Not long ago, Cody Garbrandt and TJ Dillashaw were teammates and good friends while they trained together at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. Then under the tutelage of UFC Hall of Famer Urijah Faber, Dillashaw held the UFC bantamweight championship of the world, bringing UFC gold back to one of the west-coast’s biggest gyms for the first time in their history. The gym was soaring as new head coach, Duane Ludwig, seemed to be leading its members to the very top of the MMA mountain. That was before the 2013 and 2014 ‘Coach of the Year’ left the gym, choosing to run his own martial arts academy in Colorado instead.
Considering the amazing chemistry between student and teacher that existed, Dillashaw did not want to lose his head coach, who had helped him massively from growing from a mere contender to one of the very best fighters in the sport. Feeling that he needed Ludwig’s assistance in the lead up to his showdown with former bantamweight kingpin Dominick Cruz, TJ left Team Alpha Male and completed his training camp at the Elevation Fight Team in Colorado. The 40,000 square feet facility, funded by MusclePharm, became home for the American and, needless to say, this move created friction with former coach Faber.
In the midst of the huge wave of drama, Dillashaw lost his grip on the UFC title when he lost an extremely close decision to Cruz in January 2016. Not being granted the immediate rematch many felt he deserved, TJ returned to the octagon at the historic UFC 200 and dominated the then number two contender in the world, Raphael Assuncao. He scored a similarly impressive victory over John Lineker at UFC 207, which happened to be the event that catapulted Garbrandt’s career to new levels.
Garbrandt’s meteoric rise
While talk of a Cruz-Dillashaw rematch swarmed MMA media, Cody “No Love” Garbrandt was taking the bantamweight division by storm. After three consecutive first round knockouts over contenders such as Thomas Almeida and Takeya Mizugaki, fans found the prospect of the 26-year-old getting a title shot to be irresistible. This possibility became a reality when tensions spiralled between Garbrandt and then-champion Cruz, motivating the UFC to sign the pair off against each other at the blockbuster UFC 207 card, which took place on New Year’s weekend last year.
As many of you will know, people were quick to write off Team Alpha Male’s Garbrandt, but he stepped up to the plate in one of the finest performances in UFC history. The youngster utilized his elite boxing skills, impeccable movement, speed and power to overcome Cruz, the man who many felt was set to reign supreme over his weight class once again. Most shocking of all, Cody stepped away from the tactics that those who backed him felt would win him the fight. Expecting him to rush forward in a ferocious, vulnerable attack, Cruz was evidently taken aback when his opponent employed the use of a gameplan that forced the defensive-minded champion to fight outside of his comfort zone. Garbrandt put on a stunning display and proved himself to the world in the biggest moment of his career thus far.
“No Love” for Dillashaw
After wrapping his newly won UFC championship belt around the waist of the boy whose story inspires us all, Maddux Maple, Cody wasted no time in setting up his next fight during his post-fight interview. Responding to his callout from earlier in the night, Garbrandt dared Dillashaw to “come try him.” The fascinating back story between these two meant that the matchup was inevitable, and the UFC matchmakers hastily made the fight official.
Realising just how intense the rivalry was, they followed this announcement on by making both Garbrandt and Dillashaw coaches on the 25th season of the Ultimate Fighter. Inevitably, there were fireworks. I won’t spoil the season for those who have not watched but I can confirm that plenty of explicit adjectives were used between the coaches, and their bad blood regularly boiled over. The tension peaked when Garbrandt grabbed Dillashaw by the throat after a verbal exchange, causing both teams to jump in. The photos that emerged from this scuffle went viral and instantly grew the fans’ interest in the contest.
This was why we were all devastated once the news came that Cody “No Love” had sustained a back injury, forcing him to withdraw from the fight and the UFC 213 card in July. However, he rushed back to training after extensive treatment, and we can now expect to see him face off against his former teammate on November 4th at Madison Square Garden.
The matchup is fascinating. Can Dillashaw’s unconventional ‘monkey style’ fighting can bamboozle Cody’s more conventional approach? TJ’s footwork is very important here, as he will be forced to close the gap on the bigger man. Few can match him on the feet, and even less can on the mat. Yet Cody can do both. His boxing is elite, and his wrestling has yet to fail him. Considering he trains at Team Alpha Male, it is also safe to say that such grappling skills will be continually improved upon as he seeks to remain atop the pile at 135 pounds.
Garbrandt is still somewhat of an unknown entity coming into this fight; his speed, power, and skill are unquestionable, but just how good is he? We saw what he is capable of in the Cruz fight, but he must be able to replicate his earlier success in this clash. We can expect him to be even better than he was in that remarkable fight from last December.
On the flip side, we know what TJ brings to the table. He has an outstanding, well-rounded skill set and has proven himself time and time again in the UFC. Can Duane Ludwig help him unravel Garbrandt’s game, or will it happen the other way around? Cody feels that he has Dillashaw’s number, and claims to have footage which shows him knocking the former champion out in sparring. Of course, this footage will not surface before their fight takes place, and holds little bearing on what will happen when it does.
This fight is so interesting to me because I simply do not know what will happen, and neither do most. After recent back problems, can Garbrandt come out victorious and cement himself as one of the pound-for-pound best fighters in the world, or will Dillashaw produce yet another masterclass to regain the belt that he feels was unjustly taken from him in the first place? It all remains to be seen.
Many people will flock to see this fight, to see the rivalry be resolved, but they will all stay to witness the incredible talent both men possess.
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