Cody Garbrandt and T.J. Dillashaw rose from obscurity to UFC champion relatively quickly, but neither man’s success came as a surprise to Urijah Faber.
According to the Team Alpha Male founder, it was quickly apparent that both bantamweights had the potential to be something special upon their respective arrivals at the Sacramento, Calif.-based gym.
“I could definitely tell that Cody had something special. I had the same feeling about T.J. when he was at our gym,” Faber said recently on the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Beatdown” show. “There was just a certain level of intensity and technique. Cody has been one of the most impressive guys I’ve seen in the sport, period. It was very apparent right when he got out there that he was going to be vying for the title very quick. As far as how fast it happened, it really is kind of similar to T.J.
“Not many people knew of T.J. We knew him in the gym. We knew his potential. [He] vied for his opportunity and he gets the opportunity and takes advantage of it. The same thing happened with Cody. But Cody has got a long, long history of being a combat athlete. From a high level wrestler as a kid, to tutelage under his uncle in his boxing. Then making the move out as a young adult to come out to Team Alpha male to bring it all together. He’s a guy who’s done all the right steps and had the right mentality. He’s a gifted athlete and a true world champ.”
Dillashaw claimed bantamweight gold with an upset victory over Renan Barao at UFC 173 in his eighth Octagon appearance in May 2014 and defended the belt twice before relinquishing it against Dominick Cruz in a narrow split-decision loss at UFC Fight Night 81 in January 2016. Garbrandt, meanwhile, bested Cruz in his sixth promotional outing at UFC 207 this past December to earn the division’s top spot.
“No Love” will defend the crown against Dillashaw in a featured bout at UFC 213 on July 8, but in the meantime, their animosity as rival coaches on “The Ultimate Fighter 25” has added intrigue to the long-running reality show. Much of the tension between Garbrandt and Dillashaw stems from the drama that occurred from Dillashaw’s decision to leave Team Alpha Male to train at Elevation Fight Team in Colorado.
“It was something that came together really quick. We all just went out there with like a week’s notice, really. Cody was all over the planet being a world champion and superstar and all of a sudden it was like, ‘Oh I’m coaching The Ultimate Fighter.’ We went out there and it was kind of awkward. It was very interesting and as you can see, there’s no love lost between the groups,” Faber said.
According to Faber, there have been peaks and valleys regarding the drama surrounding Dillashaw’s departure.
“It’s been kinda weird. It went [quiet for a while]. Then there was drama where Duane [Ludwig] was saying stuff about our team, how no one wanted to be a champion except for T.J. That was when T.J. was still on our team,” Faber said. “Then the whole thing happened with Conor [McGregor] where we were on national television and [Dillashaw] gets called a snake. That was before T.J. had left our team. There’s been some highs and lows. I just try to mostly do my thing. I’ve got a lot of things going. It’s like old drama keeps getting brought up and keeps morphing and changing. It looks like it’s gonna be a good dramatic rivalry from here on out. We’ve just got to focus on ourselves and do the best we can to build the best team in the world, which I think we have.”
While Garbrandt and Dillashaw have trained together in the past, Faber doesn’t believe the experience will give one fighter a significant advantage over the other when UFC 213 arrives.
“I think they both know what they’re dealing with,” he said. “As far as who got the better, when they were both in the room I was competing as well. So it wasn’t necessarily like I was sitting around watching these guys do battle. I would say Cody’s one of the hardest hitting guys I’ve seen for the weight division and pound-for-pound in the sport, period. His wrestling is very undercelebrated. I think T.J. is one of the most competitive guys I’ve met. Sometimes it gets him in trouble, but I think it’s gonna favor Cody because the footage we’ve seen and the thing that Cody remembers is him having the advantage. Whether that matters on the day, we’re gonna find out.”
After losing the title to Cruz, Dillashaw has posted back-to-back triumphs over top bantamweight contenders Raphael Assuncao and John Lineker to earn another shot at 135-pound gold. Garbrandt, meanwhile, authored the most complete performance of his career in vanquishing Cruz, who many saw as one of the most difficult riddles to solve in all of mixed martial arts. Overall, Faber is more impressed by the progress Garbrandt has made since he arrived at Team Alpha Male.
“Cody’s really grown as a fighter. He’s become a world champion. He was 1-0 in the gym when he first came in. He made some leaps and bounds,” Faber said. “T.J. looks like he’s done some improvements also. His last fight was against Lineker…T.J was smart he went to the wrestling on that one. It’s hard to say. I wouldn’t say I was real impressed with T.J.’s fight against Assuncao. It was a close fight, and it wasn’t the best I’ve seen T.J. look. I’ve got a lot of confidence in our guy and I’m looking forward to the fight.”