Mixed Martial Arts is a very unique sport in many ways and arguably the most complex issue in the sport is the concept of fight “teams” within a sport focused on the individual. This concept and its complexity is currently garnering the spotlight with The Ultimate Fighter Season 25 and the recently cancelled Bantamweight Championship fight between Cody Garbrandt and TJ Dillashaw. The bad blood between Cody’s Team Alpha Male and TJ’s Elevation Fight Team has added drama to a struggling program and attracted much needed attention to the series. Additionally, I will quickly note that I feel this is the best series in a long time, but in my opinion it is due to the fact there is some very good talent in the TUF house with every fighter being a UFC or TUF veteran.
Urijah Faber, founder of team Alpha Male, was a fan favorite throughout his career. Faber is as likable to the general public as they come. He was an entertaining fighter with SoCal surfer boy swag that always remembered to say hello to his Mom on the way to the Octagon. He carried himself with class and was the poster boy for sub 155 pound weight classes in their early years. As professional MMA continued to evolve, more and more fight teams began to surface much like Urijah’s Team Alpha Male but at the end of the day, success is still determined by the production of the individual. The notion of teams adds a complexity to the MMA landscape and now the question arises, “what is more important, the interests of the team or the individual fighter?”. Team Alpha Male suggests loyalty should remain to the team no matter what the situation, but do their actions back up their words? I personally don’t think so.
As a member of team Alpha Male, TJ Dillashaw burst onto the scene and won a title in a massive upset of Renan Barao at UFC 173. Dillashaw remained the teams prize possession until his striking coach Duane Ludwig left Alpha Male and started Elevation Fight Team based out of Colorado. At that time, Dillashaw followed his coach and the drama with his former team followed. The teams and fighters were making headlines on a daily basis regarding the split, with TJ consistently being referred to as a “snake” for allegedly following Ludwig and promises to be paid a salary to train with Elevation. Team Alpha Male takes credit for grooming Dillashaw into the Bantamweight Champion he was at the time of the split. In his next fight following, Dillashaw lost the title to long time Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz in an extremely close fight. It is safe to say Team Alpha Male had quite the celebration with TJ’s fall from grace, likely crushing cases of Michelob Ultra’s and Atkin’s diet approved party snacks.
The reality of the matter is TJ did absolutely nothing wrong in the split. This is not only seen through his dominant performances of late in wins over Assuncao and Lineker, but Team Alpha Male’s foolishness on every episode of TUF. When TJ left for Elevation Fight Team, he followed Duane Ludwig. Ludwig is in my opinion as well as many others, the best striking coach in MMA today. His “BANG Muay Thai” system of striking translates incredibly to MMA. From a personal development standpoint, Dillashaw did the right thing for his career to follow his coach.
A team is important in MMA, it is if nothing else a support system for the days you need a kick in the ass to train. It is also beneficial to surround yourself with top talent as a test of skills. Loyalty to the team should follow, but not at all costs. Team Alpha Male often cites TJ as being a sell out because he followed a promise of being paid to train. So what! Last I checked, Team Alpha Male doesn’t pay members, doesn’t offer medical insurance, and doesn’t have a 401k plan, so make money while you can. In 20 years Dillashaw will be retired and neither his former team nor current team will be there to support him financially. He needs to look out for his own well being if nothing else.
TJ made the right decisions for himself, his career, and his life after the UFC. This is not the first time a notable UFC fighter has left his team for greener pastures. There are plenty of examples of this, but none of the teams acted like those at Alpha Male. On top of the weekly fake fights on TUF (it’s almost as bad as a McGregor presser fakie when magically Dana White is able to pick him off the ground and subdue him with ease), they are also acting as complete hypocrites in their actions. Cody and company are all about “the team” yet strategically picked American Top Team teammates Dhiego Lima and Hayder Hassan to face off because Hassan told them he dominates Lima in every aspect of the game. They disregarded the fact that they were teammates and did not want to fight unless they had to in the tournament rounds. Instead they did what benefitted them in trying to win the show. What makes it more gratifying is when their plan backfired and Hassan got worked.
In the end Team Alpha Male needs to get over themselves. They have great fighters and coaches. They will continue to be successful but persistent hate towards someones personal success without them is not a good look. TJ Dillashaw made the right choice for TJ Dillashaw, and at the end of the day that is all that matters in the world of professional mixed martial arts.