T.J. Dillashaw, full name “Tyler Jeffrey Dillashaw”, is an American mixed martial artist out of Sonora, California who became a unique and versatile UFC Bantamweight champion, twice.
Nicknamed “Lieutenant Dan”, Urijah Faber gave Dillashaw this unofficial name in reference to the Forrest Gump character who was so angry about his life that he challenged god to a fight at sea. T.J. exhibits similar characteristics but more notably, it’s expressed in his determined spirit and perseverance reflected in his wrestling and mixed martial arts.
With his unique striking style, flawless footwork, and unrelenting fighting spirit, Dillashaw has been recognised as a phenomenal bantamweight fighter but has suffered recent drawbacks. Unfortunately, Dillashaw failed a drug test which consequently left the 32-year-old suspended for 2 years. However, his incredible performances, prior to his suspension, have MMA fans waiting eagerly his 2021 return.
In the mixed martial arts community, Dillashaw is popular for his impeccable striking and dynamic skill set where he has amassed an impressive 16 wins with 8 KO/TKO’s and 3 submissions. With his wrestling background and striking capability, T.J’s footwork, distance perception and diverse use of his weapon set make him an efficient as well as effective fighter.
After a few biographical details, let’s run through T.J. “Lieutenant Dan” Dillashaw’s Top 5 MMA Finishes (in descending order)!
So, growing up in Angels Camp, California, T.J. attended Bret Harte High School where for 4 years, he would represent and compete for his school’s wrestling team whilst also playing football from 2002-2003.
His evident wrestling prowess and athletic ability helped Dillashaw to become a 4-time sectional qualifier and 2-time California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) state qualifier. His exceptional wrestling as a junior led Dillashaw to 5th place at the CIF championships ending with a 52-6 senior wrestling record.
In 2014, Dillashaw graduated and enrolled for college at California State University, Fullerton and completed the “Titans Wrestling Program” during high school. T.J. powered through and became a 3-time National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) qualifier. In 2008, his wrestling career reached its end finishing with a 22-10 record with 4 pins.
Enter Mark Munoz, a former UFC middleweight competitor, who coached wrestling at CSU – he would eventually invite T.J. to join a Reign Training Center fighting class. For the next year and a half, T.J’s adoration for MMA only grew whilst he trained and knuckled down on perfecting his craft. He soon moved up north to Sacramento where he joined Team Alpha Male under head coach, Urijah Faber where he garnered a 2-win and 0 loss amateur record before going pro.
His 2010 debut pro fight against Czar Sklavos resulted in a dominant performance by T.J. utilizing his superior wrestling to secure a unanimous decision. This put Dillashaw on the radar where in 2011, he signed with the UFC for The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 14th season becoming the runner-up Bantamweight finalist, prior to the future Bantamweight champion.
His development as a fighter is credited to both Urijah Faber and Duane Ludwig, where he gained exceptional MMA accomplishments with both teams. Under Duane Ludwig, he is a black belt in Bang Muay Thai and has a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu (BJJ) under Philipe “Furao” Della Monica.
Further, Dillashaw has the likes of Sam Calavitta for nutrition, strength and conditioning and Mark Munoz helping out refine wrestling techniques and grappling maneuvers. With that kind of phenomenal team mixed in with T.J’s drive, no wonder his opponents were faced with constant difficulties.
- Vs. Joe Soto — UFC 177 (Aug. 30, 2014)
- Vs. Cody Garbrandt 2 — UFC 227 (Aug. 4, 2018)
- Vs. Cody Garbrandt 1 — UFC 217 (Nov. 4, 2017)
- Vs. Renan Barão 2 — UFC on Fox 16 (July 25, 2015)
- Vs. Renan Barão 1 – UFC 173 (May 24, 2014)
UFC 177 was a considerable test for Dillashaw as this was his first Bantamweight title defense where he was matched up against a tough opponent.
From the beginning, T.J. set the pace as the notable aggressor. He kept constant pressure on his opponent in all the rounds until the last. Utilizing his speed and reaction time, he was able to capitalize on counters and catch Soto with left hooks and straights when opportunity arose. His footwork and angle creation was especially good in this performance.
In the final round, Dillashaw uses feints and throws out jabs to keep Soto on his toes. Using his footwork, often changing stance to confuse his opponent, he goes into orthodox stance and fakes for a straight but instead, goes for a lead hook to the body. This hurts Soto as he covers up allowing T.J. to go head hunting where for a split second, Soto lets his hands down and is caught with a head kick.
Soto, stunned and dazed is still standing. However, the work is done when T.J. follows up with a clean left hand and a flurry of punches to seal the deserved win along with a Performance of the Night Bonus.
This was the sequel to their matchup the year before where the bad-blooded rivalry ended with the former champion Cody “No Love” Garbrandt losing in sceptical fashion as both fighters had near chances to knock each other out. This match would altogether prove otherwise and show who was the better fighter plus bragging rights.
The round begins with Garbrandt and Dillashaw feeling each other out. Dillashaw moves laterally, frequently switching his stance which keeps Garbrandt on his toes. Garbrandt times T.J’s strikes and tries to catch his ex-teammate with a counter.
During the round, there are brief moments where they trade in the pocket and catch one another whilst not inflicting any significant damage. However, at 1 minute, 40 seconds Garbrandt catches T.J. with a left hook which makes him slip, and has Garbrandt following up with a flurry of strikes. Dillashaw regains composure, telegraphs Garbrandt and hits him with three clean hooks.
This seemed to spell the near end for Garbrandt as he got rocked, unable to effectively deliver his shots. At 3 minutes, 48 seconds, T.J. countered once again with a right hand which rattles “No Love” but is soon floored with a following right hook again. Dillashaw swarms around Garbrandt and goes on the offensive with knees and punches, effectively finishing Garbrandt in the first round along with a Performance of the Night bonus.
With their rivalry broadcasted throughout the entire MMA world, this championship matchup had all fans alike in suspense as to what the outcome could be because of the bad blood that had been piling up for a while. The fact that the Cody Garbrandt and T.J. Dillashaw conflict intensified over time made the bout well worth the wait.
The first round began with each of the fighters establishing their range and feeling out each other’s distance. T.J. is moves around laterally whilst using his hands to feint, trying to catch Cody with strikes at various angles.
However, although many kicks and feints are thrown, little of actual significance is shown between the fighters for the first minute. Cody tries to make use of this, going in for a barrage of strikes on Dillashaw in an attempt to stir panic and catch him out. This proves of no avail but soon, a counter right hits Dillashaw right on the chin, sending him down to the canvas. Cody tries to finish it all off then and there but the round ends.
T.J. is still dazed but appears puissant going into the second round. The round starts off similar to previous one however, Cody is brims with confidence as T.J. goes for a kick and misses with “No Love” taunting him.
Shots are traded between the fighters and a few hooks are taken but no one is put down. At 2 minutes, 38 seconds, Cody and Dillashaw trade strikes and a shot lands on Cody’s chin, flooring the Bantamweight champion. T.J. then rains down with strikes whilst referee Dan Miragliotta intervenes to end the bout.
Dillashaw’s first title defense was against the former title holder where in their last bout, Barao had lost in the final round and was keen to re-correct that mistake.
The rounds were filled with T.J. stuffing Barao’s takedown attempts and nullifying his striking with his distance management and head movement. His evasiveness proved to be a strenuous obstacle for Barao.
At 35 seconds into the fourth round, T.J. goes for a combination where he throws a jab, straight, rolls before throwing a lead right hook. This hits Barao square on the chin stunning him and pushing him back. Dillashaw goes on the offensive setting off a barrage of strikes, throwing jabs, hooks, and crosses, until referee Herb Dean declares the fight’s end. This gives the win to the champ along with the Performance of the Night bonus honors.
Dillashaw was expected to fight Takeya Mizugaki at UFC 173 but with an issue of no main card, Dillashaw was moved up to face Bantamweight Top 5 pound for pound champion, Renan Barao. This fight was set as a challenge for Barao but instead, even with T.J. coming in as a huge underdog, saw him win in dominant fashion making it the 2014 MMA upset of the year.
The rounds began with T.J. notably in the role of aggressor again, applying pressure and throwing combinations to panic and perplex Barao. Utilizing kicks to keep the champion at bay, T.J. also used his wrestling skills to maintain his striking position without getting into a grappling match.
Barao gets caught frequently and is sent to the canvas but manages to get back up. However, in the fifth and final round, Barao takes a head kick and becomes unstable. T.J. exploits this window following up with a strike combination and then crumbles the Brazilian to the ground with a straight right where he follows up with the inevitable ground and pound.
Herb Dean steps in and declares the fight over by TKO via head kick and punches. Dillashaw becomes the new Bantamweight titleholder despite the overwhelming odds against him on paper. In addition to the win, he was also awarded Fight of the Night and Performance of the Night honors.