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T.J. Dillashaw 'surprised' by the words of 'shallow' Urijah Faber

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Next week's bantamweight title fight is a gem and a battle between perhaps two of the best pound-for-pound fighters on the planet. But there is also a rather large elephant in the room.

T.J. Dillashaw will defend his belt against Dominick Cruz, the former champion, in the main event of UFC Fight Night 81 on Jan. 17 in Boston. Cruz has gone on the offensive leading up to the bout, questioning Dillashaw's intelligence and lobbing insults at him every step of the way. Dillashaw, for the most part, has taken the high road, but he has been receiving it from all angles.

As good as this fight is on the surface, there is also an interesting backstory. This is the first training camp Dillashaw has done away from Team Alpha Male, the group that brought him up in the MMA world. Cruz has a long-standing feud with the team and Dillashaw and Alpha Male patriarch Urijah Faber are on the outs. It stands to reason that Faber will get the next title shot against the winner.

After a win over Frankie Saenz last month at UFC 194, Faber said he has been "released" from his friendship with Dillashaw and he "can't relate" to his former protégé. Faber has also made vague references to Dillashaw injuring training partners at the Sacramento gym.

Dillashaw, 29, has been disappointed with Faber's words. But he thinks he knows the reason why he's doing it.

"With me and Faber, that surprised me the way he's been acting as well," Dillashaw said on a media conference call Friday. "Because I'm cool with all the guys and really that's just a way for him to push for a title fight. For him to make some money. I've done nothing but show respect. I don't go out there and talk crap about Urijah and there's plenty to talk about. I'm just gonna continue to be a humble guy and appreciate what he did for me in this sport."

The rift started in 2014 when Team Alpha Male coach Duane Ludwig and Faber had a falling out. Ludwig left to start his own gym in Colorado. In October, Dillashaw said he'd be leaving Team Alpha Male for Elevation Fight Team in Denver. Ludwig is not an official coach there, but his gym is in close proximity and Dillashaw wanted to spend as much time as he could with him. Dillashaw credits Ludwig with a lot of his striking improvement.

"It's just a little ridiculous that I'm getting crap for changing camps when it happens all the time," Dillashaw said. "When guys are trying to better themselves or their career, they go to a new team or a new coach. It happens every day in this sport. What's the big deal? It's a little ridiculous and you just have to laugh it off, you know?"

Dillashaw (12-2) said that he remains friends with just about everyone at Team Alpha Male except for Faber. Joseph Benavidez and Lance Palmer, two longtime TAM members, are actually at Elevation helping Dillashaw prepare for his fight with Cruz.

"It just kind of tells the truth of what's really going on," Dillashaw said. "Just how shallow Urijah is acting with what's going on."

If Dillashaw beats Cruz, which is no easy task, his old friend, the guy who recruited him to Team Alpha Male and gave him his MMA star could be soon standing across from him in the Octagon. That's not something Dillashaw wanted in the past, but it seems like it could be a reality before long.

In the champion's mind, he feels like he knows how this came about.

"I think Faber is just pushing for a title fight," Dillashaw said. "I know everything is cool."