T.J. Dillashaw drives by the homes in the Fab 40s, one of Sacramento’s premier neighborhoods, every day on his way to training and dreams a little.
Perhaps one day he and his wife, Rebecca, will own a bigger and fancier home in the East Sacramento neighborhood, he tells himself as he travels to the Ultimate Fitness gym on I Street to prepare for his unexpected title defense tonight against Joe Soto in UFC 177.
Soto (15-2) was a last-minute substitution after former UFC bantamweight champion and No. 1 contender Renan Barao became ill Friday while reducing weight and is being held out for health concerns.
“I’m the champion, and I’m going to fight anyone they put in front of me,” Dillashaw (11-2) said after the weigh-ins Friday at Sleep Train Arena. “I’m excited to still get the opportunity to defend my title in front of my fans in Sacramento.”
Soto, from Porterville, has won six consecutive fights and already was on the undercard to fight Anthony Birchak. When he got the call from the UFC about an hour before weigh-ins, he didn’t hesitate.
“This is something you have to step up for, something you can’t pass up,” said Soto, who is making his first appearance in the UFC. “When you have opportunities like this, you jump at them. When the matchmakers asked me if I wanted this fight, I said yes immediately.”
Dillishaw dreamed of one day becoming a UFC champion, and that dream came true in May when he thumped Barao around the octagon and took the Brazilian’s bantamweight belt. A series of title defenses and the money and endorsements that come with them could help make Dillashaw’s dream of moving to the Fab 40s come true, too.
“That’s the goal,” Dillashaw said of his real estate plans. “I drive by those gorgeous homes every day, and as long as I keep winning, I’ll be able to afford one.”
A victory against Soto at Sleep Train Arena in front of his adopted hometown fans, and perhaps much of the population of Angels Camp where he grew up, would continue to solidify Dillashaw’s place in the UFC hierarchy. He had hoped to beat Barao again and quiet remaining doubters – Barao’s camp among them – but also move him up on the pound-for-pound best-fighter list, on which the UFC has Barao eighth and Dillashaw 11th. Dillashaw said the fact that Barao still is ranked ahead of him gives him extra motivation.
And the seed money for that Fab 40s house, too.
Said Dillashaw: “I want to become a legend in this sport.”
Last call – Danny Castillo’s nickname in the octagon is “Last Call.”
And for the 35-year-old lightweight UFC fighter born and raised in Sacramento, a loss to Tony Ferguson (16-3) on tonight’s main card likely would end his goal of earning a title shot.
Castillo was impressive in an early second-round knockout of Charlie Brenneman in April, and he’s 6-2 over his last eight fights. But a majority-decision loss to Edson Barboza on a UFC on Fox card last December at Sleep Train Arena pushed Castillo (17-6) just outside of the top 15 in his weight class, and the loss still stings.
Castillo rocked Barboza several times before the Brazilian recovered. Castillo said some UFC referees may have stopped the fight earlier when Barboza could barely protect himself. In the post-fight news conference, UFC president Dana White said the judges should have scored Castillo’s first round 10-8 instead of 10-9 and the fight should have been a draw.
“I played it safe in the third round against Barboza, and I will never do that again for the rest of my career,” said Castillo, who has lost both of his previous fights in Sacramento. “This is only my third time fighting in front of the hometown fans. The third time will be the charm.”
Walk-out tunes – Dillashaw will walk into Sleep Train Arena tonight to the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Can’t Stop.” Much like Uriah Faber’s choice of Tupac Shakur’s “California Love,” walk-out music helps get fighters mentally ready to enter the octagon. The crowd gets an extra jolt of energy, too, when the music starts pumping through the arena.
“Can’t Stop” was the song Dillashaw walked out to when he beat Barao for the title in May. Castillo said he will walk out to Jay Z’s “30 Something.”
Betting line – Las Vegas oddsmakers have Dillashaw as a slight favorite to retain his title, quite the opposite from May when he was a huge underdog.
Dillashaw’s mother, Janice, still bet some money on her son to win.
“She won like $1,500,” Dillashaw said, then smiled wide.
What about his father, Hal?
“He always bets $5 on my opponent,” Dillashaw replied. “But that’s only because he thinks it’s good luck for me.”
Mark Billingsley covers mixed martial arts for The Bee. Reach him at email@example.com.