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T.J. Dillashaw thinks Conor McGregor imitators, like Dominick Cruz, are ‘getting old’

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T.J. Dillashaw is not only the current UFC bantamweight champion; he’s one of the best mixed martial artists in the world.

In just five and a half years, Dillashaw has climbed to the top of the mountain in the 135 lb weight class thanks to his impressive wrestling ability (he qualified for the NCAA D1 tournament three times during his time at Fullerton State) and the guidance of his striking coach Duane Ludwig.

Currently there are only three fighters who are ranked higher than Dillashaw in the promotion’s pound-for-pound rankings: Jon Jones, Demetrious Johnson, and Conor McGregor.

So yeah the 29-year old from the small town of Sonora, California has earned the right to run his mouth about the amount of success he’s had.

But don’t expect him to.

You see Dillashaw doesn’t live in the universe that McGregor resides in. While McGregor will use press conferences to talk about custom-made suits, watches, and the panties his opponents’ wife may wear in order to drum up interest about his next fight, Dillashaw has been forced to listen to his opponents complain about his lack of desire to trade insults.

Dominick Cruz, who is set to challenge Dillashaw for his bantamweight championship on Sunday, actually asked T.J. why he doesn’t feel the need to talk about his opponents or how great he is during a face-to-face sit down.

The champ’s answer: “‘Cause I don’t want to”

Dillashaw has no desire to change the person that he is because he doesn’t want a fake persona to define his run at the top.

“I want you to remember me for my fights, not because of what I’m talking about and the drama I’m creating.” Dillashaw told NBC Sports. “I want you to remember me because of my great performances. I want to be able to look back at my career and see that, instead of being a reality TV star.”

With the rapid amount of attention McGregor has received over the last 12 months, it makes sense for more fighters to try and follow his path to success, but it’s a dangerous game to play because not everyone is cut out to have a persona that hilariously degrades his or her opponent on the microphone.

Cruz has certainly upped the amount of verbal jabs he’s thrown at Dillashaw before they square off at the TD Garden in Boston, but the champ thinks this it is an act of desperation by his opponent.

“It looks out of character,” Dillashaw said, “like you’re trying too hard, so you end up saying some ridiculously outlandish stuff and I feel like that’s what happening to him. I’m not going to play the game or let him get under my skin. He’s just trying to do that to draw some attention towards himself.”

“He’s trying to stay relevant because he hasn’t fought that much in the last four years,” Dillashaw added. “He’s trying to pump himself up with a bunch of outlandish talking and he’s kind of being a hypocrite as well. He’s not making much sense with what he’s doing. It’s kind of out of character for him.”

But it doesn’t seem like the trend of elevated belittlement is going to go away any time soon in the UFC, especially with the amount of money McGregor is generating. McGregor’s victory over Chad Mendes at UFC 189 had over one million PPV buys and his 13-second KO of Jose Aldo at UFC 194 could wind up as the second highest grossing PPV in company history when the numbers are finally released.

There is a direct correlation between McGregor running his mouth and over a million people forking over $50-$60 to watch him fight. He’s become the sport’s biggest male star by becoming an entertainer on the microphone and in the cage, so it’s easy to see why fighters would want to try and copy his blueprint, even if it means changing their personality outside of the octagon.

“I think only so many people can do what McGregor does. McGregor is really good at what he does and it works for him,” Dillashaw told me, “but for people to change who they are to kind of be that type of person, it doesn’t really work.”

Whether it works or not, it seems like the UFC is about to enter a world where there are carbon copies of McGregor’s road to success and excess and it’s something that Dillashaw is very worried about.

“With more people trying to talk that way, it’s going to make it too fake, too WWE. Eventually it’s going to get old. I think it’s already starting to get old.”

It’s a trend that Dillashaw will have to deal with going forward, but he has the ability to thrive in this world because he doesn’t feel the pressure to verbally assault his opponent, so he’s more likely to stand out in the landfill of trash talk.

“By being respectful and acting true to my colors, my personality will seem unique in the long run if guys continue to act like this.”

There is a sense of pride that you can hear in Dillashaw’s voice when he talks about the legacy that he wants to leave. He wants to make sure that every time he steps into the octagon, he’s putting on the best performance he possibly can for the fans, which means he doesn’t have time to worry about stringing together a series of insults.

“Hopefully people will want to watch me fight because I’m no bullshit,” Dillashaw said. “I just step in there and fight.”

On Sunday Dillashaw has the chance to add another victory to his impressive resume and you can bet he’ll let his fists do the talking.

Twitter: @ScottDargis

Tony Ferguson betting favorite against Kevin Lee in UFC 216 main event

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A nine-fight win streak and fight fans’ preference to see strikers win out over grinders might be why Tony Ferguson is such a big favorite against Kevin Lee at UFC 216.

Ferguson is the -225 betting favorite with Lee coming back at +175 as they meet for the interim lightweight title at UFC 216 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Saturday, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

As noted, Ferguson has won his last nine bouts, ending six early for a nice 66.7 percent rate. For his part, Lee has won five consecutive bouts, ending four early.

Ferguson prefers to work at distance with jabs and kicks, gradually chipping away at his opponent. The 33-year-old is a more well-rounded fighter than the 25-year-old Lee, so laying chalk is justifiable since this bout could go either way.

There is a good case to take Lee and the plus money, though. Lee is far beyond the typical lightweight in how often he attempts takedowns and how often he winds up gaining control. Succeeding in that strategy would leave Ferguson unable to use his best assets.

Flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson (-1200) is a massive favorite against Ray Borg (+700). Johnson is simply too complete a fighter to lose against a boxer-wrestler type such as Borg, but Borg has a great ability to get off of his back and will make Johnson work for the win. Eleven of the last 14 UFC fights (78.6 percent) in which one fighter was a favorite of -1200 or more ended with a stoppage, and based on form Johnson should extend the trend.

The potential upset on the main card involves the heavyweight tilt between former champion Fabricio Werdum (-260) and Derrick Lewis (+200). Werdum’s weakness is his striking defense and Lewis has secured 16 of his 18 career MMA wins via knockout, which seems like a lethal combination in Lewis’ favour. Werdum’s chances of winning likely rest on him wearing Lewis down or getting a takedown that sets up a submission.

As well, Beneil Dariush (-240) is favored against Evan Dunham (+190) on the UFC 216 odds in a lightweight bout that is likely to be heavy on grappling, increasing the possibility of it going the distance. Four of Dariush’s last eight fights were decided by a decision, while Dunham’s four-fight win streak consists entirely of victories by decision.

As long as Dariush stays aggressive in the stand-up game – and he likely won’t have to worry about walking into a devastating punch against a grinder like Dunham – he should be able to get the win.

And Kalindra Faria (-200) is favored against UFC newcomer Mara Romero Borella (+160), a replacement opponent who took the fight after  Andrea Lee was pulled out for not having an up-to-date anti-doping clearance.

Faria is the more seasoned fighter and her ability to throw combinations has helped her score knockouts in more than half of her 18 career professional wins. Romero Borella is undefeated in her last six fights, but prior to that was finished by strikes in three consecutive fights, so there’s potential for an early ending.

UFC 214: Jones heavy favorite against Cormier in co-main event

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If one believes a long hiatus from the Octagon benefits a fighter’s mystique more than technique, then the price might be right on Daniel Cormier.

Ahead of the most fervently anticipated rematch in the company’s history, Jon Jones is a -260 favorite against the +200 underdog Cormier in the co-main event for UFC 214 on Saturday, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

The fight, which will top off a loaded main card at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California, has been in the offing since about 30 seconds after Jones won an unanimous decision against Cormier early in 2015, but Jones’ doping suspension has prevented it from happening.

The prices have moved in Jones’ favor since he opened at -150 with Cormier coming back at +120. Before the layoff, Jones was perhaps the best fighter to ever grace the UFC and it’s understandable why fans believe he’ll use his long reach to keep Cormier at bay and get him in the clinch.

Cormier backers, though, can take heart in the belief that his takedown defense could be sharper than it was against Jones 2 1/2 years ago. The bottom line is it’s rare to get a champion at such a high price.

In the co-main event, welterweight champion Tyron Woodley (-205) is favored against challenger Demian Maia (+165). Maia, who is plus money for the first time since 2014 (a bout that he lost to Rory MacDonald in a unanimous decision), is singleminded about getting a match to the mat in order to work toward a submission.

If Woodley can keep his focus on his takedown defense and keep the fight on their feet, his edge in athleticism and youth might prove to be the determining factor.

The prices for the women’s featherweight title fight between Cristiane (Cris Cyborg) Justino (-1100) and challenger Tonya Evinger (+650) underscore the difficulty Cyborg has finding a foe.  Cyborg has ended her last seven fights early, five in the first round. It might be better to pore over the odds on how many rounds Evinger, a solid wrestler, can hang in for during a fight that she accepted on relatively short notice.

Robbie Lawler (-160) is a slight favorite against Donald Cerrone (+130) in a twice-rescheduled welterweight matchup. It’s hard to know what to expect from Lawler, who’s been set back by injuries since his last fight against Woodley exactly 52 weeks ago. Cerrone is often vulnerable against left-handers such as Lawler, but takes an edge in stamina into what shapes up as an all-out brawl.

The main card starts off with a light heavyweight title eliminator, where Jimi Manuwa (-190) is favored against Volkan Oezdemir (+150). Manuwa, who is on a three-fight win streak, is the more developed and technically proficient of the two strikers. That might give him the edge against Oezdemir. It could be a quick resolution either way – Manuwa has 10 first-round knockouts in 17 pro fights, while Oezdemir has a powerful left hand and ample motivation to get a knockout and score a fight-of-the-night bonus.