TJ Dillashaw KO of Cody Garbrandt Sets Stage for Demetrious Johnson Superfight

Chad Dundas@@chaddundasMMA Lead WriterNovember 5, 2017

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 04:  TJ Dillashaw
reacts after defeating Cody Garbrandt in their UFC bantamweight championship bout during the UFC 217 event at Madison Square Garden on November 4, 2017 in New York City.  (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Bring on Mighty Mouse.

After TJ Dillashaw's second-round KO of Cody Garbrandt put to rest one of the hottest feuds in men's bantamweight history Saturday at UFC 217, there can be little doubt what should happen next.

If Dillashaw and men's flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson are serious about meeting each other in the Octagon, a deal must be struck to make it happen—and soon. Conditions aren't going to get any more agreeable than this.

"Demetrious Johnson, I'm coming for you," Dillashaw exclaimed in the cage after dispatching Garbrandt. "I'm breaking you. You got that [consecutive title defense] record that is fake. You know it. You should've been fighting me. You dodged me. I'm getting that belt. I'm coming to 125 [pounds], and I'm stopping your record."

Dillashaw exits UFC 217 with the title back around his waist.
Dillashaw exits UFC 217 with the title back around his waist.Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

It's rare that the UFC's lightest-weight men's divisions can produce an attraction worthy of the term "superfight."

In Dillashaw vs. Johnson, however, the moniker fits. The pairing would amount to far and away the most compelling next available test for either champion and would likely be the most lucrative fight matchmakers could book under 155 pounds without calling Conor McGregor back from lightweight.

Dillashaw's victory over Garbrandt made him just the ninth fighter in UFC history to twice win a title in the same weight class. In his mind, however, the 31-year-old California native was never truly dethroned as the 135-pound kingpin.

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He lost his crown to a returning Dominick Cruz in January 2016. That defeat came via razor-close split decision, and Dillashaw remains convinced he never should have relinquished the belt.

In the wake of the loss, Dillashaw spent some time as an afterthought in the weight class he once ruled. Despite going 3-0 and serving opposite Garbrandt as a coach on a season of The Ultimate Fighter, it's been a while since he was bantamweight's focal point.

Dillashaw unload a right hand on Gardrandt at UFC 217.
Dillashaw unload a right hand on Gardrandt at UFC 217.Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Most of the recent attention had been paid first to Cruz's comeback from a series of potentially career-ending injuries and then to Garbrandt's rise.

Garbrandt was hailed as a star in the making for the UFC after his easy victory over Cruz to win the title at UFC 207 in December 2016. For much of their ensuing feud, it seemed as though Dillashaw would serve merely as his natural foil.

The two had been training partners at California's Team Alpha Male before Dillashaw made a high-profile and contentious split from the camp by moving his training to Colorado in late 2015. Garbrandt amplified those hard feelings during the run-up to their fight, lobbing a series of professional and personal attacks at Dillashaw.

The week of UFC 217, Garbrandt even took to his Instagram account to release a bit of footage appearing to show him knocking Dillashaw down during an old sparring session.

Early on Saturday night, it seemed their co-main event bout might be a repeat of that workout.

Garbrandt put Dillashaw down with a hard right hand near the end of the first round. Dillashaw got back to his feet just as the horn sounded to end the stanza but stumbled as he made his way back to the corner.

That near-finish allowed Garbrandt to find his swagger to begin the second. After Dillashaw grazed the top of his head with a kick, Garbrandt smoothed his hair and pulled off one of the mid-cage dance moves he used to wow the crowd in his win over Cruz.

The braggadocio was short-lived, though.

Just as the halfway point of the round passed, Dillashaw caught Garbrandt flush on the jaw with a counter right hook. The blow sent Garbrandt's eyes rolling back in his head as he dropped to the canvas. Dillashaw followed him down, adding more strikes until referee Dan Miragliotta stepped in to stop the bout.

The victory put Dillashaw back on top and instantly gave him the political capital to announce he will next move down to flyweight to challenge the UFC's longest-reigning champion.

Johnson has ruled the 125-pound class since winning a tournament to crown its inaugural titlist in September 2012. At UFC 216, he broke Anderson Silva's longstanding record for consecutive UFC title defenses—at 11—when he defeated Ray Borg via highlight-reel fifth-round submission.

For the moment, Johnson has accomplished all he can in fights against the rank and file of the flyweight division. He's been leaps and bounds ahead of his next best competition and requires a new challenge that might both push him athletically and cure fans of their apathy about the man who is the consensus pick as best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.

Dillashaw also could use something exciting to jump-start his second reign as 135-pound champ.

He could rematch with Garbrandt or take on the winner of Cruz's upcoming bout with Jimmie Rivera at UFC 219.

Like Johnson, however, there's nothing in his natural weight class that would be as interesting as the proposed interdivisional title scrap.

The UFC attempted to match Dillashaw and Johnson earlier this year, but the flyweight champ temporarily rejected the idea. Johnson said he would rather break the record for consecutive title defenses against a legitimate 125-pound contender.

Johnson should be next for Dillashaw.
Johnson should be next for Dillashaw.Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Mighty Mouse has said all along, however, he would be game to meet the Dillashaw-Garbrandt winner once the record was in hand.

Dillashaw clearly remains interested in the bout. As does UFC President Dana White.

The fact Johnson originally turned down the idea of the fight even gives Dillashaw some verbal ammunition to lob in the lead-up.

"Demetrious can't run from this one," he said at the UFC 217 post-fight press conference. "This one's too big. [Johnson] broke his record. He got to pad [his stats] and break his record. Now, let's make some money."


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