The good news is Luke Rockhold is moving up to light heavyweight to face Jan Blachowicz at UFC 239! The bad news is that T.J. Dillashaw’s career is in tatters. This was Wednesday morning in the UFC. The news broke in reverse order, of course. Dillashaw posted on his Instagram early that he had “voluntarily relinquished” his bantamweight title after being popped by the New York State Athletic Commission for a banned substance, which really sucks.
But I’ll tell you what, the UFC has mastered the art of the sidetrack; it can counter any ugly headline by pulling a string of colored tissue from its sleeve. Rockhold, who has flirted with the idea of moving up, has his fight. He’s headed to Vegas in July. That news was “coincidentally” announced shortly after Dillashaw’s.
As for Dillashaw? Well, not to dwell on that, but he’s headed for an all-too-common rebuild, no matter his level of innocence or guilt. At the very least, his title run is over (for now), and so is his 2019. And that’s a crazy turn of events from just two months ago, when the “Killashaw” hype train was chugging through Brooklyn.
Heading into the new year, Dillashaw was on a roll. Not only was he headlining the first big event of the year, he was kicking off the UFC’s new era on ESPN in his fight with Henry Cejudo — an association that led naturally into pound-for-pound discussion. Was he great? He was certainly right at the cusp of greatness. If he added a second belt to his collection by taking Henry Cejudo’s flyweight title, there was an argument to be made.
That’s why the word “historic” was being bandied about before his big fight at the Barclays Center, and ESPN ran an online feature of Dillashaw in throes of a damning weight cut of 29 pounds in 12 weeks. Did it humanize Dillashaw to see him behind the scenes in varying states of emaciation, with cold broccoli and a tableful of supplements, standing on a scale and slumped over his person like a half-dead thing in a hoodie? Or did it make him more borglike than ever? In fighting, it’s a fine line, and fans see what they want to see. In any case, Dillashaw was merely communicating was how far he was willing to go to get what he wanted.
The premise for that freely dubbed superfight was novel: Dillashaw was being commissioned to go down and kill off the UFC’s flyweight division. That’s what he believed anyway. And he was going to great lengths to be the best damn pint-sized bounty hunter he could be. Maybe too many great lengths.
Turns out that Dillashaw’s fate — like so many before him in the fight game — was far more malleable than his stone features. Dillashaw lost his bid for the 125-pound title in just 32 seconds that night, and now, as of today, he’s lost his bantamweight title, too. If the former was controversial for being a premature stoppage, the latter is controversial for being radically out of character for a guy who lived and breathed his own wholesomeness. Is it hypocrisy? To an extent, it always is. But to judge from Dillashaw’s initial statement, he’s either trying to get to the bottom of things — or simply accepting the consequences.
“To all my fans, I wanted to be the first one to let you know that USADA and the NYSAC have informed me of an adverse finding in a test taken from my last fight,” he wrote. “While words can’t even begin to express how disappointed I am at this time, please know that I’m working with my team to understand what has occurred and how to resolve this situation as quickly as possible. Out of fairness and respect to the rest of the my division, I’ve informed the UFC that I’ll be voluntarily relinquishing my title while I deal with this matter. I want to thank all of you in advance.”
Dillashaw was suspended for a year by the NYSAC, and was fined $10,000. In other words, his week in Brooklyn was a certifiable disaster. He ended up losing both titles, and any chance of that rematch he wanted with Cejudo at 135 pounds.
If there’s a silver lining to any of this — and the UFC is forever making the most of unfortunate situations — it’s that the divisions can function more clearly now. Joseph Benavidez, who is the legit No. 1 contender for Cejudo at 125 pounds, has a right to get his rematch. Marlon Moraes, the No. 1 contender at bantamweight, can fight either Pedro Munhoz or Aljamain Sterling for the vacant title there. If the UFC insists, it can have Moraes versus Cejudo for that vacant bantamweight title.
For every miscalculation in judgment or false step, there are people standing by who benefit from it. In the UFC, the difference between becoming a P4P great and careening off into the netherness of a troubled career is two months. In January, Dillashaw was poised to cement his legacy in MMA by becoming the UFC’s latest dual champion. In March, he has no belts, no explanations, no hopes. Come April? May? Who knows.
In the UFC, it’s roll with the punches. You take the good news with the bad, and watch careers spike up and down like the Dow Jones. It’s all part of the game.