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Returning TJ Dillashaw ready to legitimize bantamweight title — ‘I didn’t leave UFC by losing my belt’

(Boston, MA, 01/14/15) Boston College Eagles forward Aaron Brown, right, regains control of the ball in front of Harvard Crimson’s Wesley Saunders, left, during the during the second half of a NCAA basketball game at Boston College on Wednesday, Janu Photo by Patrick Whittemore/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images

Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw is now eligible to make his mixed martial arts (MMA) return, following a United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) drug-testing suspension that left him sidelined for two years.

And while top contenders like Cory Sandhagen are ready to show him how much the division has improved during his absence, Dillashaw is only interested in fighting for the 135-pound title, which current champion Petr Yan is scheduled to defend against No. 1-ranked Aljamain Sterling at UFC 259.

“I feel like I didn’t leave this sport by losing my belt,” Dillashaw told the “Real Quick with Mike Swick” podcast. “He knows that there’s a lot of speculation if he’s the real champ because he hasn’t beaten the champion to get that belt, so he wants it. As well as that, I’m the biggest draw for him right now to try to fight. Maybe he’s thinking me coming back for my first fight might be the best time to catch me as well too, try to catch me slipping. But that’s what I want. The ultimate goal for me is to be the champion.”

A lot has changed since the 35 year-old Dillashaw (15-4) wore the division strap. Yan went from No. 14 to world champion, former titleholder Dominick Cruz fell out of the Top 10, Henry Cejudo retired, ex-champ Cody Garbrandt dropped to flyweight, and former featherweights Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar debuted at 135 pounds.

It should also be noted that Dillashaw is coming off a loss, having been stopped by Cejudo in his attempt to drop down a weight class and join the “champ champ” club at UFC Fight Night 143. No word yet on whether or not the promotion will grant him an immediate title shot, but I have a feeing the road to the title may be a bit bumpier than Dillashaw expects.