Amid Controversy, TJ Dillashaw Emerges As The True Alpha Male

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Written by @NickRiznerMMA

What does it mean to be an Alpha Male?

You must be a leader. You must have the ability to rely on yourself – and only yourself – in the face of adversity. You must stand as the dominant figure among a group of individuals, blazing a path for yourself and those that follow. By it’s very definition, a group cannot have two alpha males. When a second emerges, he must separate and start a pack of his own. It’s not always easy. But it’s the only way.

There can only be one.

By this token, TJ Dillashaw’s departure from Team Alpha Male was an expected one. After years of coming up short in UFC title fights, one of the TAM members finally broke through. He did what Urijah Faber could not do in two tries. He defeated UFC Bantamweight Champion Renan Barao and brought a UFC belt back to Sacramento.

Not Faber. Not Benavidez. Not Mendez. Dillashaw.

TJ Dillashaw became the king of a people who already had a cemented leader. He became the rightful heir to an occupied throne. There was no room for him to continue his growth and establish himself as top dog in Sacramento, so he did what anyone would do in that situation. He moved on. It was the logical move. But logic has a way of being clouded by emotion.

The concept of loyalty is difficult to grasp. It’s quickly complicated by feuding parties and a division of leadership. Both Urijah Faber and Duane Ludwig have provided TJ with invaluable support. As a team, they created a champion. Not one or the other. Both.

A local kid growing up just outside of Sacramento, TJ was a talented wrestler at both the high school and collegiate levels. It was only a matter of time before he would attract the attention of Mr. Sacramento himself, Urijah Faber, who encouraged him to come by the gym and try his hand at mixed martial arts. Under the tutelage of Team Alpha Male, Dillashaw quickly began racking up wins, eventually earning a spot on season 14 of The Ultimate Fighter.

He performed well on the show, winning all three fights in the house to advance to the TUF 14 Finale against John Dodson. But then, he lost. He was knocked out by Dodson in the opening minutes of the fight, exposing a weakness in his striking that was nothing if not predictable. He was a wrestler turned striker. How could he be expected to hang with the elite boxers of the division? His bread and butter was takedowns and submissions, not angles and combinations.

Enter Duane Ludwig.

Urijah Faber knew that his team needed a head coach; someone who could add a stand-up element to a team of grapplers. In Ludwig, they found a Strikeforce and UFC veteran with a background in kickboxing and muay thai. It seemed a perfect fit, and the results only reinforced this belief.

Suddenly, Dillashaw was a knockout artist. Five of his last six victories have come via knockout or TKO, and the last three were impressive enough to earn ‘Performance of the Night’ bonuses in the process. Duane Ludwig matched Dillashaw’s aggression and unrelenting drive, tapping into the one part of his personality that Faber could never stomach. But still, the credit was equally divided. Both Faber and Ludwig had helped make TJ into a champion. It was a perfect situation; one that, unfortunately, could not last.

A division arose. It’s unclear exactly how long it dates back or how deeply rooted it became, but nevertheless, a breaking point was reached. Ludwig and Faber split in the most epic of breakups, sending Ludwig back to his home state of Colorado, and leaving Team Alpha Male – yet again – without a coach.

The drama got ugly. Faber ranted for over an hour to Ariel Helwani, detailing stories of extortion, racism, and sexism within the gym. Ludwig made a couple podcast appearances as well, delivering pseudo-apologies to Faber for “whatever I may have done,” yet proceeding to run his name through the mud for the entirety of the interview. Conor McGregor – who coaches opposite Faber on the current season of The Ultimate Fighter – threw fuel on the fire by calling Dillashaw a “snake in the grass,” who is gearing up to betray his long time mentor and leave Team Alpha Male for the likes of Duane Ludwig.

All the while, Dillashaw was made to be the villain. The ungrateful student. The traitor.

In reality, he was the victim.

Put in a terrible position through no fault of his own, his loyalty was split in two. He was being forced to choose between the two men that he holds most responsible for his success. He was asked an impossible question with no correct answer. Urijah Faber or Duane Ludwig; who should he follow?

Instead, he chose to lead.

TJ Dillashaw has moved to Colorado and joined a dedicated fight team focused on providing a haven for fighters. Elevation Fight Team emphasizes personal training and development, while removing the distractions of inter-camp politics; the kind associated with the business side of gyms. This was not personal. This was a business decision. But that doesn’t mean feelings weren’t hurt.

On tonight’s episode of The Ultimate Fighter, Dillashaw will make his final public appearance as a member of Team Alpha Male. The event was prerecorded. Editing and “TV Magic” will not tell the entire story. But from the looks of it, things get pretty heated. In his infinite wisdom and eye for hype, Conor McGregor has created a catalyst for the bantamweight fight of the century. Teacher vs. Student. Alpha Male vs. Bang Ludwig. Faber vs. Dillashaw.

The secret behind a legendary fight is it’s relatability. Who, among us, hasn’t felt scorched by a past relationship? Who can honestly say that they’ve never felt betrayed by a friend or held back by a mentor. The intrigue of Faber vs. Dillashaw lies within it’s complexity. It’s hard to agree with either side. Yet it’s hard to discount their reasons, or say with any conviction that we wouldn’t do the same thing in their position.

Dillashaw will continue to train with Duane Ludwig, in addition to Elevation Fight Team. Faber, however, has closed the door on his old friend, claiming that he walked away from his family. In reality, TJ is simply doing what’s best for TJ. And at the end of the day, who can blame him for that?

It’s easy to glance over the details of this story and blame TJ. But when you take a closer look, he’s the only one without blood on his hands. While Duane and Urijah argued with each other, they lost focus on what’s really important here. They created a toxic environment for the fighter that they both claim to care about. Like feuding parents who disregard how their actions will affect their children, Dillashaw was left dangling in the wind, ahead of the most difficult challenge of his career. So he did what Alpha Males do. He took care of the problem himself.

And we should commend him on that.

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