JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – T.J. Dillashaw will be watching the co-main event of UFC 273 up close to size up his potential next opponent.
The former two-time bantamweight champion is on the mend from a pair of surgeries, but his recovery is approaching its end and he’s seeking a return to competition against the winner of Saturday’s title unification bout between Aljamain Sterling (20-3 MMA, 12-3 UFC) and Petr Yan (16-2 MMA, 8-1 UFC).
“I’m going pretty good, knee recovery from my last fight has been a longer road than I hoped,” Dillashaw told MMA Junkie. “I was hoping to be ready first quarter of this year, but I had so much work done, that I actually just got surgery three weeks ago to get the scar tissue cleaned out. But I’m on a smooth sail to being recovered. In three weeks I should be 100 percent, so perfect timing to let these guys figure out who the champ’s gonna be and for me to get my belt back.”
Dillashaw (17-4 MMA, 13-4 UFC), who returned from a two-year USADA suspension to defeat Cory Sandhagen by split decision at UFC on ESPN 27 in July, said it was a priority to attend UFC 273 and see his likely next opponent in person.
“I was already coming on my own anyways,” Dillashaw said. “Then they (UFC) were like, oh you’re coming, be a guest fighter. I wanted to be here, I wanted to see the fight. I’m gonna promote it because look, man, that’s my legacy is getting that belt back, and being here is important for that. I don’t go to many of the fights, I don’t even watch that many of the fights unless I have some personal interest of possibly someone I’m fighting or a friend that’s fighting. So, this one I have my eyes open for.”
Dillashaw said he’ll be firmly planted in his cageside seat for Sterling and Yan to rematch. The pair fought 13 months ago at UFC 259, with Sterling claiming the belt via disqualification after Yan landed an illegal knee that cost him the belt.
After seeing the initial fight play out before the illegal strike, Dillashaw is confident the rematch is going in Yan’s direction – and he wants it that way.
“He got that title win by DQ and kind of played it up a bit too, right? So, I think Petr Yan’s the real champ,” Dillashaw said. “I think he’s going to show that. Look, we’re in the world of MMA, anything can happen. Sterling’s a very strong competitor, great grappler, all-around athlete, but I think Petr Yan is more of the fighter. He’s got that mentality and he’s the guy I expect to fight coming up here at the end of the year.
“Aljamain definitely has to out-grapple him to get the fight done. I mean, to be honest, he would probably have to submit him. I don’t think he’s going to be able to keep that pace up to keep him down and his striking is just not dangerous enough to make Yan believe in it. So, I think Yan just has to stick to the same game plan he did last time. Be patient, make sure to defend the takedowns, and kind of dominate him.”
If things play out to his expectation and Yan wins the fight, Dillashaw said he’ll be ready to challenge for the strap later this year. He doesn’t care about where it happens, and would even be willing to travel to Yan’s side of the globe to get back the belt he held twice before.
“Yan would be the guy I want to fight,” Dillashaw said. “I’d say like, September, October. Shoot, they’re going to Abu Dhabi October 22, I think that would be pretty dope. I’ve always wanted to go to the Middle East. Easier for him, he’s Russian, right? So, I think that would be a good time.
“I’ve already proved myself. I came back off that suspension, fought the No. 1 contender on one f*cking leg, excuse my language, and was able to get that win. Now it’s about getting it for myself, getting that belt back.”