This is number thirty-seven in Jack Brown’s series of interviews with MMA fighters and personalities, and for this particular interview, we’re pleased to feature UFC bantamweight and TUF 14 finalist, TJ Dillashaw. Dillashaw has won three in a row since losing his debut fight in the UFC at the TUF 14 finale. He is scheduled to be facing Hugo Viana at UFC on FOX 7 this Saturday. Please enjoy the conversation below.
Jack Brown: What was your first experience with martial arts/combat sports, and how did it become more than just a hobby for you?
TJ Dillashaw: Well my first martial art was wrestling, and my dad got me involved when I was eight years old. My father wrestled in high school and college and thought it would be a great sport to pass down. Naturally I was pretty good at it. It became more than a hobby for me when I was a junior in high school and I realized I could go really far in the sport and wanted to get a full ride to college.
JB: What do you recall about your first professional MMA fight, and how prepared do you feel you were at the time?
TD: My first professional fight was for King of the Cage in Reno, Nevada. It was a pretty good show, definitely a lot better than my next three. And after that, I got on the TV series, TUF 14. In my debut, I fought a fighter that I knew nothing about. I remember that he was very tough and that we had a three round bloody battle. As far as my preparation, I felt very confident that I was the better fighter and had done everything that I needed to. I was training with the top fighters in the world at my weight class and was catching on quick.
JB: You entered the UFC through The Ultimate Fighter 14. You were very successful on the show and you were a bantamweight finalist. How did you feel as you watched the show and prepared for the finale, and what do you think about your official debut, a somewhat controversial TKO loss to John Dodson?
TD: Well I was a little disappointed when I watched the show. I didn’t realize how easy it would be for the producers to show what they want and to switch the order of things, as well as how much stuff they would leave out. They tried to build a plot for the finals and made anybody look the way they wanted. I was a little pissed that they switched the order of my fight to make it look like I was trying to take the easy way out when I had already fought.
My thoughts on my UFC debut at first were bitter! I did get caught with my hand down by the speed of John Dodson. He missed his punch and clubbed me with his forearm right behind the ear. He knocked me loopy for a second, and I was in the process of recovering and going for a single leg, when Herb Dean stopped the fight too early. I had trained for that fight too long and hard to not get the shot at recovering. I was bitter because I felt like I was the better fighter and let that TUF title slip through my fingers. Since then, I have learned to put it behind me by realizing the bigger picture ahead and that it must have been meant to be.
JB: You have been both a competitor and a coach on TUF. How did the two experiences compare?
TD: Being a coach is a whole lot better! You’re not stuck in the house the whole time and you don’t have to be constantly watching your back. There is a lot more drama involved while living in the house, and the producers make sure of that by giving no form of entertainment or privacy and by stocking the house full of alcohol.
JB: Your second round KO of Issei Tamura in your last fight, at UFC 158, was a dominant victory. You're now 3-0 since your loss at the TUF 14 Finale. What has contributed to your success and how do you feel about your last three performances?
TD: I feel my drive to be the best and mixing that with a great camp/team has contributed the most to my success. I feel good about my performances and feel that I’m heading in the right direction with my skills and that I keep getting better.
JB: Your next fight will be on short notice. You are replacing the injured Francisco Rivera, and you will be fighting Hugo Viana, on April 20th, at UFC on FOX 7, in San Jose. What do you think of the matchup, and how do you feel about fighting again so soon after your last fight?
TD: I feel like it is a good matchup for me and that I’m a better, more well-rounded fighter. Hugo is good, but in my eyes, very beatable. As long as I stay injury-free, I would love to fight as often as I am now. I took my last fight against Tamura on 3-weeks-notice and now this one is 4 weeks later. I’m always in the gym staying ready so that I don’t have to get ready.
JB: You are part of Team Alpha Male in Sacramento. How did you first connect with the team and what has training there done for you?
TD: Well I first met Urijah Faber at a wrestling camp that my assistant wrestling coach at Cal State Fullerton, Mark Munoz, was putting on. I had been following Mark around doing some training with MMA because I was a fan of the sport and needed a way to stay in shape after I graduated and my wrestling career was over. It was just something I did for fun while I was pursuing grad school to become a physician’s assistant. Mark thought I was a natural and thought I could be good. Mark was telling Urijah that when I met him for the first time, and Munoz thought it would be a perfect place for me. Urijah invited me up to live in one of his houses on the block (it consists of four houses in one neighborhood) and train full-time. I couldn’t pass it up. I told myself that I had one year to see if I was any good at the sport, and if so, I would continue with it. But otherwise, I would go back to grad school.
JB: What else do you enjoy outside of training and fighting, and who are the individuals who have supported you most in life?
TD: Things that I like to do other than training and fighting are hunting, fishing, camping, wake-boarding/snowboarding (which I haven't gotten to do since I’ve been in the UFC), and hanging with friends and family. The people that have supported me most in life are my parents and brothers and my girlfriend.
JB: Last question, TJ, and thanks for taking the time to do this. What does it mean to you to be a fighter and how much do you enjoy it?
TD: I enjoy being a fighter very much. I love the rush I get competing in an intense one on one sport. The joy and self-fulfillment I get out of fighting is the pursuit of excellence mentally, physically, and spiritually.
Thank you so much for reading and please follow @TJDillashaw, and @Jackjohnbrown on Twitter.
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