How TJ Dillashaw Fights (Breakdown Part 1)

TJ Dillashaw has been able to captivate so many with his seemingly fanatic footwork frenzies he’s adapted into his style. He’s sparked so much curiosity about what’s he’s doing. It’s time to open some perspective on his craft to get to the bottom of it.

There are several fantastic breakdowns of TJ’s skills at this moment so I almost didn’t want to cover them in a breakdown (Firas Zahabi, Jack Slack, all the greats, you name it). However, for the sake of completeness, I feel there’s a lot of room to go even deeper into those principles because there’s a lot of detail that hasn’t quite been fully explored.

My job with this is to explore these concepts even further and introduce new concepts that you probably have not seen or realized yet about TJ. Stick around if you want to get a greater understanding of TJ Dillashaw’s style.

 TJ’s Offensive Approaches

TJ’s has quite a high statistic for significant strikes landed per minute at around 5.81. Keep in mind this is a very contrasting number compared to Dominick Cruz’s offensive output of around 1.87 of significant strikes landed per minute (reading my previous piece on Cruz will clarify that). A lot of TJ’s output has to do with the wide variety of offensive diversity within his arsenal. He has actually demonstrated a variety of ways to approach offensively over the span of numerous fights. Whether the fight is with the hands, with the distance control or in the pocket, he’s demonstrated excellent striking. It’s easy to catch what TJ is doing just by studying his movements but we’re going to explore those some of those habitual tendencies that you can often see TJ using.

Footwork Approaches

One thing TJ is great at doing is creating angles. It’s a topic that is very familiar to those who follow TJ’s striking game. If you’re not familiar, in short, TJ uses a variety of footwork to move himself in advantageous angles. What this does is that he limits what the opponent can do to him, or it helps him get to a position where he gets the upper hand to strike the opponent. There are a variety of methods he employs to get this done so I’ll list the most common ways and go into detail about them.

(Sorry if there may be refreshers over details others might have talked about already so feel free to skip to the new concepts. The old concepts are for viewers new to learning about TJ, however, old concepts will be [underlined in brackets] if you wished to skip them. If you do decide to read them, I did put a lot of details for those wanting to learn how to use the movement from a clearer perspective).


Shifting entails the art of changing your stance. The way that TJ utilizes shifting is that he throws his strike while transitioning into a stance change. How does this even help? Well, what TJ does is that he moves his head into the weak side of the opponent (Weak side: the angle outside of the opponent’s lead leg where their offensive tools are limited). While moving the head outside of the opponents weak side, he also shifts his back leg into the opposite stance. The beauty behind this is that he is now in a position to throw another power shot while being in a position where his opponent can’t strike back. TJ is able to use this approach to close distance while continuing to apply pressure because he’s hitting more angles where his attack can continue uninterrupted. All these words are probably hurting your head right now so lets look at a live example to clarify.

TJ power shifting slow mo
TJ throws a cross while shifting the back leg forward into end in the opposite stance. He hits an angle EVEN FURTHER outside of Barao’s weak side where he can’t attack TJ. TJ is now in a position to throw another cross.

There are two important details in this shift to watch carefully for (For those interested in learning how to use the movement).

  1. TJ consistently does this, so pay attention to TJ’s right leg. while stance shifting, TJ also bumps his right leg out EVEN FURTHER towards the Barao’s weak side. This allows TJ to go even deeper into an angle where it would be even harder for Barao to return a counter without turning to adjust first. Indeed Barao adjust but gets hit in the process.
  2. Pay attention to TJ’s head. In a traditional cross, you throw your head at an angle and end by returning the head back to your neutral stance. In this shifting cross, TJ throws his head in a steep angle and actually keeps it there while allowing the rest of his body to catch up to the new angle.

Escape Shifting

Just as I discussed in the last article on Dominick Cruz’s style, both TJ and Cruz make use of shifting for defensive purposes too. As a refresher, I’ll quote my last post.

In a traditional cross, fighters tend to put a lot of weight on their lead leg. So, here’s the trick, when Cruz throws his cross, his weight is on his lead leg, but since he switches stance mid strike, his lead leg now suddenly becomes the back leg. So now that he has all that weight on the back leg, he can easily move away in that direction away from the opponent. That’s the beauty behind his ability to create defensive angles.

Lets see the concept in action.

cruz and TJ similar
TJ and Cruz throws a shifting Cross to change stance. It allows them to put weight on the back foot in order to evade 45 degrees away in that direction.

Smothering the Weak Side

There’s one particular offensive approach TJ had used repeatedly against Renan Barao. TJ used a hand trapping-like advancement to control Barao’s posture. It has been mentioned before (on the Fighter & The Kid podcast) that TJ has an  awkward looking hook. That can be attributed to the fact that TJ often hits angles where the only way to catch the opponent is by throwing his over-hook like trajectory in that awkward-like angle. It may seem strange but works because of the position he’s in. By smothering his opponents lead arm, he can no longer use it to attack. Also, by moving on the weak side, they can’t attack with their power hand without re-adjusting their stance. Lets see this in action.

TJ smoothers power side and overhooks comp.gif
TJ enters by moving to the weak side of Barao, taking away his lead hand to attack, then throws and over-hook over the top.

[Darting/Hop stepping]

The dart is a rather awkward looking sequence and that’s because it follows a rather unorthodox sequence of movement. For a dart, as the back foot springs forward with the cross, it simultaneously transitions into the opposite stance, thereby effectively allowing you to stance change with the footwork mid strike.

The ability to switch stance mid strike is important because you get a split time window to hit an important position before your opponent. During a strike, the opponent is generally occupied in a grounded static position to absorb or counter the attack. So the stance switch mid strikes means you get where you want to first while the opponent is in place.

The way TJ uses the stance change is the most important aspect of the sequence. Since the shifting leg hits an angle very laterally away in new position, the opponent will be forced to readjust to your new angle. As I mentioned in previous articles, hitting a new angle forces your opponent to adjust to you, meaning you will have a split moment to continue your attack before they re-position. These descriptive words might have you confused again so lets check out these examples to clarify.

TJ slow mo dart.gif
Note the lead foot steps out very laterally first, then the cross fires off while the right foot shifts into an opposite stance. Keep in mind that the right foot  ends right in between the legs of Barao where’s he’s now forced to adjust his feet.

TJ has commentated on his fight before about fighting Barao stating that he knew that Barao was looking to time that spinning back kick. Sure enough, TJ demonstrated that he knew how to counter it by moving laterally away from the straight trajectory of Barao’s kick (He also used this strategy against Mike Easton spinning kicks). Interestingly enough, it can often be heard from TJ’s corner that Ludwig often encourages TJ to use lateral movement. It’s a sensible strategy considering it’s hard for opponents to counter a head that’s dynamically moving laterally.

TJ dart on assuncao.gif
Same principles. TJ moves laterally while throwing the cross and shifting the lead foot in between Assuncao’s legs forcing him to adjust to a new angle.

Dart vs Dart

Now the dart style of TJ is utilized differently compared to how Eddie Alvarez uses it. Alvarez uses it to escape at an angle whereas TJ actually uses it to continue his offensive output. Since we’re on the subject of Alvarez, using TJ’s dart style may benefit him to pressure and smoother the range that Anthony Pettis needs to be creative with his kicks in their upcoming fight. It makes little sense for Alvarez to dart away and give Pettis his effective range, but that’s a subject to be discussed some other time.

TJ vs alvarez dart style.gif
TJ using darts to continue offense. Alvarez using it to escape away.

This is one of the fundamental styles of TJ — to pour on offense at angles that allow him to continue striking without getting hit back.  It’s a factor that allows him to keep that offensive output so high.

[Switch Stepping]

The switch step is one of the more common movements used in Muay Thai to effectively change your power side in a split moment to attack from that side. The movement entails dynamically changing the fighting stance very quickly. This has been adapted into a variety of ways with  how TJ uses it. TJ can use it to quickly change stances so he can hit a different angle outside of his opponent’s weak side. The quick change in stance is an important factor because it dynamically changes what can be attacked as well. Opponents depend on a certain stance to prepare where they want to attack. When you change stances, it forces them to readjust their offensive approach. Here are a variety of ways the switch striking can be used.

  • Switch cross, escape. This can be used effectively as a stick and move strategy but isn’t often used because of TJ’s tendency to prefer staying aggressive.
    • TJ switch cross escape comp.gif
      TJ throws a swtich cross, changing the stance very quickly to move to Barao’s weak side. note barao has no viable attacks to reach that angle.
  • switch cross, check hook. Note the cross occupies their attention, allowing you to sneak in a stance switch.
    • TJ switch cross, lead check hook slow.gif
      Throws that cross and uses a check hook to pivot off at a defensive angle where Barao must re-adjust
  • switch cross, uppercut and flurry.
    • TJ switch cross uppercut follow up.gif


[The Dip Step uppercut]

It’s understandable that TJ and Chad Mendes share similar offensive tools since they were former teammates. They both using a level changing dip step uppercut. Note that the lead foot slides forward while dipping the level down to close that distance gap. The dip is deceptive in nature because of the lowering of the posture disguises it as a possible takedown. The dynamic level changing of head makes it more difficult for opponents to target it.

TJ dipstep uppercut comp with chad.gif
As the dip occurs, the foot moves in even closer to close that distance gap.

This is the end of part 1. On part 2, we start of discussing TJ’s volume and pressure –Nick Diaz style. Go here for part 2: How TJ Dillashaw fights part 2


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