Tyler Jeffrey “TJ” Dillashaw was on a trajectory to be considered the best bantamweight of all-time. However, Dillashaw recently was suspended for 2 years by USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency) for using the banned substance EPO (erythropoietin).
This would lead some to believe he has been using for some time and is just now getting caught. Let’s take a closer look at TJ’s rise and “possible” fall.
TJ was rather unknown early in his career and racked up a 7-2 record. He became a household name on the night of May 24, 2014 when he was moved into a championship fight against Renan Barao, who had won 33 fights out of 34 with 1 no contest. Barao was an overwhelming favorite and top 5 pound-for-pound fighter. Shockingly, TJ won the fight in dominant fashion, defeating Barao via TKO in the fifth round to become the new UFC Bantamweight champion.
TJ would defend the title against Joe Soto before re-matching Renan Barao, whom he dismantled once again winning by TKO in the fourth round. TJ had seamlessly become a household name overnight and would later drop the belt to the former bantamweight champ, Dominick Cruz, via split decision. The UFC didn’t grant him an immediate rematch so TJ fought his way back into title contention by winning his next two fights. He wouldn’t be facing Cruz for the belt this time, he would be fighting Cody Garbrandt who had beaten and dominated Cruz.
Before we get to that fight, TJ had been with Team Alpha Male for the entirety of career. TJ decided to switch camps in October 2015 and moved his camp to Denver, Colorado to train with his head coach, former UFC fighter Duane Ludwig. This move left a bad taste in the mouth of Team Alpha Male where Cody Garbrandt trained.
Prior to UFC 217, Cody accused TJ of being on everything (PEDs) and even stated that TJ showed everybody on Team Alpha Male how to do it [steroids]. Most UFC fans looked at this as sour grapes from Cody and the team because TJ had left them. Looking back at this now, I didn’t put much stock into Cody’s words only because TJ was so good in the Octagon. TJ would go on to defeat Cody via KO at UFC 217 and then again at UFC 227.
TJ put a challenge out to Demetrious “DJ” Johnson, the Flyweight champion at the time which DJ turned down. DJ would in turn lose to Henry Cejudo who then challenged Dillashaw. The fall of TJ Dillashaw began prior to his fight with Henry Cejudo even though the public was unaware that TJ had failed a drug test. He would go on to lose to Cejudo via TKO in the first round.
A few weeks after losing to Cejudo, Dillashaw announced via his Instagram account that he would be relinquishing his bantamweight championship. TJ stated, “to all my fans, I wanted to be the first one to let you know that USADA and NYSAC (New York State Athletic Commission) have informed me of an adverse finding in a test taken for my last fight.”
Most UFC fans were caught off guard by this news and to be honest I was disappointed. NYSAC suspended TJ for one year and fined him $10,000.00 and many of us thought that would be the extent of his suspension. Not so fast, on April 9, USADA suspended Dillashaw for 2 years. Not only did TJ test positive for EPO in a urine sample he provided on Jan. 18, 2019; USADA went back and retested a Dec. 28 sample. That also came back positive for the same substance.
The EPO that Dillashaw tested positive for is synthetic; it’s injectable only. There is no chance it was mistakenly included in some store-bought supplement killing the tainted supplement excuse. TJ knowingly and willingly took EPO with the sole purpose to cheat. Still to be determined, though, is his future in the UFC.
He will be almost 35 years old, when his punishment is up, an age at which some lighter weight fighters can still be competitive. I would disagree with this sentiment as the current fighters in the bantamweight division have an average age of 29 and this division is built on speed and punching power. I don’t see TJ being a major player in this division once he returns due to his age, ring rust, and possible diminished skills.
I think he ends up in Bellator or maybe ONE Championship. My cohost, Kevin Mahoney, on our podcast (LeeNKeys Real Talk on Blog Talk Radio) suggested he should go to ONE championship upon his return and seek his fight versus Demetrious Johnson. If TJ could beat DJ, maybe this could help him resurrect his career post USADA suspension.
No one can erase the moments he created, from dismantling Renan Barao to stopping Garbrandt, but he is now and forever tainted.
It is a devastating period that will define TJ’s legacy as much as his two title reigns and now his reputation damage is sealed. We have seen TJ rise to the top and as quickly as he has risen he has fallen just as fast. There is no doubt that he could’ve been looked at as a legend of the sport. Hopefully Dillashaw can bounce back from this and have a good second part to his career. Only time will tell.
The Scrap wants to send positive vibes to Dillashaw, his family, and coaches during this trying time.