The Sacramento based Team Alpha Male has strung together one of the most spectacular years for a single camp in MMA history. The introduction of Duane ‘BANG’ Ludwig has turned a group of highly talented fighters into an elite team of trained killers, now capable of pairing their outstanding cardio and flare for dramatics with improved punching power, footwork, and technique. After a year full of hard work and corresponding victories, four of Sactown’s finest took center stage on Saturday night for one final showcase of what it means to be an Alpha Male.
In a night filled with fairly one-sided decisions, Castillo vs. Barboza stood out as a clear candidate, and eventual winner, of ‘Fight of the Night’ honors at UFC on FOX 9. However, the lack of nominees should in no way take away the worthiness of the post-fight bonus, as both men threw caution to the wind and went to war for three rounds in Sacramento. Danny Castillo paid no attention to Barboza’s 12-1 record or his 2012 ‘Knockout of the Year’ against Terry Etim, as he started the fight off with a barrage of strikes and a deep rear naked choke attempt which both ignited the crowd and stunned the Barboza supporters who likely expected the exact opposite. In fact, Barboza was so nearly finished and the round so heavily lopsided, that I scored it 10-8 in favor of Castillo. Miraculously, Edson survived the onslaught and came back to win the next two rounds, even dropping Castillo with a hard hook in the 2nd. This left me and one judge to rule the bout a 28-28 draw, however two out of the three judges saw the first round to be a 10-9, giving Edson Barboza a 29-28 majority decision win. No matter how you scored the fight, one thing is for sure. The first of the four Team Alpha Male members to enter the Octagon on Saturday night put on one heck of a show.
I think everyone expected a highlight reel knockout in this one, so when no such finish came, it was a bit of a letdown. What was a dominant performance by Mendes was suddenly clouded by a combination of the reputation Chad had built for himself over his last four fights and the hype of an eight-to-one underdog talking trash and provoking uncharacteristic annoyance from the 16-1 #1 contender. As Joe Rogan pointed out throughout the bout, Mendes is not the type of fighter who resorts to taking a guy down and laying on him for three rounds. Whether standing or on the ground, Chad usually looks for the finish. It was revealed after the fight that Mendes has been battling a sinus infection which no doubt affected his performance, but regardless, a win is a win, and a title shot against the victor of Jose Aldo vs. Roberto Lamas is just about the only fight that makes sense for Mendes now.
As popular and well-liked as Urijah is, he still doesn’t get all the credit he deserves for his total impact on the world of MMA. As a fighter, I consider him one of the all-time greats. This doesn’t mean he’s immune to criticism, however. The statement heard over and over again in reference to Urijah Faber is the fact that a UFC belt has eluded him throughout his career. This stat is misleading, as being the WEC Featherweight Champion is essentially the equivalent of being the UFC Featherweight Champion, given that the UFC had not added the featherweight or bantamweight divisions until the WEC merger on December 16, 2010. While it’s true that Urijah is 0-2 in UFC title fights and has lost five consecutive title fights between the UFC and WEC, he is yet to lose a nontitle fight over the course of his career and has climbed the ranks to top dog once again with his fourth win of the year on Saturday, this time defeating fellow Californian, Michael McDonald.
For those of you who saw McDonald’s last fight against Brad Pickett, it should be abundantly clear how dangerous the 22 year old is. In all likelihood, we will see a belt around his waist one day, and I believe he has the talent and skillset to defeat any 135 pounder in the world. By not only submitting McDonald, but also by doing it after beating him up on the feet, Urijah has cemented his position as #1 contender and will likely face Renan Barao for the 2nd time or Dominick Cruz for the 3rd, depending on who wins at UFC 169. Urijah Faber is the founder of Team Alpha Male, the man who brought in head trainer Duane Ludwig, and the single most popular active athlete in Sacramento. His accomplishments extend far, both inside and outside the cage, and he is a shining example of what fighters should strive to become once they enter the realm of stardom.
The stage was set for a perfect cap to an unbelievable year as Joseph Benavidez was set to battle Demetrious Johnson for a chance to take away the UFC flyweight title from the only champion the division has ever known. Benavidez has looked unstoppable since his initial loss to Mighty Mouse, going 3-0 in 2013 and defeating each of his opponents in increasingly shorter fashion. After coming up on the losing end of a razor close split-decision, Benavidez defeated Ian McCall by unanimous decision, finished Darren Uyenoyama via 2nd round TKO, and made quick work of Jussier Formiga by dropping him in the 1st round with a kick to the body and a flurry of punches. Now it was time to show the world that no one’s better at 125 lbs. Urijah had done his job and awoken the crowd once again. The cheers rang loud for the Alpha Male flyweight and the ‘boo’s rained down on a typically well-liked champion as he did his cartoon superhero routine like it was just another day at the office.
The two were motioned to the center of the cage, they touched gloves, and the place exploded. Every little jab from Benavidez, whether landed cleanly or not, provoked waves of cheering from the Sacramento faithful as the prospect of Bruce Buffer yelling ‘and the NEW’ was so close, they could taste it. And suddenly, almost before the fight even began, it was over. Mighty Mouse cracked Benavidez on the chin with a vicious hook, causing the 19-3 top contender to collapse on the mat and eat four more shots before the referee could interfere and stop the action. The result, although explosive, carried with it some disappointment as the poetic-ending-that-never-was was too obvious to be ignored. Nevertheless, a loss to one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world should in no way tarnish the individual year of Joseph Benavidez or the collective year of Team Alpha Male. With a handful of upcoming title shots on the horizon, the future is bright in Sacramento. Consider this my official vote for Duane Ludwig as 2013 ‘Coach of the Year,’ and frontrunner for 2014. Congratulations to the entire Alpha Male team on an incredible year. Well-deserved.