T.J. Dillashaw is the Alpha Male who could
MAY 25, 2014 3:03a ET
For the past few years, Team Alpha Male in Sacramento has become the marquee gym when it comes to top contenders in the weight classes from featherweight down to flyweight.
Team patriarch Urijah Faber was always sitting at the top of the heap and he was quickly followed by featherweight stud Chad Mendes as well as flyweight standout Joseph Benavidez. The three fighters continuously bested every other challenger in their respective divisions, but when it came time to compete for the title something strange happened.
None of them could quite get over the hump and take home the gold.
Now there's certainly nothing wrong with always being ranked in the top five of the world, and racking up gaudy numbers when it comes to wins and finishes inside the Octagon, but in a sport defined by being the best, Team Alpha Male were the perennial silver medalists.
“It's crazy. I got into the gym looking up to all those guys. It's just kind of crazy for me to be the one to bring home the belt”
The numbers were beyond ridiculous for the trio of Team Alpha Male fighters. Combined between Faber, Benavidez and Mendes, they are currently 20-0 in the UFC in non-title fights. With the belt on the line, they've gone a collective 0-6. Faber fought for the belt three times in the UFC and came up short in each of them. Benavidez had two shots of his own while Mendes lost in his lone bid to become champion.
No one from the team faced the long odds that former Ultimate Fighter finalist T.J. Dillashaw had going against him as he stepped into his bout against Renan Barao on Saturday night in Las Vegas. Some odds makers had Dillashaw as much as a 9 to 1 underdog, and there's also something to be said for him accepting this fight on moderately short notice when he was originally slated to face Takeya Mizugaki on the night's main card in a three round fight. There's also no way to gloss over the fact that Dillashaw was 1-1 in his last two fights although his loss came by way of very controversial split decision to Raphael Assuncao last year.
Still, given Barao's dominance since coming to the UFC, not to mention how he made Dillashaw's big brother Urijah Faber look like he didn't even belong in the same Octagon as him, it was hard to believe that one of the newer members of Team Alpha Male would be the one to conquer the champion and bring the belt back to Sacramento.
Odds be damned because Dillashaw set the tone in his fight with Barao in the first round when he cracked the champion with an overhand right that sent him crashing to the mat, and while the Brazilian recovered enough to survive until the fifth round, he was like a lamb being led to the slaughter for the remainder of the fight. Dillashaw battered Barao for nearly 25 minutes, racking up 140 significant strikes with 45-percent accuracy while the Brazilian could only counter with 64 strikes of his own. By the time the fifth round started, Dillashaw already locked up the title but instead of coasting his way to a victory, he came out more determined than ever like his entire team was counting on him to get the job done. So he blasted Barao over and over and over again until the fight was stopped, and he was standing proud as the new king of the mountain.
Dillashaw becomes only the third bantamweight champion in UFC history while claiming the spot as the first ever UFC title holder out of the famed camp in Sacramento. Say what you will about this being an individual sport -- on Saturday night an entire team got the monkey off their backs.
"It's crazy. I got into the gym looking up to all those guys," Dillashaw said about being the first Team Alpha Male fighter to get a title. "They showed me the way and I've been in a lot of their title fight camps and it's just kind of crazy for me to be the one to bring home the belt. It's a crazy feeling."
If there is one small sad story attached to Dillashaw's victory, it's the upcoming departure of head coach Duane 'Bang' Ludwig, who helped lead the fighters to an incredible record during his 18 months with the team. It was announced several weeks back that Ludwig was leaving Team Alpha Male to go home to Colorado and open his own gym so he could be closer to his family.
As a matter of fact, Saturday night was Ludwig's final night as head coach of the team. Thankfully, it won't be his last night coaching Dillashaw.
"I'm going to continue to train with Team Alpha Male but I'm going to cross train with Duane," Dillashaw confirmed. "I'll go out and train when I don't have a camp and I'll fly him out when I'm in camp. I'm going to continue to work with Duane, he'll be in my corner. I plan on getting my black belt under the guy, I think he's a genius."
Regardless of the outcome of Dillashaw's win, no one should have ever doubted the talent that was amassed at Team Alpha Male, but like LeBron James having multiple MVP trophies, the critics were only silenced when he took home his first championship ring. The strange thing about James -- since that first title win, he's gone onto claim another championship and his Miami Heat are favorites to win it all again this year as well.
Maybe Dillashaw's victory is the win that pulls the cork out of the bottle, and now Team Alpha Male will start flooding the divisions, taking home more and more titles. Chad Mendes is next up on the docket with a rematch against featherweight champion Jose Aldo in August, and given what we just witnessed on Saturday night, don't doubt that Team Alpha Male could absolutely be ruling two divisions before the summer of 2014 is finished.