UFC bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw thinks Zuffa officials have to be pretty happy about his recent decision to split from Team Alpha Male to join Duane Ludwig and Elevation Fight Team in Colorado.
And with the way the days that followed unfolded, how could they not be? Dillashaw’s former teammate in Sacramento and longtime bantamweight contender Urijah Faber didn’t seem very pleased with the champ’s decision, effectively opening the door for a potential championship showdown between two former teammates.
For as difficult as it may have been for Dillashaw to move away from his longtime team, he said the benefits in having actual coaches — as opposed to the self-coaching that had been forced upon him in Sacramento — made it a relatively easy for him to pack his bags for the Mile High City.
Still, as he begins making the permanent transition from California to Colorado, Dillashaw looks back at the week that was and the weeks that will be, wondering why everyone’s making such a big deal about his decision to leave.
“I didn’t think it was going to be blown up and as ridiculous as it is now,” Dillashaw said Monday on The MMA Hour. “It’s real tough, man. Especially when I’m best friends with all of those guys. Not only is it training partners and guys I want to do well in their careers, but guys that I love and care about every single day. It’s a super tough thing going on.'”
Conventional wisdom, or a friend with a decent amount of knowledge in public relations, should have prepared Dillashaw for the endless amount of attention placed upon him in the past week or so. By all means, he should have expected every last ounce of “ridiculous” tagging along with his decision.
What he shouldn’t have expected, however, is the sort of backlash he’s gotten from the man who brought him into mixed martial arts. Never one to bite his tongue for too long, Faber opened up on his view of the situation a few days back, criticizing Dillashaw for “leaving the family.”
“I’m just trying to look past all this and understand that maybe his feelings are hurt. But he kind of put me on blast when he went on that podcast,” Dillashaw said. “I’m trying to be the bigger man and not to bring on any negativity and what he’s doing here in Sacramento because it’d be very easy for me to do so. Especially after him putting me on blast on Stud Show Radio.
“I want to continue a relationship, I want to continue being his friend, so I’m going to be the bigger man.”
But maintaining a relationship with Faber won’t be as easy as speaking the words. “The California Kid,” after all, hasn’t been very amicable with Dillashaw’s primary head coach Duane Ludwig.
The striking savant of a coach first helped bring his name to greater prominence when taking over the head coaching duties in Sacramento, playing a pivotal role in Dillashaw’s rise to the top of the bantamweight division. When Ludwig decided enough was enough with the financial concerns surrounding his position at Team Alpha Male, he left. Problem was, regardless of all the hard feelings between Ludwig and Faber, Dillashaw decided to stick by the coach who helped improve his game.
The year that followed couldn’t have been easy for the champion, being forced to play the middle man in the ongoing battle between Team Alpha Male and its former coach. Dillashaw often claimed it didn’t concern him very much, but we all knew that wasn’t true.
Dillashaw said of Faber’s elongated rant on Ludwig:
“I wouldn’t say it was the final straw, the final straw is just talking to some of the coaches out in Colorado and thinking about my career in the long-run. That definitely helps; it wasn’t very cool in my eyes. A lot of it was true on both ends, what they’ve been saying about each other. A lot of stuff is blown out of proportion too. To go on an 80-minute rant on someone is a little bit ridiculous. Both of those guys go back and forth on each other through the media, it’s a little childish. That definitely helped push me in one direction, but ultimately me wanting the best for my next fight and my career. I think I’m going to grow more as an MMA fighter with some coaches around me.”
Dillashaw is scheduled to face Dominick Cruz in a fan-friendly matchup between two of the most unique strikers in the sport. A former UFC champion at 135 pounds, Cruz is out to regain the crown that no other fighter took from him. It’s the biggest fight in Dillashaw’s five-year career, to say the least.
Suddenly it dawns on you; you realize the champion is constantly going to probed about his next fight. No, not Dillashaw-Cruz; his “next” next fight. Because for for as excited as we may be for Dillashaw and Cruz to dance around the Octagon in January 2016, the world is already excited about a potential matchup between Dillashaw and his former team leader.
“I don’t want to have to fight Urijah,” he said. “That’s not something I want to do. I love the guy. I think the ball’s in his court, I’m the champion, I have the belt. The ball’s in his court on what he wants, I’m leaving it that way — what he wants to do.”
The ball may be in Faber’s court, but Dillashaw’s certainly not shying away from the opportunity.
Does he feel he has the necessary skills to retain his title against a former training partner and friend? “Absolutely” he does.