When it was first decided that THESIXTHIRTY.com was going to host a professional UFC fighter in our studios, my first thought was a sobering one.
I like to think I know what I’m talking about when it comes to MMA. But in reality, the extent of my knowledge was merely conversational – limited to a few terms, high-profile names and Mr. Dana White.
To put it in perspective, I was outside of my comfort zone but had a strong desire to expand it.
See, we’re always learning. As human beings, we’re always absorbing new information. Whether that information is completely foreign or simply an extension of something we already have working knowledge of doesn’t matter. The process never stops.
It only took five minutes in my conversation with T.J. Dillashaw to understand that this was a concept that T.J. also had a firm grip on.
Widely considered as the man responsible for forcing the biggest upset in UFC history last May, the Bantamweight champion of the world finds himself in a position that only he knew he would achieve.
Because he understood the process, and never stopped expanding his horizon in his efforts to obtain it.
“I get why people said it was a big upset. But for me, I didn’t feel like I was the underdog. I knew what I had to do and went out and did it.”
And as Dillashaw prepares for his rematch with Renan Barão July 25th at the United Center, he tells me his mentality hasn’t changed a bit. Despite going from the proverbial hunter to hunted in less than 12 months, everything is just as it seems.
You can probably chalk that one up to his California roots. But don’t let it mistake you, his laid back demeanor on the surface is merely a shell for a highly driven and motivated athlete ready to silence his detractors once again.
Because apparently utterly dominating Renan Barão for the better part of the five-round fight last May didn’t earn Dillashaw the respect he deserves. And that’s where he thrives.
Even as the commotion surrounding this highly-anticipated rematch crescendos to an unmistakable pitch, T.J. Dillashaw is focused on only one thing.
“He’s a great fighter and I have to respect him. The fact that he lost is only going to motivate him that much more. But guess what, it’s motivating me in the same way.” T.J. said when I asked him about how he’s approaching this fight—a fight that almost didn’t happen.
Barão vs. Dillashaw happened at UFC 173 as a result of the former’s original opponent having to scratch. After what T.J. calls “an epic performance,” the rematch (now happening next month in Chicago) was slated for UFC 177 in late August of 2014. However, Barão had to scratch after being admitted to the hospital due to recklessly cutting weight.
Dillashaw, as you would expect, defeated Joe Soto by TKO. Despite the first hiccup, there was no way this rematch wasn’t going to happen, so it was pushed back to UFC 186 in April of this year. But again, Dillashaw vs. Barão II was not on the card, to which T.J. uttered this thought over a chuckle:
“It really started to seem like this rematch was cursed, didn’t it?”
Because of a sudden rib injury Dillashaw was forced to recuse himself from UFC 186, but FOX didn’t waste time in picking up the rematch that everyone wants to see.
And that’s where we are today.
Though I only spent the better part of an hour with T.J. Dillashaw, I got a rare look into the mind of someone who’s truly fearless. He understands the process it takes to be great and is constantly working and expanding his knowledge in his efforts to achieve it.
There almost wasn’t a UFC for T.J. Dillashaw, but when opportunity knocked he answered the door with sheer guts.
And when the bell rings at the UC on the night of July 25th, you can expect T.J. Dillashaw to respond in an equally extraordinary fashion like he did last May.
It’s just the guy he is.