How TJ Dillashaw has turned into the flyweight villain

UFC: Alistair Overeem interview ahead of Alexei Oleynik fight

Harry Kettle

They say that you either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain, and there’s an argument to be made that the analogy in question is never more fitting than in the world of sport. In mixed martial arts we’ve seen several top stars go from hero to zero and vice versa, but there’s something intriguing about the definition of a ‘villain’ in this game. Many have come and gone in the eyes of the fans over the years, but one example that stands out above the rest is TJ Dillashaw.

The 32 year old two-time Bantamweight Champion has been an ever present member of the roster since back in 2011, when he was defeated by John Dodson in the finale of his Ultimate Fighter season. Few could’ve imagined that would wind up spring boarding him towards superstardom, in a bizarrely consistent manner, too. Throughout his career he has won four fights before losing one, with that trend leaving him poised at a 16-3 record – causing many to wonder how his upcoming bout will go.

That bout, of course, is for the Flyweight Championship of the World. It’s a title that ‘Killashaw’ has always been fascinated with in one way or another, seemingly because he feels as if he has what it takes to become only the third man to be a ‘champ champ’ in the UFC after Conor McGregor and Daniel Cormier. The first of those two men, ironically enough, was kind of the catalyst behind this entire second chapter of TJ’s career. Isn’t it funny how things work out like that?

But before we get to that, we have to talk about his first reign as a champion in the world’s top MMA promotion. His big moment came back at UFC 173 when he was given the chance to dethrone the seemingly unstoppable Renan Barao, and after one of the most thrilling title fights in recent memory, Dillashaw finished the Brazilian via TKO to claim his rightful place on the mountaintop.

It was a spectacular underdog victory back then and it still is to this day, but as time went on, it seemed as if his reputation started to take a turn for the worst. From losing the strap to Dominick Cruz all the way through to that fateful episode of The Ultimate Fighter – the same show where he made a name for himself in the first place.

It was there that Conor McGregor dubbed TJ a ‘snake in the grass’ which is a moniker that he initially tried to shake off. It would wind up providing fans and media members alike with the fuel necessary to go after Dillashaw, and while he did a good job of not taking the bait, sooner rather than later, those kind of comments are going to get to you.

So after regaining his title for a second time before successfully defending it against Cody Garbrandt, it became evident that TJ was hellbent on doing something that was always considered to be a major goal of his: become a champ champ. He didn’t exactly help himself by verbally attacking then-champion Demetrious Johnson, who is a fan favourite in the eyes of many, and this past week on Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show he only served to pour gasoline on the flames as the world saw the final step of his transformation from hero to villain.

“UFC wants to get rid of the division and they hired me to go down and close it and get another belt in the process. It’s a win-win for me, man. They are paying me a f*** load of money to kill the 125 division and collect a second belt. It’s game time.”

We’ve all heard and seen the reaction of the masses after Demetrious Johnson left for ONE Championship, with the UFC subsequently taking the first few steps of closing the flyweight division. The fact that TJ is more than willing to be the man to do so will hardly help his reputation, although at this stage, it doesn’t appear as if he cares all that much.

This is a man who strives to be the best version of himself that he can possibly be, and he doesn’t really care who that impacts along the way. That’s a powerful tool to have and it feels like he’s still got a good few chapters left to write in his career, which should serve as a fairly terrifying prospect for anyone who steps in there with the guy.

Dubbing TJ a ‘villain’ may be a step too far in the eyes of many, but mixed martial arts needs elite level guys like this. Dillashaw can move the needle on pay per view, he’s versatile, and he’s more than willing to take on any superfight that comes his way. That, in short, is a devastating combination – and his story has only just begun.