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T.J. Dillashaw was the best bantamweight; now he’s the greatest too

T.J. Dillashaw was the best bantamweight; now he’s the greatest too

TJ Dillashaw celebrates his UFC Bantamweight Title Bout win over Cody Garbrandt during UFC 227

When T.J. Dillashaw knocked out Cody Garbrandt a second time, it was more than the final seal on a rivalry. We witnessed the birth of a monster. One who will take his place on the pantheon of MMA gods.

T.J. Dillashaw is now, without question, the greatest bantamweight in history. Let’s take a look at how he got here.

T.J. Dillashaw’s sudden evolution

In the hurricane of Urijah Faber’s decline and Dominick Cruz’s injuries, Renan Barao was a piece of flotsam the UFC could cling to. He was 32-1 and 1 NC with booming leg kicks and good counter-punching. The casual fans may not have flocked to him, but no one denied he was at the top of the pecking order. Understandably, no one believed T.J. Dillashaw stood a chance. After all, Dillashaw was a boxer-wrestler hybrid. This was a style that Barao and his Nova Uniao teammate Jose Aldo were built to counter.

It turned out the predictions were right; the fight wasn’t close. But they were wrong in that it was Dillashaw doing the ass kicking.

Gone was the athletic but simple boxer-hybrid. The Dillashaw before us skirted in and out at angles, changing levels and throwing incredible combinations punctuated by kicks. Barao looked lost, swinging at air with massive haymakers while Dillashaw rattled his skull again and again. It looked like a WWII fighter plane maneuvering under and around a massive bomber, chipping away at its armor as the lumbering beast desperately tried to keep up. In the fifth round, a head kick and a couple precision punches completed the most dominant upset in UFC history.

There was no fluke punch. No “comeback.” Dillashaw had beaten one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world from wire to wire.

Legacy held back by pettiness

Dillashaw had two dominant title defenses following his upset. The problem was that they came against last-minute replacement Joe Soto and a rematch with Barao. Then he lost a razor-thin decision to bantamweight OG Dominick Cruz and the world had the excuse to look past him.

For the longest time, Dillashaw’s excellence was overshadowed by his spat with Team Alpha Male.

Perhaps due to Urijah Faber’s natural charisma or Dillashaw’s perceived douchebag demeanor, most fans sided with Team Alpha Male. Before Kevin Durant went to the Golden State Warriors, Dillashaw was the original recipient of the snake emoji. He couldn’t give an interview or even make an appearance without hate being piled on. Which is a pity because he was the best bantamweight in the world.

Dominick Cruz is a hard match for anyone, being so tall and lanky. In the opening three rounds, Cruz kept sliding out of reach like he did with every opponent. By the championship rounds, however, Dillashaw was closing distance and smashing him with hard leg kicks and punches. Besides the then-GOAT, no one came close to challenging Dillashaw 2.0.

Blast hate with excellence

The duo of fights with Alpha Male product Cody Garbrandt was the final boost Dillashaw needed.

Garbrandt lit the MMA world on fire by beating Cruz for the title. Not only did he beat him, he styled on him. Luring Cruz into punching exchanges, Garbrandt would weave low and paste him with massive haymakers. As the champion tried to get back to his feet, Garbrandt would dance or point at him. The MMA world watched a torch being passed in a way they never thought possible.

Dillashaw knocked him out twice.

In the first fight, Garbrandt’s boxing nearly did the trick. At the end of the first round, his trademark power put Dillashaw on his behind and only saved from a knockout by the bell. So you can imagine everyone’s surprise when Dillashaw came roaring back with his trademark level changes and combinations, leveling Garbrandt with a counter-right hand. The back-and-forth fight made the rematch all the more compelling, as many fans still believed Garbrandt was the superior fighter.

And that brings us to this weekend, where Dillashaw proved his victory was no fluke.

There was no back and forth this time. Dillashaw picked up where he left off in the last fight, effortlessly dodging and weaving Garbrandt’s haymakers and picking him apart with combinations. The rematch didn’t even come close to the end of the final frame before the referee mercifully stepped in.

Legacy cemented

With two finishes over Renan Barao and two finishes over Cody Garbrandt, Dillashaw is undoubtedly the greatest bantamweight in history. His title reign has more killers on it than either Urijah Faber or Dominick Cruz. And honestly, most correctly believe that Dillashaw would beat Cruz in a rematch.

To be the best in your division is straightforward; you just have to be more skilled than your opponents. To be the greatest is to show such dominance that your legacy surpasses that of champions past.

Let us appreciate the magnitude of what T.J. Dillashaw has done.

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