Glory, Revenge, and Validation: Duane Ludwig’s Last Fight as Head Coach of Team Alpha Male

Just as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, so it will be that for every great accomplishment made there will be those whose sole mission it is to degrade and diminish any achievement. They come by many different names—naysayers, trolls, haters, and Debby downers, just to name a few. These dubious characters are as ubiquitous in MMA as they are in all facets of life, but goddamn sometimes it feels like our sport has a high concentration of trolls under the bridge.

Most of us have seen them in the forums. Those obnoxious users using ALL CAPS talking about how Jon Jones is scared of someone or how Georges St-Pierre sucks because he can’t finish a fight. If that’s not your style, maybe you’ve seen them at a bar yelling racist profanity at the television during fights. Trolls come in all shapes and sizes, my friends.

This senseless criticism and sometimes just pure reckless hate should not be confused with actual constructive criticism. To live in a world where everything is always hunky dory is to sit in a dark room with your eyes closed and plug your ear holes with whichever fingers fit best. Criticism is necessary for improvement.

However, while it’s easy to sit here and say tsk-tsk to all the online haters, it’s also very easy to get caught up in the bandwagons of both the positive and the negative.

Take, for example, Team Alpha Male head coach (very soon to be former head coach) Duane “BANG” Ludwig. The 2013 coach of the year had reached a level of fame where he was getting a lot more attention than the fighters he was coaching.

Everywhere you’d look on MMA media sites: Bang, Bang, Bang. It was like Chief Keef had taken over the sport overnight.

When he moved from Denver to Sacramento to be head coach of Team Alpha Male in 2013, the results were instantaneous. The team went on an unbelievable 13-fight win streak in the UFC that lasted almost nine months. It’s not as if Ludwig turned a bunch of scrubs to studs. This was a team that was full of perennial contenders like Urijah Faber, Chad Mendes, and Joseph Benavidez. The raw materials were already there, but the hope was that someone like Ludwig could turn that into a gold belt.

Team Alpha Male was always known for its wrestling pedigree, and the thought was that the guys would finally put it all together with a coach who was a former K-1 kickboxing champion. It turned out to be much more than that. Ludwig also brought a formality and structure that had been lacking in the gym previously. Alpha Male founder, team captain, and front man Urijah Faber noted how before the BANG System, team practices resembled more bros brawling than systematic growth.

So little by little Ludwig implemented his credo. You were to show up on time. You were to act respectfully. You were to drill the same exercises over and over and over again.

Ludwig didn’t want there to be any mistake about it: this was his gym, and he was here to stay.

The times were a-changin’ in Sacramento, but oh boy were those times good. Ludwig had taken a group with natural, raw talent, and sharpened them to be vicious Octagon assassins. It seemed like a perfect fit; like the Alpha Male boys could not lose.

Chad Mendes was knocking people out left and right. Joseph Benavidez was running through people with kicks and punches, and headed right back to title contention. Urijah Faber was doing the same by getting his arms around people’s necks. And there was also this up-and-comer climbing the ranks named T.J. Dillashaw.

Times were good at Team Alpha Male, indeed, but it wouldn’t be all smiles, sunshine, and shakas forever.

When the team needed the wins the most, they couldn’t deliver. Alpha Male could not bring home the gold strap that they’d been trying to win back since Faber’s reign as featherweight kingpin back in the WEC days. Those days were six years ago.

These title fight blues existed long before Duane Ludwig set foot in Sacramento. Faber had his failed attempts against Jose Aldo, Mike Brown, Dominick Cruz, and had already lost once against Renan Barao. Chad Mendes had received a mouthful of knee from Jose Aldo when he traveled to Brazil to fight for the belt. Joseph Benavidez had come so close to being the inaugural flyweight champion, but lost a split decision to Demetrious Johnson.

With all the hype surrounding him, Duane Ludwig was supposed to be the chosen one. He was supposed to be the missing piece that brought back the glory days of the WEC Faber dynasty. They just couldn’t get it done.

Things went stale, and the trolls came out of their caves. They’d call them Team Beta Male. They’d say that all Ludwig did was show them a few drills, and he wasn’t all that he was made out to be.

For however dominant all the other fighters were out of that camp, the missed opportunities to win the title constantly loomed over their heads. It was the few dark clouds in the blue California skies. There was still sun there, but people couldn’t help but notice how the weather was nicer yesterday.

In March it was announced that Duane Ludwig was leaving Team Alpha Male to start his own gym back in his home state of Colorado. It seemed that everyone was parting on good terms, and Ludwig’s intentions were understood from day one, but how could you not be a member of that team and cry out ‘O Captain! My Captain!’

UFC 173 will mark the last hoorah for the BANG System and Alpha Male union. It’s one for the storybooks. In Las Vegas, Duane Ludwig’s star pupil T.J. Dillashaw will go against the man who beat his mentor Urijah Faber twice.

There’s a different feel than Benavidez or Faber fighting in a title, as those two were already very accomplished mixed martial arts fighters. Dillashaw is truly a BANG product, and we’ve seen his outstanding progress since he lost to John Dodson in his UFC debut.

A win against one of the pound-for-pound best not only means glory or revenge, but also validation; silence the trolls, if only for a moment, before they start saying how Barao would kick his ass in the rematch.

A win would also leave a plethora of questions, maybe more than if Dillashaw loses, as he’s a huge underdog. How long could Dillashaw hold on to the belt? How many would leave Alpha Male in favor of following their sensei to Colorado? Would teammates fight each other for the belt?

There will have to be some big decisions made by the good ole boys in Sacramento.

 

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