CAPE TOWN – Former UFC champion, TJ Dillashaw looks forward to proving why he is the “Daddy” of the Bantamweight division.
Following a two-year hiatus, USA’s TJ returns to the Octagon after popping for performance enhancing drug, EPO (Erythropoietin) in pre- and post-fight tests when he fought now-retired double champion and fellow-countryman, Henry Cejudo (16-2) in a super-fight for the Flyweight title in January 2019.
TJ lost that fight, but the biggest news coming from that event would be the eventual two-year suspension sanctioned by the United States Anti-Doping Agency.
With TJ’s two-year suspension now done and dusted, the man - who was admirably open and honest about his mistakes during the last two years - is ready to right all wrongs and show the world that it was not due to any substances that he rose to the top of the Bantamweight division.
The former two-time champion (16-4) will take on number-two ranked American, Cory Sandhagen(14-2) at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas tomorrow morning (South African Standard Time) headlining the UFC Fight Night Sandhagen vs Dillashaw fight card.
TJ is well aware that the critics have been and will be out to scrutinise his ability and question his championship legitimacy after his fall from grace.
“I want that belt back more than anything, I never lost it and I am coming back to reclaim it, daddy's home,” said TJ (who voluntarily relinquished his title back in 2019 after the tests) in an interview with the UFC this past week.
“Cory has a lot of hype on him right now. He’s got some great knockouts. He has definitely put his name in there to get a title shot, but unfortunately I am in his way.”
A win over Cory could possibly secure a title shot with current champion, Aljamain Sterling (20-3), however, due to the manner in which the champ earned the belt, it is unclear what the UFC has planned.
USA’s Aljamain was very-much on the losing side of things against then-Bantamweight champion, Petr Yan (15-2) prior to getting the win via disqualification due to an illegal knee by the Russian at UFC259.
At the same time, it could be Cory's name in title discussions as he will look to spoil the “Welcome Back” party for TJ.
"I am not that middle-of-the-food-chain guy. I want to be a name people think of when they speak about martial arts. I want to be champion,” says Cory, who recently secured impressive wins over top-ranked Marlon Moraes and UFC legend Frankie Edgar, respectively.
“I want to be the one percent of the one percent and a win over TJ will show that I am on the path to doing so. I have knocked out two top-five guys. (When/If) I beat TJ, I fight for the belt and then I start my legacy,” says Cory.
“These new guys think they can pass me by but I am the best guy in the weight division and I am coming back to prove it," was TJ's rebuttal.
“I am an obstacle Cory is not going to be able to get around. It’s going to be a dog fight. I’ll take you to the depths of hell and if you’re willing to follow I will take you even further,” added TJ who holds the most wins, most finishes and most performance bonuses in UFC bantamweight history.
You can watch all the action on SuperSport Action from 11pm (tonight) through until 4am tomorrow morning.
OTHER FIGHTS ON THE CARD INCLUDE
No. 14 ranked bantamweight contender Kyler Phillips (9-1, fighting out of Glendale, Calif.) takes on surging Raulian Paiva (20-3, fighting out of Santana, Amapa, Brazil)
Darren Elkins (26-9, fighting out of Portage, Ind.) faces Darrick Minner (26-11, fighting out of Nebraska City, Neb.) in a clash of gritty featherweights
No. 14 ranked women's flyweight contender Maycee Barber (8-2, fighting out of Chicago, Ill.) locks horns with No. 13 Miranda Maverick (11-2, fighting out of Norfolk, Va.)
Mickey Gall (6-3, fighting out of Green Brook, N.J.) squares off with Jordan Williams (9-4 1NC, fighting out of Santa Rosa, Calif.) at welterweight
Undefeated Punahele Soriano (8-0, fighting out of Las Vegas, Nev. by way of Oahu, Hawaii) meets fellow Dana White's Contender Series signee Brendan Allen (16-4, fighting out of Delray Beach, Fla. by way of Covington, La.) in a battle of rising middleweights
Nassourdine Imavov (9-3, fighting out of Paris, France) squares off with Ian Heinisch (14-4, fighting out of Denver, Colo.) in an intriguing middleweight contest
Surging bantamweight prospects collide when Adrian Yanez (13-3, fighting out of Houston, Texas) meets Randy Costa (6-1, fighting out of Taunton, Mass.)
Julio Arce (16-4, fighting out of Bayside, N.Y.) returns to bantamweight to battle with Andre Ewell (17-7, fighting out of Riverside, Calif.)
Aaron Phillips (12-4, fighting out of Lafayette, La.) and Cameron Else (10-5, fighting out of Albuquerque, NM by way of Margate, Kent, England) each aim to secure their first UFC win in a bantamweight bout
No. 13 ranked women's bantamweight contender Sijara Eubanks (7-6, fighting out of Brick, N.J. by way of Springfield, Mass.) returns to flyweight to take on Elise Reed (4-0, fighting out of Princeton, N.J.)
Diana Belbita (13-6, fighting out of Stoney Creek, Ontario, Canada) faces Hannah Goldy (5-1, fighting out of Orlando, Fla.) in a women's strawweight bout