TJ Dillashaw will look to further his dominance over Cody Garbrandt when the two run it back at UFC 227, but have the last several months and fatherhood taken some of the heat off the rivalry?
UFC 227 will see the Octagon return to California with one of the best grudge matches in bantamweight history as TJ Dillashaw will look to defend his title against former teammate Cody Garbrandt. At a time when the bantamweight division has struggled to see a new contender break through the ranks, it is expected that the weight class will be able to move forward after Saturday night.
Bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw wasn’t expecting to meet Cody Garbrandt again so soon. Originally, the plan was for the Dillashaw to move down to challenge the dominant flyweight champion, Demetrious Johnson. When talks fell through on Johnson’s side, Dillashaw immediately moved to the best available option. With other top contenders booked, another fight with Garbrandt was the one that would sell the best.
Things are understandably different this time. He is now a father, and has discussed the change in motivation that it has had on him. He has even embraced the snake moniker that Garbrandt and his team gave notoriety to on The Ultimate Fighter. By all accounts, he simply carries himself like a vindicated man after having had the final word against Garbrandt and his former team. He continues to work with Duane Ludwig, although his coach now travels to The Treigning Lab in Southern California where Dillashaw is closer to different workout partners such as Cub Swanson, Aaron Pico, and boxing phenom Vasyl Lomachenko. A second victory over Garbrandt will serve to further his dominance, and make subsequent title defenses all the more anticipated.
A year ago, Cody Garbrandt was the breakout star of the MMA world. Just 25 years old when he won the title, the sky appeared to be the limit. He was an undefeated knockout machine, often needing less than five minutes to stop those put in front of him. His superstar potential was recognized by many, landing him crossover appearances such as his feature in GQ. The grudge match with Dillashaw was arguably the biggest fight in the history of the bantamweight division, but Garbrandt found himself unable to answer the versatile attack of his former training partner.
Now months later, the Garbrandt brand continues to grow. He has followed in the steps of his coach Urijah Faber in being the author of his own book, which he has spent time promoting at the same time as he prepares for the rematch. Like Dillashaw, he has also become a father since the last fight as well. Whether it be fatherhood or a combination of other factors, there is less heat going into the fight this time around. But unlike the first, the pressure is fully on Garbrandt to get revenge on his most hated rival. A second loss to the current champion would leave him in a precarious spot so early in his career as he would continue to be considered a top contender but a third fight title shot would be highly unlikely to materialize for a long time unless TJ Dillashaw were to lose the belt.
Neither man has fought since the bout in November, so it is unknown what changes might have been made going into the rematch. Stylistically, Dillashaw uses a more versatile attack and that will be the key to getting another victory over Cody Garbrandt. Footwork and movement will be paramount, as remaining stationary within the range of “No Love” will leave him susceptible to a counter attack. By threatening with takedowns and kicks, it will help to make him more unpredictable and thus make Garbrandt more hesitant to close the distance out of fear of walking into an attack.
Garbrandt possesses the fastest and most effective knockout power in the bantamweight division and his game focuses on setting up opportunities to land those fight-ending punches. In the first bout, Dillashaw found success striking with Garbrandt in the center of the cage. He should adjust by cutting off the cage and making the champion fight with his back to the fence. Doing so will give Garbrandt the opportunity to punish the body with punches while also taking away the space Dillashaw needs to set up kicks, takedowns and limit his movement.
Currently, former World Series of Fighting champion Marlon Moraes looks to be the next in line to challenge for the bantamweight title. However, the shadow of Demetrious Johnson and a super fight also looms. Johnson competes in the co-main event on the same night, and is favored to win. A move down for the winner could be next, and would be among the most competitive bouts in the history of the lighter weight classes. A Garbrandt victory could set up a rubber match with Dillashaw down the road. But if the champion retains the belt, then it would be the final nail in the rivalry that has cultivated itself for the last several years.