Scheduled for UFC 213 in July, the match-up between Cody Garbrandt and TJ Dillashaw was given the slow build as the former Team Alpha Male teammates coached opposing teams on the 25 th edition of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) reality series.
It was a shrewd promotional move from the UFC. The vast majority of knowledgeable MMA fans will know about the story of how Garbrandt and his Team Alpha Male gym fell out with Dillashaw. Thanks to TUF, the tense rivalry between both men has now been portrayed in a neat package for those all-important moneyed casual fans—with Garbrandt and Dillashaw coming close to blows within the first episode broadcast.
However, earlier in May reports emerged how Garbrandt was now uncertain to face his foe at UFC 213 with a nagging back injury not allowing to fight nor train. In light of these rumours, Dillashaw immediately pressed for a flyweight title fight against the long-untouchable Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson in case the rumours became fact.
It turns out those rumours did become reality—ESPN's Brett Okamoto confirmed that Garbrandt was out injured for UFC 213 and how UFC President Dana White likes the idea of a fight pitting Dillashaw against Johnson later in August. In addition, Okamoto later confirmed the women's bantamweight title fight between champion Amanda Nunes and challenger Valentina Shevchenko will now headline UFC 213, with a freshly minted interim middleweight title fight between Yoel Romero and Robert Whittaker serving as the show's co-main event.
Johnson, the UFC's only flyweight titleholder who is looking to break Anderson Silva's record of 10 title defences in his next fight, was cool on the idea of Dillashaw moving down in weight to crash his party down at 125lbs. "There are other challengers in the division with more wins and on a winning streak," Johnson told MMA Fighting. "This wouldn't be a super-fight, because TJ is not a champion—he's just a 135er coming down to 125lbs to skip the line that other flyweight competitors have worked hard to climb.
Mighty Mouse appears to have not changed his stance on the Dillashaw fight, preferring the rumoured fight with upcoming flyweight Ray Borg. But with Johnson long complaining of a lack of promotional push from the UFC, Dillashaw's constant campaigning and White's apparent interest in the fight happening in three months' time, this fight makes both sense and cents, the latter being relative, for all parties involved.
It's one of the most fun match-ups the UFC could possible muster. Both Johnson and Dillashaw are renowned for their high-intensity fighting pace, footwork and vast arsenal of attacks, while the fight materialising could see Dillashaw become one of the few men to win two championships in different weightclasses or—alternatively—Johnson would cap off his startling run as flyweight king with a record-breaking 11 th title defence against his toughest and most distinguished test yet.
And, despite what Johnson may think, this pairing of fighters would certainly warrant super-fight status—helping alleviate any lingering annoyance from fans and the UFC at the collapse of the scheduled super-fight between middleweight champion Michael Bisping and living MMA legend Georges St-Pierre.
Knowing how fighters regularly suffer career-altering injuries is one of the most depressing facts of life in the combat sports world and Garbrandt's back issues are no different. If anything, Garbrandt's case is more disheartening than normal given how badly he wants to fight Dillashaw and the heavy promotional build for that fight already put in place and paid for by the UFC.
Though, while I am certainly not a purveyor of schadenfreude, for once it would appear the misfortune of one could provide the masses with one of the UFC's finest fights to make, should Dillashaw and White have their way.