In the aftermath of victory, it would be easy, even reasonable, to sit back and bask in its glow, revel in the thrill, relax, unwind and take time off.
But if you’re UFC bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw, you just keep working.
The 32-year-old Angels Camp native – who first won the 135-pound title in May 2014, defended it twice, lost it to Dominick Cruz in January 2016 and then recaptured it in November 2017 – is always on the move. And like the fancy octagon footwork he is known for, the pace of his life is fierce.
“Fight Camp, the build up to TJ’s fights, is second nature at this point and practically all we know as far as a lifestyle,” said Dillashaw’s wife, Rebecca. “TJ and I have been together for 12 years, and he always competed and trained, so there have always been intense focused periods leading up to a competition. Whether that be wrestling or fighting, this has been the lifestyle since day one.”
After reclaiming the bantamweight crown in New York’s historic Madison Square Garden at UFC 217 in November, the couple returned home to Colorado, where they enjoyed a brief respite from the spotlight, prepared for the holidays and waited for the birth of their first child, Bronson Jack.
A little more than a month later, the littlest Dillashaw arrived, adding a new dimension to the mix.
Sleep-deprived and elated, the new father, claiming he had never been so tired in his life, continued light training and sparring with his coach Duane Ludwig, maintaining cardio on a Rouvy indoor bike and working out with former wrestling coach Leister Bowling, worked to negotiate a fight with UFC flyweight king Demetrious Johnson, spent a three whirlwind days in New York City filming a commercial for the Van Heusen clothing line, then returned to Colorado to pack up his family and head back to Southern California, where he has created a fight gym in Anaheim.
“We’ve created an environment where iron sharpens iron,” said Dillashaw of key partners Juan Archuleta and Cub Swanson, both veteran fighters. “Duane (Ludwig) comes Monday through Wednesday, and we have Mark Munoz and Daryl Christian for wrestling, third-degree black belt Philipe Della Monica for jiu jitsu, and renowned MMA boxing coach Jason Parillo. Sam Calavita is the strength and conditioning coach and my nutritionist. We’re learning and working with the best.”
With the final touches on the new gym done, the champ recently opened the TJ Dillashaw Youth Martial Arts Academy, a schedule of weekly classes providing top-notch training in striking, jiu jitsu and wrestling to children ages 4 to 18, and with his Treigning Lab teammates and coaches, offers adult seminars and clinics in the various mixed martial arts disciplines.
When not in “The Lab,” Dillashaw fulfills media and sponsorship obligations and collaborates with his business partners at Flavor Republic, a small spice company he is part of, and continues the groundwork for his own online fitness platform that will soon be up and running on TJDillashaw.com.
A look at five days from a recent “out of camp” week provides a clear example of the teeming nature of his schedule. It cannot, however, portray what that level of activity feels like.
On Saturday he spent the day in Texas for a Harley-Davidson promotional event; Monday he trained; Tuesday he flew to Las Vegas to film a commercial for Toyo Tires; Wednesday back to training; on Thursday, the morning training session was followed by a few afternoon hours with family and friends at Disneyland before taking a red-eye flight for an overnight trip.
In the midst of everything, the official call came with confirmation that he will fight Cody Garbrandt at UFC 227 on Aug. 4 at Staples Center in Los Angeles with his title on the line.
“Yeah, I’m really busy right now, but things will slow down some once fight camp starts; I’m looking forward to that,” Dillashaw said. “Defending my belt is all I need to continue to be motivated. I would still love to fight DJ (Demetrious Johnson); that’s the fight I’m chasing down, but Cody’s a great fight for me.”
And with that, he’s back in full fight camp mode and even longer, more demanding days.
He leaves the house around 9 a.m. for morning practice, and though he may briefly pop back in midday, he quickly heads out for his second, and sometimes third training session of the day. Generally, he returns home between 8 and 9 p.m., has a late dinner and then some family time. If Ludwig is in town, the two may review videos, talk training and strategize late into the night.
“The long days, the six days a week of training and the traveling are our normal. It has produced a beautiful life and is one we’re both very grateful for,” Rebecca said of their assiduous schedule. “Bronson doesn’t know any different either. He is well-adapted to travel and life on the go and, depending on his dad’s training schedule, gets to experience life in both California and Colorado. He’s such a happy baby wherever life takes us.”
It’s a rigorous routine, but TJ Dillashaw thrives on hard work and knows such intensity is key to retaining his belt when he faces Garbrandt.
Though he claims the addition of his son has not changed the way he approaches the fight game or significantly altered his goals, he is quick to embrace the impact of fatherhood.
“Bronson has added to my life. It’s always been a strong desire of mine to become a father, so it’s a dream coming true. Fatherhood changes what I want to spend my time and money on and makes me less selfish; I just want to do what’s best for my family and make my decisions based on that. Yes, there’s more to juggle, but that’s just part of parenting,” concluded Dillashaw as Bronson squealed and played nearby. “No matter what bad mood or bad practice or how exhausted I am from practice, just one little chuckle from him makes me forget it all. It’s the best medicine; it’s a deep down pleasure. Laughing babies in general are adorable, but when it’s your own, it’s gut-warming, and then he punches you and drools on you. He completes my life. He brings joy.”