UFC

Alpha Male hunts for UFC gold

Opponents Joseph Benavidez (L) and Demetrious Johnson
Joseph Benavidez is ready for his second shot at the UFC flyweight title.
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Mike Chiappetta

Mike Chiappetta has documented the fast-growing sport of mixed martial arts since 2006 for news organizations including SB Nation, NBCSports.com, FIGHT! Magazine, AOL and ESPN. He appears regularly as an analyst on countless television shows and radio programs, including CBS Radio and MMA Beat. Follow him on Twitter.

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So far, 2013 has been a banner year for Team Alpha Male. The Sacramento-based group is undefeated so far in the octagon. Mainstays Urijah Faber (3-0), Danny Castillo (2-0), T.J. Dillashaw (2-0), Chad Mendes (2-0) and Joseph Benavidez (2-0) have dominated competition, with four of the five ranked in the top 10 of their respective weight divisions.

That’s an impressive achievement in its own right, but on Nov. 30, the team attempts to strike gold. Benavidez gets the opportunity to extend their run while becoming the stable's first UFC champion in the process. It will be his second crack at the title after losing a split-decision to Demetrious Johnson one year ago.

What's changed from then to now? What is the X-factor that will put Benavidez over the top this time? Coaching, he says. Duane "Bang" Ludwig has overseen the team's brilliant run, and in a Tuesday Google Hangout with FOX Sports, Benavidez said the changes the coach has imparted will flip the result in his rematch with Demetrious Johnson.

(NOTE: Clip starts at 24:20)

"This is the first title shot under the Bang era for us so far. I'm happy it's me and I get to go out and represent and do my best," he said. "I think it's going to make a huge difference having Duane and his training and the techniques I've learned.

“I think it's going to be a whole different fight,” he continued. “I'm really excited to do it. I think I have a totally different outlook than I did. I learned a lot from that fight and I feel I’m getting better every day. Even the fight that was a split-decision was pretty close. Now it's a year later and I've just improved so much. Mentally, I've improved. I'm way more comfortable out there. I'm having fun again. It's just another fight for me. That's how I'm looking at it. The first one was life or death to me. I couldn't relax and go out there. Now it's fun to me. I'm just looking at it like another fight. The chances were good last time. But the fact I have coach on my side and I'm getting better, I think it's going to be a totally different fight."

Benavidez, who was joined by Faber, Mendes, Dillashaw and Ludwig in the group interview, has competed three times since falling to Johnson. He immediately rebounded by topping Ian McCall in a decision, and followed that up with knockouts of Darren Uyenoyama and Jussier Formiga.

That’s been standard for the group, which has eight finishes in the 11 wins coming from Faber, Benavidez, Mendes, Dillashaw and Castillo.

Despite early success -- Benavidez, for example, was 16-3 before he ever started working with Ludwig -- they all seem to believe that Ludwig’s tutelage is the factor that will put them over the top.

Faber says he's the right guy at the right time and Mendes calls him a "genius" when it comes to the sport and technique, but Ludwig sees his role as a support system, understanding that the group was already well entrenched in their success before his arrival.

After their great start, the group pressure grows as Benavidez is tasked with bringing the gold home to Sacramento, but Ludwig is confident he’ll able to guide his charges to more momentous victories.

"I'm going to impact things pretty significantly just because it's simple details of things I've been showing the guys since day one, since I've been there,” he said. “Just things we've been doing for nine months until this fight. It's nothing super technical. Technical aspects, but just small little fixes and just ways to close that gap. That’s pretty much all I can say. Even without me, I think Benavidez was very close to winning that first fight. I don't think these guys need me to win these fight, but their chances are better with me in their corner, that's for sure, with me training them."

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