BOSTON—T.J. Dillashaw endures the names thrown his way by Dominick Cruz stoically or with a smile. The UFC’s bantamweight champion points to wrestling as supplying him with the discipline and respect that makes him a mute at trash talking.
“Every wrestler I’ve met has been a very respectful person,” Dillashaw tells Breitbart Sports. “It speaks a lot for the sport.”
Exceptions—Chael Sonnen, Brock Lesnar, Tito Ortiz, etc.—certainly exist. But Dillashaw’s assessment that wrestlers generally look down upon trash talk finds affirmation in Frankie Edgar, Chad Mendes, Cain Velasquez, Dan Henderson, and a great number of other high-level mixed-martial artists who boast decorated collegiate wrestling careers but otherwise don’t boast. Amateur mat wrestlers just don’t talk like professional ring wrestlers.
Cruz offers a competing theory explaining Dillahshaw’s reluctance to throw verbal haymakers. He’s “stupid.” He also calls Dillashaw’s all-American, aw-shucks personality “fake.” The champion laughs it off in an aw-shucks way.
“I’m the one that’s got the college degree, that went through school, was enrolled in grad school, and decided to fight instead,” Dillashaw, who wrestled at Cal State-Fullerton, reasons. “So, it’s a little childish. He’s just trying to pick at anything just because he likes to talk trash and I’m more of a respectful fighter. He’s making a fool of himself and I’m going to prove that on the night of the fight.”
The champion, whatever his intelligence outside the octagon, enters the cage with a resume that includes defeats of Renan Barao that demonstrated remarkable fight IQ. Cruz, whose record includes wins over Demetrious Johnson, Ian McCall, and Urijah Faber, fights for the title he lost not to any man but to an injury. In the bantamweight division, no other match makes as much sense.
For the articulate Cruz, witnessing Conor McGregor’s rise come as much from his mouth as his fists, it likely makes sense to raise the decibel level because it makes dollars. Dillashaw prefers to let his actions in the octagon advocate on his behalf.
He offers “hard work” and the lesson “that anybody can be beaten” as lessons wrestling offers to not antagonize opponents. The sport provides humility and self-confidence all at once.
“I believe that wresting does bring a very respectful mindset to an athlete,” Dillashaw maintains. “Still to this day, wrestling’s the hardest sport I’ve ever done. It’s such a grind—the nine month season, making weight every weekend.”
Breitbart Sports covers the action octagon-side Sunday night as the bantamweight division’s odd couple stop talking and start fighting.