Few people work closer with T.J. Dillashaw than coach Duane Ludwig, and “Bang” sees little in the way of the UFC bantamweight champion becoming the man to halt the historic run of Demetrious Johnson.
Dillashaw has been gunning for a shot at the UFC’s seemingly indomitable flyweight king for months, but one question surrounding the potential superfight is whether Dillashaw can make the 125-lb limit given that he’s never competed in a division lighter than bantamweight.
Ludwig appeared on The MMA Hour on Monday to endorse the clash of champions and provide assurance that Dillashaw would be able to make the drop.
“We were en route to fight Demetrious at one point and the direction he was taking with his strength and conditioning coach, T.J. was looking phenomenal on the mitts and the sparring and the training and he looked good, his spirits were good,” Ludwig said. “So obviously we didn’t make 125 and fight and compete, but when were were en route of that, nothing really changed. T.J.’s not a big ‘35er, so he can make ‘25. It’s not going to be easy, but he’s the most dedicated person that I’ve ever seen. He really is.”
Ludwig went as far as to say that Dillashaw could make 125 by December, though he doesn’t expect Dillashaw to fight so soon with his wife expecting.
Both Dillashaw and rival Cody Garbrandt had previously expressed interest in challenging Johnson prior to their title fight at UFC 217. It was Dillashaw who got the better of that encounter, finishing Garbrandt in the second round with strikes, which not only won him back the bantamweight belt that he lost back in January 2016, but put him in pole position for a fight with Johnson.
Over the past five years, Johnson has fended off every challenger at 125 pounds (some twice over) and after he defeated Ray Borg at UFC 216 to break the promotional record for most consecutive title defenses, “Might Mouse” was left with no obvious option as to who to fight next.
In Ludwig’s opinion, Dillashaw is the only choice.
“I think it needs to happen,” Ludwig said. “Demetrious, he’s fighting the top guys – this works out because (Joseph) Benavidez is out right now, he’s still having to wait a couple of months with his knee surgery, so it works out time-wise, so in my eyes I would like to see T.J. drop down, fight Demetrious, and then go back to ‘35.”
Whether Dillashaw will be able to win and then defend titles in two divisions is anybody’s guess, but it’s exactly the sort of challenge that Ludwig craves. Johnson’s 14-fight unbeaten streak has put him among the top names of any pound-for-pound discussion and Ludwig predicts that Dillashaw has what it takes to steal that thunder.
“There are some areas that we could capitalize on, that’s for sure. But I’m not going to necessarily say that he’s weak in any one area, because he’s really not,” Ludwig said. “He’s great everywhere. This is a tough challenge, but T.J. could beat him. I just think he’s on another level like T.J’s on another level, they’re both on another level compared to the people in their weight class, he just really is.”