The continuing devolution of TJ Dillashaw‘s relationship with his former teammates at Team Alpha Male is likely to cause problems when he challenges Cody Garbrandt for the bantamweight championship at UFC 217 in November.
The long history between Dillashaw and his current coach, Duane Ludwig, and Team Alpha Male's Garbrandt, Urijah Faber, Justin Buccholz, and others, is jaded at best.
Dillashaw cut his MMA teeth with the Alpha Male crew. When Ludwig came on board as the team's coach, Dillashaw made an instant connection. Under the combined guidance of Ludwig and Alpha Male, Dillashaw captured the UFC bantamweight championship from Renan Barao and defended it twice.
There was a very public falling out when Ludwig left Alpha Male to start his own martial arts training center in his home base of Colorado and Dillashaw soon followed. Things have never been the same. Alpha Male labeled Dillashaw a traitor and only harsh words have been said since.
Although it's been a couple of years since the scenario played out, the harsh feelings have not subsided. After Dillashaw lost the belt to Dominick Cruz, and then Garbrandt took it from him, the flames have only grown hotter.
Dillashaw was slated to challenge Garbrandt over the summer after the two coached opposite each other on The Ultimate Fighter, but that fell apart when Garbrandt's back wouldn't conform with the plan and the champ had to withdraw.
Now, they are rescheduled to meet as part of the blockbuster UFC 217: Bisping vs. St-Pierre fight card on Nov. 4 at Madison Square Garden in New York. Cruz, however, feels that the sordid history between the parties involved will play negatively for Dillashaw as the fight rolls around.
“(Dillashaw) has some fights since I fought him, so you can tell he’s made some changes. He wasn’t looking as aggressive. He’s taking his time more and doing what he needed to. I think that type of mindset is going to be real important for him to get to Cody. He has all the tools,” Cruz said on a recent edition of UFC Unfiltered.
“It’s just the question of how is he going to deal with that whole team, in my opinion, because that whole team plays a very interesting game.”
That is where the crux of the problem lies, as Cruz sees it. Dillashaw has angst with the Alpha Male team, not just one or two fighters. It's not simply Dillashaw and Faber or Dillashaw and Garbrandt hurling insults at each other. It's the majority of Team Alpha Male that is constantly taking shots at Dillashaw, criticizing not only his decision to leave the team, but also his behavior while he was part of the team.
“Justin Buchholz likes to get in guys' heads because he’s an ex-fighter that wanted to fight, but didn’t quite get to do what he wanted to, so he stepped up and is somewhat living vicariously thought the Alpha Male team,” Cruz continued.
“That being said, he still runs his mouth. He’s still trying to chat at you, still trying to jaw. He plays a lot of weird games and I know he’s going to be playing with TJ Dillashaw. They all work together, that team. They are all a bunch of fighters that work together to try to manipulate, especially when it comes down to TJ.
“They all know everything about him. They know that he was a hot head. They knew that he had went through and hurt some of their teammates while they were training because he gets upset.”
That factor could keep Dillashaw from being at his best, despite an improving skillset, when he steps in the cage opposite Garbrandt.
“They just know so much about him that I feel like that’s going to play a little part in the build-up to this fight. That it’s going to mess with TJ a little bit, personally, where he’s not quite 100-percent mentally there just because those were his old friends,” Cruz posited.
“I know that it hurts him that he’s not part of that squad, or it did for a while. Anymore, I’m not sure. I think that head space thing is a real thing for those guys.”