One could forgive T.J. Dillashaw if he decided to gloat a little bit after delivering his epic upset victory over Renan Barao for the bantamweight championship at UFC 173.
Just about no one gave him a chance to defeat Barao heading into their May 24 fight in Las Vegas, fans and media alike. Even Dillashaw's own promoter, UFC president Dana White, spent the bulk of the week fixating on Barao, and his view that the fighter with the 32-fight unbeaten streak was the best pound-for-pound martial artist in the world.
Really, few would have blamed the former Cal-State Fullerton wrestler if he decided to engage in a little trash talking, or go on a victory lap around the Octagon which contained a pointed hand gesture or two.
But with more than a week to digest things after delivering a virtuoso performance en route to a fifth-round TKO victory, Dillashaw remains firm in his desire not to return fire.
"I believed in myself throughout this entire process," Dillashaw told Yahoo Sports in a recent phone interview. "Going back into my gym with the belt and seeing how it lit a fire under my team in practice ... that day was a better feeling than talking other people down ever would be."
Instead, Dillashaw allowed himself a victory lap of sorts. The first UFC champion out of Sacramento's Team Alpha Male gym made the rounds in his hometown, from the gym to the Sleep Train Arena, where he met with Mayor Kevin Johnson. And his hometown, the 3,200-person hamlet of Angels Camp, Calif., plans on throwing a parade in his honor.
Each stop along the way, Dillashaw has been asked about the magnitude of his upset. Until UFC 173, Matt Serra's April 2007 knockout of Georges St-Pierre to claim the welterweight title has long been considered the gold standard. Longer-time fans bring up B.J. Penn's Jan. 2004 finish of Matt Hughes, in which Penn, a lightweight, fought up a weight class and submitted the Hall of Famer for the welterweight title during the latter's prime.
While Dillashaw doesn't think it's his place to rank his own upset, he doesn't mind the notion that it is considered among the biggest ones, either.
"Of course you have to call it an upset," said Dillashaw, who went into the fight as an 8-to-1 underdog on the MGM Grand sportsbook. "I was a huge underdog on the books. Barao hadn't lost a fight since 2005 and he had been in the main event before. I think calling it the upset it was underscores what I was able to accomplish."
Dillashaw can't celebrate forever, because now, to indulge in a cliche, he's gone from the hunter to the hunted. White said after UFC 173 that he wouldn't rule out an immediate rematch for Barao. Also looming is Rafael Assuncao, who has won six straight fights and handed Dillashaw one of his two pro losses. Assuncao was originally offered the title challenger shot taken by Dillashaw, but he had to decline due to an injury.
"I'm not one to go calling anyone out," Dillashaw said. "I mean, I messed up Barao. That wasn't a one-punch knockout, I convincingly proved myself. But, ultimately whoever they want me to face, I'll go up against. I want to be a fighting champion."
Dillashaw's next opponent was one burning question which came out of the fight. The other was the status of Alpha Male's departing striking coach, Duane "Bang" Ludwig.
Ludwig, a Colorado native, came out to Sacramento and spent a year with the team. Over that span, Team Alpha Male showed sensational improvement: Urijah Faber and Joseph Benavidez went on win streaks which carried them to title shots; Dillashaw broke through and won the gym's first UFC belt; and Chad Mendes went on a win streak which has earned him an August rematch with featherweight champion Jose Aldo in Los Angeles.
UFC 173 was supposed to be Ludwig's last night in Alpha Male's corner, as he's expressed a desire to return home. After Dillashaw put on such a show, though -- flustering Barao with Dominick Cruz-style footwork and finishing him with vicious strikes -- could they really part ways?
"We're still going to work together," Dillashaw said. "There's no way we could just end things cold after something like that. Maybe it means I head out there [from time to time] to keep working with him or he comes out here. The best way I can put it for now is we're going to continue our relationship and we're going to work out the details."
So it sounds like all is well in Dillashaw's world. But we couldn't resist trying one more time: Doesn't he want to gloat a little bit? After all, the UFC didn't even bother making Dillashaw a character in their soon-to-be-released EA Sports video game. Is there really no offense taken at all to being counted out?
"Really, I don't need to," Dillashaw said with a laugh. "Having my name announced as the new champion and have the belt placed around my waist meant more than I'll ever get out of saying 'I told you so.'"
Follow Dave Doyle on Twitter: @DaveDoylemma.
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