How TJ Dillashaw Fights (Breakdown Part 2)

This is part 2, if you missed part one, go here:  How TJ fights part 1

Volume and Pressure

TJ’s tittle defense against Joe Soto showed some good moments where TJ was forced to change some of his offensive approaches. Joe Soto took a different approach when facing TJ. Soto was more willing to shell up and wait to time TJ’s openings. In addition, Soto effectively used head movement in conjunction with countering to sneak in some good counters in the early rounds and then a few more later.

soto elevation change counter.gif
Soto changes level while shelling up, then level changes again to land a high counter.
soto counters TJ's dart.gif
This example is one of the rare instances we see TJ get countered while throwing his dart.

In this particular fight, we saw TJ use less of his footwork approaches and rely on a different approach–classical boxing. TJ started to notice Soto’s habits in the later rounds that he was using head movement and shelling up to counter. So, what did TJ do to adapt? He used volume and rhythm to apply pressure. TJ had this fight on very short notice and adapted accordingly well as the fight progressed. Lets take a look how TJ dealt with Soto’s head movement and his shelling.

  • Head movement
    • with head movement, you’re often required to move a large portion of the upper body to move the head around. What TJ did was apply the volume and pressure of the jabs to stump and blind Soto’s vision and ability to keep up. Generally speaking, the quick flicks of continuous jabs are fast and take up far less energy than constantly moving the head with the upper body.
    • TJ pepper jab.gif
      TJ applying a combination of jabs in volume and adding in a kick since Soto’s crouched posture prevents him from checking kicks.
  • Shelling walls
    • With walling up. TJ soon made good use of volume. What that actually did was occupy Soto’s guard. He essentially got him stuck in defense mode with it. The constant volume made it difficult to time and find a counter window where TJ would throw a shot that overextended.  One of the important factors in the volume was the fact that TJ used double strikes. Doubling up entails striking again with the same hand.
    • Traditionally, fighters strike by taking turns alternating between hands. Doubling up throws off the opponents rhythm to counter back because of the the doubling shots that constantly occupy the guard and disrupt the timing for them to counter back.
    • TJ volume combo double up on cage.gif
      Applying pressure, doubling up while cage trapping, all while never overextending punches. Soto circles off into TJ’s body shot.

Mike Goldberg (UFC commentator) could be heard mentioning a Nick Diaz-esque characteristic of striking within TJ. He was right. In fact, Nick Diaz has been known to use volume in conjunction with doubling up to kill rhythm and occupy the opponent’s guard, essentially trapping them in a shelling up mode while drowning them in flurries against the cage. Diaz also used a combination of hand trapping to keep their guard in place.

diaz double up trap.gif
Nick Diaz, applying double ups, pressure with balanced volume to occupy the guard and stump any head movement attempts.

Since we’re on the topic of doubling up on strikes, I’d like to mention now that TJ has a very strong tendency to double up right after darting. Go back to previous gifs of darting to see his double up. He always does it every time after throwing the dart.

It’s important to keep in mind that just like Nick Diaz, staying to long in the pocket can result in eating a counter shot. Nick Diaz has eaten his fair share of shots staying on the inside for so long. His striking defense record is reminiscent of that. Getting greedy with shots has it’s repercussions.

TJ pocket pressure getting caught.gif
TJ gets caught in the midst of a flurry in the pocket

Hand Fighting

What have we seen from TJ’s hand fighting game? well, he has demonstrated many of the hand fighting fundamentals that I have covered in the Conor McGregor style breakdown I have covered. For more details, I suggest you go back to pay a visit to them. For now, i’ll give a basic oversight of TJ’s hand fighting skills. Note that these are necessarily habitual tendency, but more of answers on TJ’s behalf when it comes to dealing with hand fighting.

TJ hand control into hook comp.gif
TJ baits the hand out to establish a reaching rhythm. As soon as he establishes it, he throws a hook around to the opening
TJ hand fight into cross 2.gif
TJ controlling the lead hand and fires a cross. He’s always ready to retreat

This last hand fighting trick is rather unique. By establishing a hand reaching rhythm with Barao’s lead hand, he’s now got it occupied. What that means is that it wont be used to parry kicks. The most traditional way to block and kick is to wall with one side and swipe with the other hand to reduce the blow. Taking away that swipe hand from defending the kick. In addition, the crouching posture of TJ’s kick deceptively disguises his movements–you wont quite know if he’s going for a takedown or throwing that kick over the top.

TJ hand control into head kick.gif
Occupies the lead hand, goes over the top with kicks

Sneaky Kicks

Since we’re already on the topic of kicks, let’s discuss a few nice moments of TJ’s crafty set up to kicks. TJ uses unorthodox movement to deceive his advancement. He moves in a way that makes him unpredictable–you wont quite know if he’s going for a take down or perhaps going to strike with another tool. He uses this deceptive nature to disguise his kicks rather well. Lets look at a few examples. (Note TJ’s corner advising him accordingly on what to do).

TJ step up kick 2.gif
As usual, the low  posture baits his opponent to lower his level. TJ proceeds to use a step up kick.

Range Manipulation

In one of earliest works, I discussed the art of baiting the opponent to counter in one range while attacking in another range. Here’s an example of TJ doing this.

TJ kick.gif
In this case, TJ establishes Barao to react in the punching range. TJ then uses a switch kick to meet Barao’s punching range with his kicking range. Barao effectively misses the punching range while TJ lands with his kicking range.


Defensive Nature

TJ has a variety of ways to defend. One particular tendency he has shown is the use of the push block/Thai framing/stiff arming to stuff the opponent’s advancement and posture. I originally learned this from a old Muay Thai book written by Erich Krauss, so I’m use to referring to it as what they called a “Push block.” Thai Boxers are rather good at using this to stuff the opponent’s momentum. The more common style is to use a cross guard (using the forearm to reach across the face). This style was meant to cover the guard up the middle in the event that uppercuts are straights are thrown.

buakaw push block.gif
Push block demonstrated by Buakaw

TJ has a unique tendency to use it in reverse as well, often switching which hand he pushes with and which hand he blocks with. He consistently uses this block almost always after throwing kicks. It’s important to note that his push block style uses an open guard style where he’s left an opening down the middle of the guard.

TJ push block comp.gif
TJ using Push blocks and reverse push blocks

There’s a benefit to using the open style and close style guard on the push block. With the close style, you have better protection against various angles. With the open guard style, you have more flexibility to fire off the cross right after stopping one’s momentum.

TJ push block into cross.gif
TJ demonstrates a nice left cross after stopping their momentum with the push block


His feints are pretty straight forward. He’ll use similar feint styles such as the hopping crouch feint and uses these feints to bait simultaneous counters. The most common counters TJ uses after baiting them are jabs.

TJ feint and bait jab.gif
TJ feints to bait a simultaneous counter. Barao takes the bait, misses, TJ counters back at an angle.

Now that you have an idea of the vast variety of TJ Dillashaw’s offensive tools, you can see how he’s able to apply volume and pressure. He combines a combination of angular movement to allow him a continuation of strikes as well as using the advantages of doubling up to kill rhythm. He has a variety of other level changing striking tactics he uses and demonstrates many other fundamentals I haven’t covered, but at this point, you might have a strong idea of TJ’s game.

The Summary

  • Great at creating angles offensively.
  • He has a wide variety of offensive approaches from hand fighting, footwork, and working in the pocket.
  • He prefers working in volume but also risk eating shots by staying on the inside too long.
  • He has an effectively deceptive kicking game.
  • I haven’t talked about this much but his wrestling and takedown defense has been excellent thus far.
  • Very light on the feet (it could be either good or bad).
  • Nick Diaz 209, don’t be scared homie


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