Ludwig, Faber, and the Prelude to a Grudge Match

Fightland Blog

By Dan Shapiro

Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC

Poor T.J. Dillashaw. It’s not everyday that you witness your mentor and coach going at it in the media, publically trading shots and airing dirty laundry.

Caught in the middle of this back-and-forth bickering, Dillashaw has remained hush on the whole Urijah Faber-Duane Ludwig affair. Then again, it’s easy to not get too bent out of shape when you have a shiny gold UFC championship belt hanging over your mantel.

Or is it?

With Faber going on the offensive, accusing Ludwig of creating an abusive and co-dependent relationship with the bantamweight champion, it appears that lines are being drawn in the sand. Faber has likened Ludwig’s tactics to that of a cult leader or pimp, attempting to create a rift within the Team Alpha Male hierarchy, meaning it’s only a matter of time before Dillashaw will be forced to pick between Sacramento’s Team Alpha Male and Ludwig’s home base in Colorado.

And to think that this really all fired up over a simple apology …

The turbulent story of Faber and Ludwig, as we know it, first received public attention back in mid 2014, when it was announced that “Bang” would be leaving TAM after only a year. It was a suspicious announcement considering the success Ludwig had with the team during his brief tenure, coaching Dillashaw to the bantamweight title. But it didn’t seem too out of the ordinary for Ludwig to build on his growth with the team and start his own gym and affiliate program.

Then, last Friday, Ludwig extended the olive branch in an online interview with FOX Sports, and the bad blood flared up again, bringing the feud to a boil. Faber publically rejected Ludwig’s apology, calling him disingenuous and dysfunctional.

Rivalries in MMA are, of course, nothing new. However, the current verbal jabs between Faber and Ludwig seem to have more effect on the future status of the UFC bantamweight title picture than anything else, so long as Ludwig’s alleged lawsuit against TAM for breach of contract gets thrown out before it hits the court room, which remains to be seen.

Yes, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before Faber-Ludwig I snowballs downhill into a championship bout between the former three-time UFC title challenger and Dillashaw, his protégé.

Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC

Faber has, consistently, reiterated that Team Alpha Male members are free to train wherever they like. Dillashaw, along with teammate Danny Castillo, shipped out to Ludwig’s home base in Colorado prior to July’s UFC on FOX card, when the champ defended his belt for the second time over Renan Barao.

But seriously, how long can Dillashaw fly back and forth between rival schools before he’s forced to pick sides? And with the bantamweight division thinner than ever, Dillashaw-Faber seems inevitable.

There was some talk of the bout in late 2014. At first, both Faber and Dillashaw rejected the idea. But just a few months later, they both seemed open to the bout, so long as the price was right. And looking past Dillashaw’s January 2016 headliner with Dominick Cruz, a scrap with Faber is the most marketable fight in the 135-pound division, which makes the current bickering between Faber and Ludwig a perfect setup.

Think about the possibilities: big brother vs. little brother, mentor vs. protégé, Team Alpha Male vs. Team Ludwig: the matchup has all the makings of a marquee MMA bout.

Of course, Faber is currently slated to face 12th-ranked Frankie Saenz. But should the duo from Sacramento win their upcoming fights, there is little left in the division for either of them.

So is it possible that Faber and Ludwig are merely trading verbal jabs to force the UFC and matchmaker Sean Shelby’s hand? Honestly, it’s unlikely given the vitriol with which Faber spoke on Monday’s The MMA Hour. However, Faber has always been good business, and at the ripe age of 36, he’s closing in on his final years of competition.

A bout with Dillashaw may, in fact, be Faber’s last shot at a big time headlining gig and title shot, so it’s not that surprising that the normally calm and level-headed fighter has gone completely out of character regarding “pimp” Ludwig, who insists that the rift is solely financial.

So what say you T.J. Dillashaw? Or are you allowed to speak up without permission from Ludwig? Certainly the coach’s hold on the UFC champion can’t be that tight, but it’s only a matter of time before we hear from Dillashaw.

Let’s expect more from all sides following the UFC 194 and UFC Fight Night 81.


Check out these related stories:

Glory, Revenge, and Validation: Duane Ludwig’s Last Fight as Head Coach of Team Alpha Male

Friendly Fire: Will Urijah End Up Fighting Teammate TJ Dillashaw?

Urijah Faber Talks His Nickname, Fear, and the Beginning