T.J. Dillashaw Has to Win

Jeremy Botter@jeremybotterMMA Senior WriterApril 8, 2014

T.J. Dillashaw celebrates after beating Hugo Viani during the first round of a UFC bantamweight mixed martial arts fight in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, April 20, 2013. Dillashaw won by technical knock out in the first round. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Jeff Chiu

T.J. Dillashaw's competitive streak started at an early age.

Dillashaw is the son of two highly competitive parents. He has two brothers. And growing up, even casual situations were often turned into a chance to win.

For example: The Dillashaw family had two cars, and they would often split up. T.J. sometimes rode with his dad, and his brothers piled into their mom's car. A simple drive from point A to point B morphed from a leisurely drive into a chance to score a victory over the rest of the family.

T.J. and his dad had to win. They had to be the first to arrive at their destination.

Jeff Chiu

"I don't care what it takes. We're running red lights. We're cutting them off," Dillashaw tells Bleacher Report. "I think that's where it all started. I had two brothers and competitive parents. They just bred me that way."

All fighters are competitive by nature. It's a rule for any professional athlete because winning is the only thing that matters.

But Dillashaw may be the most competitive fighter I've ever met.

Joseph Benavidez, his Team Alpha Male teammate, once told me that Dillashaw has to win at everything. Checkers? Chess? Volleyball? Board games? Dillashaw will do anything to win.

Urijah Faber noted that Dillashaw displayed the same intensity on the first day he began training with the team. He was green behind the ears and nowhere near the complete fighter he would become. But that didn't stop Dillashaw from going 100 percent, from trying to beat Faber and Benavidez and the others.

I have seen his intense competitive nature before. Before his 2013 fight against Issei Tamura, I saw Dillashaw backstage, preparing to walk to the Octagon. As he paced back and forth waiting for his music to hit, Dillashaw began screaming.

It was as intense a moment as I've ever seen from a fighter. And it was scary, if we are being honest.

It is a trait that permeates every area of his life. He has to be the best at everything.

"When it comes to board games, you try every trick you can to beat someone. When it comes to fighting, you want to be a respectable opponent," Dillashaw says. "But other than that, I'll do anything I can to win.

"It's tough, especially when it's bred into you. You just want to be the best."

After a recent kickboxing session with coach Duane Ludwig, Dillashaw picked up his phone. He noticed several text messages and missed calls from his manager, Mike Roberts. Dillashaw figured his scheduled opponent, Takeya Mizugaki, was injured.

When Dillashaw got home, he called Roberts and asked if Mizugaki was out of the fight. Roberts told him he had a new opponent, but it was Renan Barao, and it was for the bantamweight title. Roberts, knowing Dillashaw would say yes, had already accepted the UFC 173 main event bout on his behalf.

Dillashaw let out a scream.

"I couldn't help but just shout. I was very excited," he says. "Luckily, I was at home, so I didn't scare anybody other than my dog."

It is the perfect scenario for Dillashaw. He has twice gone through the process of helping Faber get ready for bouts against Barao. And so, in a way, this is his third training camp preparing for Barao.


"I was there every step of the way to help Urijah get ready for him," he says.

This time, it is Faber's turn to help Dillashaw prepare for a title fight. Dillashaw will likely be a heavy underdog to Barao. The champion hasn't lost a fight in years and is entrenched near the top of the UFC's pound-for-pound rankings.

But Barao's lofty status won't affect Dillashaw's preparation. Not one bit. He plans on going in the Octagon and winning because winning is everything.

Winning is the only thing, in fights or board games or even a weekend drive with his parents.

"I have been raised to win," Dillashaw says. "You do everything you can to win."