SAN JOSE, Calif. – For a fight team that never really had a real head coach, Team Alpha Male had plenty of success. But with the new addition of a team leader, surging bantamweight contender T.J. Dillashaw said his camp is operating at a new level.
Dillashaw (7-1 MMA, 3-1 UFC), currently ranked No. 14 in the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie.com MMA bantamweight rankings, searches for his fourth consecutive UFC win when he meets Hugo Viana (7-0 MMA, 2-0 UFC) on Saturday. Their UFC on FOX 7 preliminary-card bout kicks off the night’s FX broadcast, which precedes the network-televised main card.
For Dillashaw, it’s a chance to continue a steady climb up the ranks since his runner-up finish on “The Ultimate Fighter 14.” It’s also a chance to prove how his camp, the California-based Team Alpha Male, has improved under new head coach and former big-show vet Duane “Bang” Ludwig.
“We never really had a coach,” Dillashaw told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). “We had a fighter that we trained with. It was me, Urijah (Faber), Chad (Mendes) and all of us coaching each other, fighters coaching fighters.
“Now we have someone, and that’s strictly his job. He goes home and watches tape on our opponents, and has practice planned out and what we’re going to do. He’s brought a lot of energy to the team, and he has a lot of energy himself. He’s a crazy man.”
Dillashaw’s teammates have shared similar sentiments in recent weeks as Faber and Danny Castillo have picked up wins. Additionally, Mendes and Joseph Benavidez will be in action with Dillashaw at Saturday’s event. Although they were disciplined on their own, Dillashaw said Ludwig’s presence and fixed schedules have them preparing much more efficiently.
Now, with his refocused team and parallel fight camps with his teammates, Dillashaw knows the odds are in his favor. Eager to break into the upper echelon of the division, he thinks a win over the underrated and undefeated Viana could get him there.
“I’m looking to move up,” he said. “I’m looking to fight tough guys. Put me (in the rankings) where you feel like I deserve to be, but I’m looking to climb the ladder.”
Dillashaw took the Viana bout on less than a month’s notice as a replacement for injured Francisco Rivera, but he said it was an easy decision. Despite the shortened camp, he had heard in late 2013 that he may be paired up with Viana at some point, so he had already begun scouting the Brazilian, a semifinalist on “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil.” The matchup didn’t materialize this past year, but when it was offered this past month, he jumped at the opportunity.
“I was right back to the gym,” he said. “I had been studying Viana for a long time anyway. And as many chances as I can get into the cage this year, I want them.”
Dillashaw recently has defeated the likes of Walel Watson, Vaughan Lee and Issei Tamura. They’re middle-of-the-pack fighters in the UFC’s increasingly competitive 135-pound division, but wins are wins. And if he gets by Viana, that’ll be four in a row since an upset loss to John Dodson at the TUF 14 Finale.
He initially dwelled a bit on that loss, but Dillashaw said he eventually realized he needed to leave it in the past.
“I had top put it away pretty fast,” he said. “After that fight happened, I wanted to fight again instantly. I wanted to get it behind me as soon as possible. It’s always going to be there. It’s my only loss on my record. I felt like I could have won that fight. … But what are you going to do? You need to forget about it and move on.
“Hugo is a very tough opponent and undefeated, so that’s definitely a step in the right direction with the goal to move on and move up the rankings.”
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