejudo’s life — he’d been stopped in the first round of his first meeting with Johnson — and has filled him with confidence.
Dillashaw has said he’ll have no problem getting to 125 and told reporters at Thursday’s news conference he was already down to 128. Cejudo has mocked his effort and said Dillashaw looks like Pee-wee Herman as he’s been cutting weight, but Dillashaw laughs it off.
The flyweight division didn’t exist when Dillashaw came off a runner-up finish at “The Ultimate Fighter” and joined the UFC.
“When I came off the show, it was the first time they’d ever done 135-145, and so I thought I was at the lightest weight class there’d be,” Dillashaw said. “When I was an up-and-comer, they had 135 in the WEC and so that was my goal and I thought that was probably the best class for me. I was always a lighter 135-pounder starting off.
“I made myself be a powerhouse at 135, but it took a lot of work. I never got above 150 until I was in my later 20s.”
Dillashaw has branched out and has created an online video training series that isn’t just for members of the public looking to learn to fight to get into shape, although it is for them. Dillashaw said professionals could also use his series, “Get Fit to Fight,” because he lays out exactly what he does.
It’s not only a way for him to make side money when he’s not fighting, but it allows him to coach, which he said he’s long had a passion to do. The series is available on his website, TJDillashaw.com.
He said it’s selling well and allows him to indulge his passion and leave a mark on his sport.
“I love to coach and I love to teach and I’ve always been a very good teacher,” he said. “When I was at Alpha Male, I would coach practice before Duane [Ludwig] got there, and when he left, I was the one coaching practices. Everywhere I go, Duane’s had me help out and coach, and it’s something I’ve naturally been good at.
“I felt there was a hole in MMA. People are doing kickboxing online academies and jiu-jitsu online academies and you see these wrestling instructionals. But no one put them all together, as well as with fitness. I do everything from strength and conditioning to nutritional tips to kickboxing, boxing, wrestling, jiu-jitsu, all for MMA. If you’re a fan wanting to get in shape or a fighter wanting to push yourself to the next level, this course is good for you.”
And if his fighting success doesn’t leave enough of a legacy, this will be something that will do it for him. It shows he’s a thinking man’s fighter and not just a naturally gifted athlete who didn’t have to work to succeed.
“What I do is very thought out,” he said. “The techniques I break down in the videos are the ones I use in my fights. I don’t just show you the techniques, but I give you the reasons why I use them.”
If he somehow is able to win both the flyweight and the featherweight belts, the video series will become one of the hottest online properties around.
Dillashaw is an affable guy, but he takes the fight game seriously and isn’t just filled with loose words. When he says he wants to do something, he’s deadly serious.
Now, UFC president Dana White may not be all that interested in having one guy have three belts —how often would each division get defended — but Dillashaw is intent on making a run at it.
“I don’t like to just go out and say I’m the best, because words are cheap and anyone can do that,” he said. “My plan is to prove it on all levels, against all comers and in all of these classes. There’s one way to leave no doubts, and that’s to do it in the cage. That’s where I am with this.”
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