After being acknowledged in many places, including the World MMA Awards, as the 2013 Coach of the Year for his work with Team Alpha Male, and then leading T.J. Dillashaw to one of the two biggest title match upsets in UFC history this past Saturday, it's hard for outsiders to understand Duane "Bang" Ludwig and the team splitting up. Especially now.
But Ludwig, who is planning on moving from Sacramento, Calif., back to Arvada, Co., on June 12th, to open up his own gym, noted on the MMA Hour this week, with Dillashaw's training in the books, that he's now jobless. It's not a complete split, as he is expecting to work with Chad Mendes before his Aug. 2 featherweight title challenge to Jose Aldo Jr., and has said that he'd continue to work with Dillashaw and other Team Alpha Male members going forward.
And even though he and Urijah Faber, who heads the team, had issues, he noted he was leaving to open his own gym where he and his family consider home either way. He also said it would be a good place for Team Alpha Male to spend some time at preparing for fights.
"I'm not really leaving Team Alpha Male," said Ludwig. "I'm opening up a business in Colorado. It'll be a good place for the guys to do high elevation training, and I'll still go to Sacramento and help in the camps and corner. Faber and I will have a better relationship if I have my own business and he has his business here (in Sacramento) if we work together."
To that point, Ludwig expects involvement in the upcoming Mendes camp.
"Chad Mendes and I talked a little bit, so I'm going to figure something out with him to figure out what we're going to do at that point," said Ludwig. "I'm not saying he needs me, but his chances of winning the title are better with me than without me. I know that, he knows that and we all know that."
Dillashaw won the UFC bantamweight title on Saturday, where as an eight-to-one or longer underdog. Dillashaw dominated the entire fight, finishing champion Renan Barao in the fifth round. The win ended one of the most impressive winning streaks in the history of the sport, one that lasted more than nine years. Ludwig, who considered Dillashaw his prized pupil, said he was more nervous before the title win over Renan Barao than before any of his own fights, and considered the win the biggest thing in his own career.
"100 percent yes," he said, about it being his career highlight. "It's better to give than receive. I gave T.J. all the knowledge I had. I feel better helping people than being selfish. I feel much better to give than receive, and I'm much happier as a coach than I ever was as a fighter. To see him succeed and win that belt, that's something special."
But no matter how it's put, Saturday was his last fight as head coach of Team Alpha Male, where the improvements, particularly in striking, with the top four fighters have all led to title shots. Joseph Benavidez and Faber fell short, losing via ref stoppage early against champions Demetrious Johnson and Barao respectively, which, if anything, made the win by Dillashaw even more emotional.
"Being the leader and a role model (for the fighters), you're not supposed to have favorites, but I do," said Ludwig. "T.J. is special to me. I don't know. It was just meant to be. Obviously the thing lined up perfectly for this bout and the chain of events leading to this. I don't know if this was predetermined, or if we made this happen ourselves. He's like a brother to me. I love this little dude."
"You hear coaches and people say how you've never seen anyone evolve so fast, or that this guy is a sponge," said Ludwig. "In this particular case with T.J., it's 100 percent true. No B.S. He evolved faster than anyone. That's what happens when you have a dedicated world-class athlete with the work ethic of a wrestler, and the information and the connection that we have."
But his most interesting remarks involved a fight Dillashaw said on Saturday night after his title win that he'd never do--against Faber. Dillashaw has since softened his stance, saying that he'll do what his bosses want if the right money offer comes in.
"I think Raphael Assuncao (who beat Dillashaw via split decision on Oct. 9) probably makes sense," Ludwig said about Dillashaw's next opponent. "I wouldn't mind seeing Barao and Faber fight. Faber's going to fight Bruce Leroy (Alex Caceres, on the July 5 UFC 175 show in Las Vegas). I'm pretty sure he'll beat Bruce Leroy. I think he'll beat him. Then, after a few months, I'd like to see Faber vs. Barao and the winner will fight the T.J. vs. Assuncao winner, which will be T.J.
"As far as Faber vs. T.J. fighting, in that aspect, it's a business. They fight once or twice a week in the gym. They might as well be paid for it, that's the reality of it. I'll corner T.J. 100 percent. No way I'll ever corner against T.J."
Ludwig talked about how Faber recruited Dillashaw and Chad Mendes, and since Faber is in his mind one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, that fighting at teammate at some point was going to be inevitable. Ludwig is direct in his thoughts on what happens after watching the two go at it regularly in the gym.
"T.J. beats up everybody," he said.
Ludwig said that he was leaving no matter what, saying he's spent the last seven years studying what it takes to run a successful martial arts gym. He said he was looking at running an academy for families to train more than starting a fight team. He said that he had been working for people since the age of 15, and felt it was time to stop being an employee and becoming an owner, and said that Colorado was home to him and his family.
"We (he and Faber) had a couple of small issues, some miscommunication apparently," he said. "I'm not leaving because of it. It definitely makes it easier because of the issues."
"It's something I wanted to do since i was a child," he said. "As a child, my goals were to be a martial artist, be a world champion (he held kickboxing titles) and have my own academy in Colorado.