In the history of sports, we have seen some of the best to ever do it have complicated histories. From Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds to Mike Tyson and Andre Berto, noise from outside the sports world can creep into it causing legacy’s to be complicated. In the case of the most recent notable retirement of a UFC champion that is unfortunately the same case that we have seen so many.
According to a report from ESPN’s Marc Raimondi, T.J. Dillashaw retired from the UFC and the sport of MMA on Monday.
TJ Dillashaw, one of the top bantamweight fighters in the history of MMA, has retired from the UFC, Dillashaw's agent Tiki Ghosn confirmed to ESPN on Monday. (via @marcraimondi)
News of Dillashaw's decision was first reported by Michael Wonsover. pic.twitter.com/gYcT6UHf99
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) December 6, 2022
Dillashaw, a former two-time UFC bantamweight champion, most recently was seen in a bout against Aljamain Sterling that caused a bit of news when he announced he took the fight with a severe shoulder injury. Sterling would go on to win the bout via second-round TKO at UFC 280 after Dillashaw’s shoulder continued to pop out and wouldn’t allow him to properly defend himself.
That shoulder is why the decision came down on Monday as Dillashaw had shoulder surgery on November 10th that will keep him out of action for a large amount of time. Per the report, Dillashaw is going to have a long road to recovery ahead and is going to take his time with it while also experiencing more time with his family. With that said, Dillashaw is no longer in the UFC’s drug-testing pool run by USADA and is out of the UFC’s official rankings for the time being.
If this is it for Dillashaw, he leaves behind a complicated legacy but it is one worth honoring.
This Isn’t a Case of ‘What If’
I will argue this till the end of times, T.J. Dillashaw is the greatest bantamweight in the history of the sport, period.
The world was introduced to the young Californian early in his MMA career on The Ultimate Fighter on season 14 coached by Michael Bisping and Jason ‘Mayhem’ Miller. That season came right after the UFC’s purchase of WEC so they were looking to build up the smaller weight classes and this group did just that. Guys like John Dodson, Diego Brandao, Johnny Bedford, Dennis Bermudez, and Bryan Caraway all fought alongside Dillashaw and would join him for some time in the UFC.
Dillashaw would make his way to the finals of that stacked season to face the heavy-handed Dodson and the outcome would result in his first professional loss. Dodson clipped Dillashaw almost instantly in the fight and would swarm him to get a ground-and-pound finish.
It would be the first instance though of Dillashaw getting knocked down before he would get back up.
The Ultimate Fighter runner-up would answer that adversity by winning five of his next six bouts before being seemingly served on a silver platter to a man who had defeated his coach Urijah Faber twice. He would get his first title shot at UFC 173, also the first event to get UFC Embedded coverage, against Renan Barao where he was a +575 underdog. Barao was expected to roll through him but in round one we all were stunned and yelling at our screens when Dillashaw dropped Barao and it was at that moment you could see the Brazillian break.
Barao would hold on until the fifth round but Dillashaw would be too much. Dillashaw with coach Duane Ludwig would emerge from his cocoon and emerge as a complete fighter with the technical savagery we hadn’t seen from a striker since Anderson Silva.
The way he combined his footwork and striking was something that MMA hadn’t seen so far. It was something we had only seen in the top level of professional boxing so Dillashaw almost created fire for a while in the sport. His style, one could argue, is what Cody Garbrandt took and implemented on his way to outclassing Dominick Cruz to win the title.
Dillashaw needs to be remembered as a Da Vinci in the sport. Because of that, his legacy is more than what his resume and out-of-the-cage news are.
Dillashaw’s Legacy is More Than a Drug Test
Dillashaw as the UFC bantamweight champion had a total of three title defenses over two reigns that spanned a whopping five strong years. The sad part is what most fans will ultimately remember is not the clinical striking, not the title defenses, but rather the failed drug test that came after an attempt to become a double champ.
One could argue the two worst moments in T.J. Dillashaw’s career came with the loss to Henry Cejudo for the flyweight title and the failed drug test for erythropoietin.
The doping drug immediately called into question every he had done at that point in his career but unlike most athletes, he owned his mistake. Even better, he took the time away from the sport to refine his skills further and came back to win a war against Cory Sandhagen.
After the Sandhagen win, we then come back to where this piece started with the loss to Sterling.
Should the drug tests be remembered, sure but they shouldn’t be the biggest or most important thing we remember. What he accomplished in his MMA career from being on The Ultimate Fighter to coming back and fighting Sterling on a bum shoulder, he never gave up no matter how many times he was knocked down. How often do we see fighters face a setback and cannot recover? Far too often than we like to see.
Dillashaw lost The Ultimate Fighter, and he responds by winning the UFC title. He gets knocked out and fails a drug test, but he comes back and earns another title shot while dealing with a shoulder that gave him no support.
Say what you will about him but you best remember the legacy he leaves is one of positivity and can be an example for fighters and fans alike to follow.