With his two-year suspension now up, former UFC bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw is ready to make a splash in his return to competition later this year.
Dillashaw hasn’t competed since suffering a disappointing loss to then flyweight champion Henry Cejudo in January 2019. After the bout, it was announced that he had tested positive for EPO, which led to his suspension.
However, before that fight, Dillashaw, a two-time 135-pound champion, was considered one of the best bantamweights the sport had ever seen. Now eligible to return, the 35-year-old is looking to take back his crown.
“I’m ready to go straight for the belt, if that’s the opportunity that comes at me because I know Yan wants it.” Dillashaw told Mike Swick on the “Real Quick with Mike Swick” podcast (h/t MMA Junkie). “He’s already been vocally talking about it, and we’ll see what happens on March 6 when he fights Sterling. He’s got a tough test ahead of him, but that’s the fight he wants. I didn’t leave this sport by losing my belt. He knows there’s a lot of speculation if he’s the real champ because he hasn’t beaten the champion to get that belt, so he wants it. As well as that, I’m the biggest draw for him right now to try to fight.”
In his time away from the sport, the UFC’s bantamweight division has grown to be one of its best. Petr Yan has emerged as champion and will next defend his title against red hot contender Aljamain Sterling at UFC 259 on March 6.
Even though he’s coming off a loss and a suspension, it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see the UFC give Dillashaw an immediate title shot given his history and star power. One issue that could throw a wrench into Dillashaw’s plans, however, is that there are other contenders in line, with the most notable being Cory Sandhagen.
Sandhagen has won two-straight fights in awe-inspiring fashion. He finished former title challenger Marlon Moraes with a spinning wheel kick last October before brutally stopping Frankie Edgar with a flying knee earlier this month. In the minds of many, he should be fighting the winner of Yan vs. Sterling.
If that’s the case, Dillashaw has no issue fighting another top fighter.
“I’m in a good situation,” he said. “I think everyone in the top five has called me out. I want to come back and fight the best. I’m 35 years old now, I’ve got a lot of things in life going on, so I want to come back and prove that I’m the best bantamweight of all time, and I want to come back and fight the best. If that’s for the belt right away then so be it. If that’s fighting someone else in the top five, awesome.
“Every person that’s called me out, I’ve said yes to the UFC, so that’s just showing them that I’m eager to get back in there. So it doesn’t really matter as long as it’s someone that’s at the top of the game, because I’m gonna climb up and get that belt back fast.”
Either way, the former titleholder doesn’t seem interested in wasting any time.
Long Island-based sports writer covering MMA, Boxing, and the New York Jets.