T.J. Dillashaw: The last Alpha Male standing
MAY 22, 2014 5:15p ET
While MMA is routinely regarded as an individual sport, no fighter in the game today could get where they are at without a great team behind them. From coaches to training partners, nobody gets to the peak of the sport without people surrounding them, offering the best possible advice, and helping to prepare them for the battle ahead.
For the past few years, Team Alpha Male in Sacramento has become the hub for fighters competing in the lighter weight divisions. Led by team captain Urijah Faber, Team Alpha Male has produced a litany of UFC fighters along with a stable of top 10 level competitors and title worthy challengers.
The key word in that phrase, however, is 'title challengers' because for as many contenders as the team has produced, there still remains a vacant spot on the wall at Team Alpha Male, because no one has been able to bring home a UFC title to fill the blank space.
On three occasions since coming to the UFC, Urijah Faber has fought for the bantamweight title and come up short each time. Joseph Benavidez took on Demetrious Johnson two different times with the flyweight strap up for grabs and neither ended with him holding the gold. Chad Mendes failed in his bid to wrestle the featherweight title away from champion Jose Aldo in his lone crack at the belt (although he will get a second shot this August at UFC 176).
“We have a very tough team, we know it. That's the one thing we have -- we don't have a UFC title yet”
So in steps T.J. Dillashaw -- one of the younger members of Team Alpha Male, who came to prominence by way of The Ultimate Fighter and just cracked the top 10 of his division in the last year. His rapid rise up the rankings and a slot opening up at UFC 173 now puts him in the position to bring home the first UFC title to Team Alpha Male when he takes on Renan Barao this Saturday night in Las Vegas.
Even Dillashaw sits in a bit of disbelief that after all these years and so many wins by his teammates that he could be the one to finally bring back a title to Sacramento.
"It would be really crazy because I was around for all of those fights and those guys came close, they were definitely winnable fights, they just didn't work out the way we wanted them to. It would be really crazy in my eyes for me to be the one to bring it home because I was around, looking up to these guys, wanting to be where they're at and now I have the chance to bring it home," Dillashaw told FOX Sports.
"If I'm the one to do it, it would be kind of crazy, because I've watched it all unfold in front of my eyes. I've gone through those camps. It gives me goose bumps thinking about it, bringing home that belt."
The criticism aimed at Team Alpha Male for never winning the big one could be fair or unfair depending on what your criteria is for judging success in MMA. An argument could be made that constantly putting fighters into title bouts is an accomplishment in itself, and a reputation 100 other MMA teams would kill to have as their standard for excellence.
On the other side of the coin is the Buffalo Bills comparison.
For four seasons from 1990 to 1993, the NFL's Buffalo Bills were the model of football dominance in the AFC. The Bills steamrolled opponents, putting up gaudy scores and blowing out the competition year after year, but when it came time for the Super Bowl, it was a whole different game.
The Bills lost a heartbreaker to the New York Giants in their first year competing in the Super Bowl in 1990, and things only went downhill from there. The following season they lost to the Washington Redskins, this time by a much more lopsided score of 37-24. Then came losses to the Dallas Cowboys in back-to-back Super Bowls with a combined score of 82-30.
Those teams from Buffalo will always be remembered, but probably not for the great regular seasons they put together or the statistics racked up by players like Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas. Instead what the Bills are most often haunted by during that span of history is the fact that they became the first team to lose four Super Bowls in a row, and to this day the team has never returned to that same level of success.
Maybe it's a dubious honor in some ways, but Dillashaw looks at his team constantly sending fighters into title bouts as a sign that they must be doing something right. Winning a title might be the ultimate goal of every fighter in the sport, but it's not the only measure of success.
"We take it as a compliment. We have a very tough team, we know it," Dillashaw said. "Things haven't worked out the way they're supposed to for us. Everyone's going to find something to pick you apart with. I don't care if you're champion of the world, somebody's going to find something bad to say about you.
"That's the one thing we have -- we don't have a UFC title yet."
There are plenty of other successful teams in MMA that don't have a UFC belt either, and rarely are they mentioned as often as Team Alpha Male in that regard. For example, American Top Team -- one of the most well respected and well established camps in MMA for more than a decade -- has never actually had one of their fighters crowned UFC champion.
Dillashaw knows Team Alpha Male will get over the perceived hump of not winning UFC gold, and as a matter of fact, he's ready to end that discussion this weekend by beating Renan Barao and bringing the bantamweight belt back home to Sacramento with him.
Then it's just a matter of time before people are complaining that Team Alpha Male doesn't have two champions.
"It's going to change, I'm going to get a title, Chad's going to get a title, then what?" Dillashaw said. "Then what are you going to talk about? It's going to be something else. Who knows, but it will be something."