One of the biggest MMA storylines of the year has been UFC bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw’s departure from Team Alpha Male; the Sacramento-based gym he called home for the first 6 years of his fighting career. Under normal circumstances, a fighter changing gyms is hardly front page news—these moves are common enough that they’re no cause for prolonged excitement. Dillashaw’s departure from Team Alpha Male, however, has been dramatic enough to generate dozens of headlines over the course of many months.
The real drama of the situation, of course, boils down to a very public beef between two of the central figures in Dillashaw’s fighting life. One of these figures is Urijah Faber, the Team Alpha Male torchbearer responsible for bringing Dillashaw into the MMA fold, and a longtime contender in the division that Dillashaw currently rules. The other is Duane Ludwig, a disgraced Team Alpha Male coach and the man widely credited with Dillashaw’s evolution into a championship-caliber fighter.
When Ludwig left Team Alpha Male to set up shop in Colorado, Dillashaw found himself playing the role of the rope in an ugly game of tug-of-war. And when Dillashaw eventually left Team Alpha Male, following Ludwig to Colorado, things reached their boiling point. Granted, Dillashaw set up shop at the new, state-of-the-art Elevation facility rather than Ludwig’s gym, but the move was more than enough to fry his ties with Faber.
The shade Dillashaw and Faber have thrown at each other since the move has not been pretty. Conor McGregor’s referring to Dillashaw as a “snake in the grass” while coaching The Ultimate Fighter opposite Faber only served to stir the pot. All-in-all, its been the stuff of bottom-shelf tabloids. Thankfully, there’s a silver lining.
Initially, it was unclear as to whether Dillashaw and Faber would be willing to fight each other. We knew Dillashaw felt as though he’d been pushed away from Team Alpha Male, while Faber felt like he’d been betrayed by a longtime friend and student. Despite the animosity stirred up by their split, however, the history shared by the two bantamweights made it difficult to discern whether they’d ever actually drop the gloves. In a recent interview with Submission Radio, however, Faber clarified that at this stage, if he were offered the chance to fight his former protégé for the bantamweight title, he’d take it.
"I mean, what am I going to tell Zuffa? 'This guy used to fight for my team so I'm not going to fight for the world championship?' No. That's not going to happen,” Faber said on the show. "The whole thing with T.J., it's not something I'm happy about, but it's the truth."
So, there it is. The clearest indication yet that, having gone their separate ways, a Dillashaw vs. Faber bantamweight title bout is possible. And of course, such a pairing would be far from just another title fight. It would be one of the biggest fights in UFC bantamweight history; a grudge-infused clash between student and teacher; a drama-fuelled scrap between an increasingly dominant champion and arguably the biggest star ever to emerge from MMA’s lower weight classes. Really, a Dillashaw vs. Faber bout could even outshine Dillashaw’s looming defense against former champion Dominick Cruz, which is scheduled for January 17, and stands out as the biggest bantamweight bout to date.
So, under the microscope, Dillashaw and Faber’s ugly falling out does have a positive sheen. On the eve of the biggest fight in bantamweight history, the foundation is already laid for a second, arguably bigger bout not too far down the road.
Of course, the fruition of this potential showdown depends on Dillashaw’s thwarting Cruz, which will not be an easy task. Faber, similarly, will have to get past the surging Frankie Saenz at UFC 194 in less than two weeks’ time. The overriding fact, however, is that the stars are beginning to align for another massive title fight in the relatively young UFC bantamweight division. And considering these stars are aligning while fearsome contenders like Thomas Almeida, Aljamain Sterling and Cody Garbrandt continue to rise through the ranks, all signs point to the bantamweight division reaching new levels of prosperity in 2016. And it’s now clear that, after Dillashaw vs. Cruz, a Dillashaw vs. Faber grudge match could be the next exciting step to that end.
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