T.J. Dillashaw will defend his UFC bantamweight title belt Sunday night against former champion Dominick Cruz as part of UFC Fight Night in Boston. But a possible fight against Team Alpha Male leader Urijah Faber looms larger than ever since Dillashaw and Faber had a public falling out last fall.
The Sacramento fighters, and former good friends and training partners, had vowed never to meet in the octagon unless the UFC paid them “hundreds of millions, or a billion dollars,” Faber once joked. But if Dillashaw (13-2) beats Cruz (20-1) on Sunday, a match against Faber (33-8) later this year would be very intriguing – and potentially very lucrative. Think UFC 200-something at the new Golden 1 Center downtown.
Faber took Dillashaw under his Team Alpha Male wing in 2009, less than a year after Dillashaw had graduated from Fullerton State, where he wrestled. In 2013, Faber made former UFC fighter Duane Ludwig the head striking coach at Team Alpha Male, and Ludwig revitalized the team, turning the group that includes title hopefuls Joseph Benavidez and Chad Mendes and Lance Palmer, a former World Series of Fighting featherweight champ, from great wrestlers with average standup prowess to devastating punchers. Less than a year later, Dillashaw became Team Alpha Male’s first UFC champion.
But Ludwig and Faber feuded, and Ludwig returned to Colorado. Last fall, Dillashaw left Team Alpha Male and began training with Ludwig’s Elevation Fight Team.
“I actually got a lot of my (former) teammates coming out here to train with me,” Dillashaw said. “Joseph Benavidez is actually with me right now. Lance Palmer has been coming out. I’m still training with a lot of the guys; it’s just not at Ultimate Fitness. Urijah is the one that put a stop to that. They’ve been coming out to Colorado to train with Duane and to get some training with me, and come out and check it out and realize how good the training is.”
I actually got a lot of my teammates coming out here to train with me. … I’m still training with a lot of the guys; it’s just not at Ultimate Fitness. Urijah (Faber) is the one that put a stop to that.
UFC bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw
Faber said Dillashaw was paid by Elevation Fight Team to leave Team Alpha Male and claims Dillashaw tried to play both sides. And when Faber told Dillashaw he couldn’t, Faber said Dillashaw took it hard.
“That was his dilemma,” Faber said from Boston, where he’ll be sitting near the octagon. “He wanted to be paid, which is a selfish way to look at it. To be at the top, and have four teammates working for title fights alongside you, and then pull that … I’m not happy about any of it.”
Dillashaw trained in both Sacramento and Colorado for his last camp, which led to a dominating win in July over Brazil’s Renan Barao, whose belt he took in May 2014 in one of the biggest upsets in UFC history. Dillashaw said he planned to do the same, but Faber told him he couldn’t train at Ultimate Fitness.
“I feel like I built great relationships with guys out there and some teammates and have done my part to be a good team player,” Dillashaw said by phone from Denver. “My plan was to go back and forth, but that’s not the case anymore. I’m going to have to be full time out here. I got family (in Angels Camp), and (Sacramento) is home, too, so I’ll always be back and forth.
“It’s just a little ridiculous that I’m getting crap for changing camps when it happens all the time, when guys are trying to better themselves and their career by going to a new team or a new coach. It happens every day in this sport, and all of a sudden it’s a big deal. So it’s a little ridiculous, and you’ve just got to kind of laugh it off.”
Faber isn’t laughing.
“T.J. made his decision, and I made mine, bottom line,” Faber said. “T.J. is still crying about it. But, hey man, suck it up.”
Faber is the only fighter to beat the oft-injured Cruz, with a submission in 2007, but Cruz got revenge with a unanimous decision in 2011. Cruz, who has fought just once in the last four years, also has two tough wins over Benavidez.
Dillashaw said he’s using video of those fights to try to gain an edge against Cruz.
“Yeah, it’s definitely helped me prepare, and helping those guys prepare for their fights and knowing what I would have done in those situations,” Dillashaw said. “You definitely take things from everyone’s fight, and Joseph had a very close split-decision fight and just didn’t take him down here and there.”
Cruz said he’s excited to show he’s back in championship form after multiple knee injuries and a groin injury led to the UFC stripping him of the title. One tool Cruz always has used is his mouth, and that hasn’t changed in the lead-up to Sunday’s fight.
“You can shine up a turd, but it still stinks, and that’s T.J. Dillashaw,” Cruz said. “He’s still an Alpha Male guy; he’s still got those guys training with him. He’s still one of them. He’s still a jock. He’s still a meathead. He’s still not that bright, and he still uses a lot of the fundamentals that those guys use. That’s what built him up into this sport, so he’s going to have a lot of those things. He’s still an Alpha Male guy in my eyes. But just because he’s not with them – that’s just Faber cutting him off to try to make money.”
Faber said Cruz has it all wrong again.
“I’d like to punch Cruz in the mouth anytime anywhere, for free,” Faber said. “He’s lucky he’s still being mentioned in this sport.”
Faber, 36, said fighting Dillashaw to help welcome Golden 1 Center would be epic. But there’s one condition.
I don’t want to fight T.J. unless he has the belt. I didn’t want any of this (controversy). I’m still in control of my journey, and I still want to prove that I’m the best ever in this weight class.
Urijah Faber, on a possible fight against T.J. Dillashaw
“I don’t want to fight T.J. unless he has the belt,” Faber said. “I didn’t want any of this (controversy). I’m still in control of my journey, and I still want to prove that I’m the best ever in this weight class.”
If Cruz’s trash talking is getting to Dillashaw, he doesn’t show it. It’s not that Dillashaw doesn’t have strong opinions about Faber and the split with Team Alpha Male, or about Cruz. The shy, humble fighter from Angels Camp always has wanted his abilities on the mat and in the octagon to speak for him.
On Sunday night, either Cruz or Dillashaw will have the last word.
“It’s funny that Dominick always can say that I don’t talk crap because I’m not very smart, when I’m the one that’s got the college degree and went to school,” Dillashaw said in a rare barbed retort. “I’m a martial artist, and I was showing respect. I’m not one of those guys who’s going to do the Conor McGregor thing and talk a bunch of crap to make money. I want to look back on my career and know that I made the right choices, and that I portrayed myself the way I want to be portrayed. I’m not going to look like a jackass while doing it.”
Mark Billingsley, email@example.com
Title on the line
- What: UFC Fight Night
- When: Sunday
- Where: TD Garden, Boston
- Featured bout: Bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw vs. challenger Dominick Cruz
- TV: Prelims, 5 p.m., FS1; main card, 7 p.m., FS1