(Disclaimer, this is long. If you've read anything I write, it's how I do when I get bitchy about something. I write a lot. If you don't like it don't read it. I'll publish a coloring book for you at some point)
I'm just going to come right out and say it: UFC 280 was a bit of a letdown all the way around. The undercard was underwhelming, and the main card had some... perplexing moments (that is about the kindest way I could put it, if you watched it you know). But none left me more perplexed than TJ/Aljo in the co-main.
Let's relive it!
Almost immediately it was apparent something wasn't right with TJ. You know it's a bad sign when
the announcers Anik and Felder start speculating within the first minute that something is wrong (I think DC was rambling about toast or someone's pants in the crowd during that time). Within 90 seconds, TJ gets taken down and it is IMMEDIATELY apparent something is very, very, wrong. TJ is grimacing in pain, can't post on one of his arms, and is getting worked by Sterling like he stole his EPO. By the end of the round it is apparent that TJ's shoulder is dislocated, he is completely compromised, and that this fight is lasting only as long as Aljo wants it to. Sure enough, Aljo (being that he is not blind and has at least a semi-functioning brain) realizes TJ is hurt and puts it on him. TJ's shoulder pops out again, Aljo gets him on the ground, and delivers a very cathartic, although technically unnecessary, beating until Goddard waves it off.
Now, I think it's worth pausing between the end of the fight and the in-cage post fight. At the end of the fight, I was blown away impressed with TJ's toughness. As someone who has dislocated his shoulder before, it fucking HURTS. So to fight for over 5+ minutes in a title fight with a dislocated shoulder is an incredible display of guts, no matter your personal feelings. But then that 135 pound twerp grabbed the mic and immediately turned me against him for life. Who else but TJ could manage to build goodwill and immediately piss it away tenfold 5 minutes later? Here's a look at the post fight interview with TJ:
What the hell was that?! In under two minutes he turned me from impressed to frothing mad. He'd have been better off trying to sodomize DC with the mic rather than say what he did. Let's break it down:
1) Very first thing said. The VERY FIRST. From DC: "TJ, on Thursday you wanted to talk to me about something, was it this shoulder injury that showed itself in the fight?" *TJ just nodding stupidly alongside him*
Quick Side Note #1: Am I taking crazy pills or is that alone not an INSANE question?!? A fighter on the co-main event of the biggest card of the year asks to personally talk to the damned broadcaster about something and DC just... doesn't follow up? How bad at the job can one man be (or judging by appearances, 1.8 and trending up)?!?!? If DC had the journalistic talent of a 7th grader working for their school paper, this story would've been broken on Thursday. How the hell is someone that bad at a job still employed? Did Sam Alvey gift DC his dirt on Dana White??? DC needs to be forcibly removed from that broadcast booth, preferably by a SWAT team. His incompetence has gone from simply unbearable to actively being a menace.
2) TJ says he blew out his shoulder in APRIL and dislocated it a good "twenty times" in the lead up to this fight. That is 20 times over a 26 week period. I'm supposed to believe he was training hard for a title shot with a shoulder that is dislocating nearly every week? How was he sparring with that? How was he training to grapple 'The Human Backpack' with one fucking arm?!? How could he be doing any training whatsoever, except practicing how to sign his show check left handed?
3) TJ explicitly says "I told the ref in back before I came out that most likely my shoulder is going to pop out, if it does, I'll get it back in, please don't stop it." This to me is just pure madness. If TJ didn't think he was severely compromised, why even bring it up to the ref? Answer: because he knew a dislocated shoulder was ample grounds to stop a fight. MOST refs would see a dislocated shoulder and go "hmmm, yeah that fighter is probably too compromised to continue" and wave it off. Some might let it go on a little longer until that's confirmed, and then wave it off.
Herb isn't stopping shit until the death certificate is signed. (Whoops, Herb isn't involved here, stay focused)
Quick Side Note #2: What in the hell was Goddard doing here? The refs are there to protect fighters from themselves, WHY is one taking advice about when to stop the fight from the very fighter he is in charge of protecting?! Why doesn't Izzy do this when he fights Alex? "Excuse me Mr. Referee sir, you may see me get knocked unconscious to the point I shit myself during this fight. Don't worry I have been struggling with a head injury all camp. Just give me a few seconds, I'll wake up, and my corner can wipe me off in between rounds, please don't stop the fight." Oh yeah, that's not done because it's batshit insane. It's the ref's job to determine when enough is enough. If a fighter is informing a ref when they should be stopping the fight something has gone seriously sideways. This is wild to me, it's like asking a cop to hold your weed for you and they actually do it.
4) Even DC asks "How did you get through the first round when you were so compromised..." almost a great question DC (for once), but it needs a minor correction: How did TJ get TO the first round when he was clearly so compromised?
Well, I am here to try and answer that question. There are many places to check before we can determine where the fault lies:
TJ's Family: I know very little about TJ's family. I know he has a beautiful wife and an adorable baby, and that's about it. I also know that they have stuck by him through his EPO bullshit and god knows what else. I'll be blunt, I think his wife needs to step up and lay down the law. He is a husband and a father, people literally depend on him, and he is out here playing fast and loose with his well being. For those who don't know, EPO dramatically increases your risk of blood clots because it's increasing the amount of red blood cells in your system. That's why EPO is so dangerous, you get a little loose with it and BAM you're dead on the floor from a stroke, or worse (if you think death is the worst fate that can befall someone, you probably haven't seen what happens when someone has a stroke and lives, but loses almost all function. It's fucking horrific). And after that PED's fiasco, he walks into a title fight in the deepest division in the sport with one functional arm. If it were me pulling this shit, I'd have the Mrs telling me to grow tf up, knock it tf off, and take care of myself for my family. Then she's probably throwing an empty wine bottle at me while going to remodel our shower, AGAIN.
With this injury there is 0% chance his family didn't know. I get supporting your partner and wanting their happiness for them, but part of a successful and healthy relationship is to shine light on your partner's blind spots and call them on their bullshit. Clearly TJ's own well being isn't a priority for him, so I think his wife needs to take that on. She needs to kneel down, smack him across the back of the head and remind him that as a husband and a father, there is more to life than fighting. And that long after we've forgotten his EPO riddled ass, they will be the ones standing by him; and that if he doesn't want to take care of himself for himself, than he damn well better do it for those who depend on him like his child. Because as big of a Snake as TJ is I guarantee you his child is better off in life having his father alive, functional, and with as little brain damage as possible. (This may be an unpopular opinion for some, idc, if you don't like it write your own damn article)
Blame assigned: 5%
The Ref: As addressed above in my quick aside, Goddard did some eyebrow raising shit. Can't be taking guidance on stopping the fight from the fighters. And TJ did tell him about the injury in pre-fight.... But I can't honestly say what he should have done next. It's fight night, there's a million things going on, what exactly was he supposed to do? And even if he told the doctor, what exactly would that have done? The blame Goddard gets is solely due to his inaction, and I have no idea what the proper action should have been. Then again, I'm not a professional ref and he is, so we're gonna give him a small portion and call it a day.
Blame assigned: 10%
TJ's Corner: These guys saw TJ dislocate his arm TWENTY TIMES during the camp and still let him go out there. Not only that, they have arguably the best view into his mindset leading up to the fight. Go watch that post fight interview again. That is not a man who genuinely believed he could win the fight. He looks like a guy who knowingly parked in a tow-away zone and came back to his car missing. Disappointed, a little upset, but not surprised. He was just trying to get lucky and didn't. That is not the mindset of a winner. Can anyone tell me the last time someone apologized to the division immediately after losing? It doesn't happen because immediately after losing, those with a winning mindset haven't processed beyond the "I, me" or "me, my team, my family" stage. I refuse to believe this negative mindset was just invisible to the people at his gym. They knew he was compromised physically, mentally had a loser's mindset, yet they still let him walk out to this farce. Did no one from his camp pull him aside and say "Bro, this isn't the time. Let's get you right before we step in here, because you're not going to win like this. You could get hurt bad and that's not something any of us want."
Blame assigned: 15%
Quick Aside #3: Back when I used to train (we grappled velociraptors to train Jiu jitsu, just to [carbon] date myself) the coach at my gym had a strict code about this very thing. He had no fighters in any major promotions, and eventually one of the really good pros got signed to Bellator. In the lead up to his first fight the guy was a train wreck mentally. His brother got in a car crash and was hurt, his mom passed away from cancer, his girlfriend dumped him for another dude, he was laid off from his job, life was just pissing on him with a firehose. And it absolutely showed through in the gym. The dude looked like hammered shit every practice and sometimes wouldn't even show up. Killed the coach but he sat the guy down and said 'Look, I know you want this, but this isn't the time. You are not physically or mentally ready, and the only thing you can accomplish is to hurt yourself.' The kid was worried about Bellator dropping him, and the coach said 'What do you think they're going to do when you come out and get absolutely styled on? Better to risk having them drop you for withdrawing, than guaranteeing them drop you cuz you fought like a bum.' Later on I asked why he didn't just roll the dice, this was by far the best prospect our gym had! There was a real chance he could pull it off! I'll never forget what he said, 'yeah there's a chance he can pull it off. About the same chance as me ending up with him in the emergency room while his family stares at me. I don't need that guilt.' Integrity over dollars, that's why I'll always have the utmost respect for that man. If you weren't right, he wouldn't let you fight. If you insisted, he'd let you, but he would respectfully withdraw from cornering you and he would kindly suggest you find a new gym.
UAEMMAF/UFC/IMMAF: Here is where things get very interesting and my paranoid little brain gets quite the fun workout like a hamster in its wheel. I'll try and leave the conspiracies out, but still grab some string and corkboard cuz this is a mess.
UAEMMAF is a very new organization founded around the time The Baldfather brought the show to Abu Dhabi. When I Google 'UAEMMAF' only 3,860 results pop up, which is just insanely low for a Google search. There is no official website for them, just some social media pages. The extensive research I've done (Googling on the shitter in between meetings) shows that they joined the International MMA Federation (IMMAF) in 2021 and held some sort of Amateur Championships. And that's about it. Everything indicates that they are a new organization that is trying to figure out how to be a sanctioning body. The UAEMMAF partnered with the UFC and IMMAF at UFC 267 to "shadow sanction" the event, and it appears that is what they did for this event as well. Finding top-secret government information is somehow easier than locating background on this organization, but I did find a blurb that indicates that the UFC uses the NSAC rules when in Abu Dhabi. Whether it's accurate or not, who knows. Idc, I'm not a professional journalist so screw it, we're going with it and assuming they used the same sanctioning rules NSAC uses. (Google Nevada State Athletic Commission and you get over 2 million returns. Only 3,900 is WILD).
Here is what NSAC requires to become a licensed fighter:
- Online Application Portal
- Two passport size photographs
- $50 license fee
- Current Federal ID card - If a professional boxer or mixed martial artist.
- Report of Physical Examination Report Professional Boxer/Unarmed Combatant including an original laboratory report with the fighters name and the date the HIV test and Hepatitis B Surface Antigen, Hepatitis C Antibody and CBC tests were taken. The HIV test must be done within 30 days of submitting all requirements to become licensed. The Hepatitis B & C and the CBC tests can be done within the calendar year.
- Dilated ophthalmologic examination by an OPHTHALMOLOGIST only - This must be done more than 24 hours before the fight.
- MRI of brain without contrast and MRA cerebral circulation - If either previously done, forward results for review. The MRA is a one time requirement, unless otherwise ordered. A new MRI is required every five years.
So, after over 2,500 words, much research, and many consumable items to ward off the encroaching sobriety, we've identified some failings on individuals and organizations, but no one to BLAME yet. Everyone acted like you'd expect. Those loyal to TJ stood by him, and the UFC acted like the UFC. Although there is someone that we must consider to close the loop:
TJ DILLASHAW: Maybe I'm out of touch, but I can't recall a single story of Duane Ludwig just throwing fighters to the wolves to get his cut, so I have a hard time believing that happened here. Likewise I can't imagine TJ's wife is thrilled with him getting his seventies punched out of him on international tv (although it would be cheaper than a divorce...hmmmm...ok, we'll call that a possible maybe). Goddard had enough going on on fight night that he couldn't reasonably be expected to cater to TJ's disclosure backstage before the fight. The UAEMMAF is brand new and still doesn't have a clue (not that I have high hopes, my Spidey Sense tells me they're gonna be so crooked you could uncork wine with them), and UFC is gonna UFC. You hand them a shit sandwich, they'll figure out how to put a price tag on the bread. So that only leaves...TJ himself.
TJ is a demonstrably selfish bastard as evidenced by his cheating, his treatment of his former teammates, the way he carries himself, and the decisions he chooses to make. Like all great cheats, TJ is intimately familiar with the rules of the game. He never outright hid anything, but he seemingly was playing that fun game of "You have to ask the right question" since April. TJ decided that no matter what, TJ was fighting at this event, any other considerations be damned. Undoubtedly he put a lot of people closest to him in very uncomfortable positions with this fight, yet the only thing that mattered to TJ was fulfilling TJ's desires. Not his family, not his coaches, not any of his three remaining fans, and not his employer. This amount of people so quietly going along with such a bad idea feels like an ultimatum was given; "Either you're with me on this or I'm cutting you loose." I can't prove it, but that is what my gut instinct is screaming at me when we consider what we know. If that's the case then TJ has definitely earned yet another spot in the POS Hall of Fame.
Blame Assigned: 1,000%
In conclusion, I am a cynical bastard but I do believe that the world is round. If you're constantly throwing out bad shit into the universe, it's eventually going to come back around and splatter you in the face. When TJ finally gets his and the world has forgotten him; I hope he turns around and finds himself alone, with everyone who supported him for so long finally waking up and leaving him to the misery of his own making. Maybe I'm being a bit harsh, but I have no tolerance for people who prioritize themselves over their families and everyone who has ever been there for them. That's what children do, and it's time TJ grew the fuck up and acted like a man. For once.