UFC 217: Cody Garbrandt vs. TJ Dillashaw Preview

UFC 217 UFC 227 Cody Garbrandt TJ Dillashaw
Credit: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

Garbrandt vs Dillashaw has everything: Betrayal, history, bad-blood, and the world championship on the line.That makes it the perfect fight for UFC 217 at Madison Square Garden.

It’s been a grudge match a year in the making as former Ultimate Fighter coaches Cody Garbrandt and TJ Dillashaw collide in the co-main event of UFC 217. The style match-up is intriguing from a number of perspectives, but the resolution of the grudge match is the main focus as the two finally square off.

Talk of a fight between the two began in the latter half of 2016 as Cody Garbrandt was making his ascension in the bantamweight division. TJ Dillashaw had lost the title at the beginning of the year to Dominick Cruz and “The Dominator” was in the process of what was expected to be the continuation of an interrupted reign. Cruz would defend his belt against Garbrandt on New Year’s Eve at UFC 207, while Dillashaw was left to face John Lineker in a title eliminator on the same night.

The memory of the result is vivid for anyone who watched it live. Cody Garbrandt shocked the world with a master class of foot movement and counter-striking against the champion who set the gold standard in both categories. He went from up-and-comer to dominant world-beater seemingly in the span of those 25 minutes, completing an incredible run that saw him go from unranked fighter to world champion in the span of the calendar year.

Dillashaw made short work of Lineker, putting on a clinic himself against the heavy striker and setting up the biggest grudge match of 2017. The story of Dillashaw’s departure from Team Alpha Male is well-chronicled, leaving the famous Sacramento team to train with head coach Duane Ludwig in Colorado.  The storyline took a life of its own, with accusations of betrayal and disloyalty from Team Alpha Male.

After UFC 217, a fight between both men sold itself and they were quickly sent to  The Ultimate Fighter reality show as coaches and hype up the fight for several weeks. It did not take long for sparks to go off. Even after the bout was rescheduled from the original date in July, Garbrandt and coach Urijah Faber went public with the issues they had with the former champion.

TJ Dillashaw has remained relatively quiet in the dialogue. It’s easy to tell he is exhausted of the snake moniker he has been given by his old teammates and appears to have given up getting into a back-and-forth with Faber and co. He did, however, go on the MMA Hour to respond to accusations that he purposefully caused harm to Alpha Male fighter Chris Holdsworth. In response, Holdsworth himself went on the record to say there was unsportsmanlike behavior from Dillashaw while with the team.

Despite not being the most historical bout in terms of importance in 2017, the storyline has garnered intense fan interest on both sides. Both men have had the distinction of being a protege of MMA legend Urijah Faber, and the history of being teammates brings added interest into how they will approach the fight.

From a technical stand-point, Dillashaw’s skills have been more proven across the board. He’s lost only one fight, a close decision to Cruz, in the last three years and has long been considered one of the best bantamweights in the world. His key to victory will be to use his diverse arsenal, getting in and out with his footwork and using his wrestling to neutralize Garbrandt’s destructive capabilities on the feet.

For “No Love,” the game plan looks to be virtually identical to the one put together for Cruz, albeit some changes for Dillashaw’s tendencies. Garbrandt’s timing and counter-striking were superb and his footwork was at a level higher than many had previously expected. He’ll need to be just as good, if not better, to stop Dillashaw’s offense and get the victory. Working against him will be Garbrandt’s back-injury that took a long time to rehabilitate and this is his first fight since winning the title in December. That said, it’s expected that the champion would not have returned unless he felt up to the task and his knowledge of Dillashaw’s skills ahead of time should look to counter-balance any ring rust.

The rivalry proved itself fitting of a reality show. Both men have taken to a public forum to address the other, and both understand that a victory on Saturday is the ultimate deciding factor in the argument. For Cody Garbrandt, he has the opportunity to dispatch arguably the two best bantamweights of the decade. For TJ Dillashaw, it would be the final point to silence the criticism of the public about his personal decisions. Considering the anticipation, it figures to be a potential classic worthy of the history of the Garden.