UFC bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw won his title nearly two years ago, stunning the MMA world with a TKO victory against Renan Barao.
After stopping Barao in his tracks again last July, Dillashaw has a new challenger in front of him: former champion Dominick Cruz, who has battled injuries during the past four years that led to him being stripped of the title. The two will face each other on Sunday night in Boston for the main event on Fox Sports 1.
amNewYork spoke with Dillashaw about his upcoming bout against Cruz, as well as his public falling out with former teammate Urijah Faber.
You had trained for fights against former champion Barao since the spring of 2014. Has it been refreshing training for a fresh opponent?
Yeah, it is nice. It’s definitely nice to focus on someone else and start your own legacy and start putting some fights underneath you. I’m excited about it.
Cruz became the division’s champion a few weeks before your first pro fight in 2010. What did you think of him at the time?
The goal was to try to fight him. When you get into this sport, you want to get where he was at. He was on top, and that’s where I wanted to be. So you set your goals high.
You’ve spoken before about not wanting to engage Cruz’s trash talk just to make more money. Why is that?
I feel like I’ve always been the same personality and I’m not going to change who I am just for trying to sell tickets. I don’t mind the banter of back-and-forth, me thinking I’m a better fighter, him thinking he’s the better fighter. I just don’t like the drama of him trying to pick on anything he possibly can or he’s talking about stupid stuff that doesn’t even matter. We’re here to fight. I want to be entertaining so people will want to watch me inside the octagon, not me talking and be on a reality TV show like “The Jersey Shore” or “Real World.”
Will you touch gloves with Cruz?
I have no problem with doing it. I have no ill intention against the guy. The way he’s been acting is ridiculous, but it’s not like I hate him for it.
Much of the prefight focus has been on how you and Cruz match up as strikers. How do you match up in the other facets of the fight, such as takedowns and grappling?
I feel like my wrestling and my jujitsu are definitely better than his. And my striking. I feel I’m stronger in all areas. He does do a good job with mixing them all together, though. He’s hard to hit. He’s got great footwork. He’s got good timing on his takedowns. He doesn’t have jujitsu. He hasn’t really used it. He’s done OK holding some guys down. Usually, it’s just to score points. He’s more of a point fighter, [whereas] I try to be a little more dominant with everything.
What goes through your mind when you’re in the locker room before the fight?
You’re visualizing how you’re going to win, as well as being ridiculously nervous. There’s no way around it. You’re going to be nervous. That’s what keeps you on edge, keeps you ready to compete. But also being so nervous helps you visualize how you’re going to win.
How has it been making Elevation Fight Team in Denver your new home gym for this fight?
The gym’s been awesome. Luckily enough, MusclePharm has produced me with everything I need to train to my fullest. No distractions. I got more coaches’ eyes on me than I’ve ever had before. I’ve got a great team. I moved out there specifically for Duane Ludwig. He was my coach at [Team] Alpha Male. When he moved, I wanted to stick with my coach, a guy who has more into me than anyone else ever has.
There has been tension with Team Alpha Male founder Urijah Faber since you moved your fight camp. Do you envision a day when you two can put this behind you?
Yeah, I imagine we’ll be all right. I think he’s been a little childish with the way he’s been handling it. I feel I’ve been nothing but professional. I haven’t gone out of my way to talk crap about Urijah when I feel like there’s plenty out there to talk about. I appreciate what he’s done for me in this sport. I appreciate him bringing me in — even though I kind of brought myself in as well — me being a training partner for him. He was a good guy. I don’t want to go out and talk crap about him. I think, one day, it’ll be civilized. I still think he’s tarnishing what we had with being so childish.
I’ve still got a good relationship with a lot of those [Alpha Male] guys. Pretty much all of them. … The only one it’s been a little bit awkward with is Urijah because of all the [expletive] talking he’s been doing and pushing for a title fight.
What were some of your favorite MMA memories from before your fighting days?
I remember going to the [Randy] Couture fight when he fought Tim Sylvia [and won the UFC heavyweight title]. I was at that fight, and that was a pretty cool moment to watch him win that fight.
What do you want your MMA legacy to be?
I’m looking for something like [the legacy of former UFC welterweight champion] Georges St-Pierre. You can’t say a bad thing about the guy. You look at him as being the GOAT [greatest of all time]. One of the best of all time. I’d rather be known as someone who was respectful and as a martial artist when I look back on my career.