It's amazing what good leadership can mean to an MMA team.
Coaches like Greg Jackson or Matt Hume are routinely praised for the work they put into a fighter during a training camp, and then turning that into a strategy for fight night. It's almost a certainty that every time a competitor has a good performance in the cage, the first person they thank is their coach or trainer who helped them get there.
For the last few years, Team Alpha Male based out of Sacramento has been regarded as the gold standard for training camps when examining the lighter weight divisions from 155 pounds down to 125 pounds.
Fighters like Urijah Faber, Joseph Benavidez and Chad Mendes were constantly at the top of the rankings or receiving title shots, and they did all of this without the benefit of a captain steering the ship.
Team Alpha Male operated for years with the fighters essentially working out and coaching themselves, and while they had specialized trainers come in to teach them Muay Thai or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, there was no leader to formulize a game plan or put together the necessary elements for a perfect training camp.
That was until lately, when Faber took it upon himself as the team leader to make a call to former UFC fighter Duane "Bang" Ludwig, who had recently taken a step back from his own career and started teaching more often in his downtime.
It didn't take long for Faber to get Ludwig on board, so he flew to Sacramento to begin work with the team. Months have passed and Ludwig's results are astronomical.
The team under Ludwig has gone 13-0 thus far in the UFC with nine of those victories coming by way of knockout, TKO or submission. The fighters training under Ludwig could not be happier with the results thus far.
"Being able to do all the drills and all the control and kind of slow things down with Duane Ludwig, and just really drill everything and really just embed it in my mind is probably one of the biggest keys with that control lately," UFC featherweight contender Chad Mendes said recently about his work with Ludwig. "I'm definitely very grateful to have Duane in our camp and he's been doing great things for us."
Just three months prior to Ludwig's arrival in Sacramento, Benavidez was battling for the UFC flyweight belt against Demetrious Johnson in what ended up being a very close bout. Johnson ended up getting the nod, however, and Benavidez was forced to go back to the drawing board to hopefully find the right combination to eventually take the gold belt home.
Now after training with Ludwig for almost an entire year, Benavidez is confident that he will be the piece of the puzzle that brings more than just one title home for Team Alpha Male.
"We were always good fighters and a good team, no matter what we did, but we pretty much did that without a coach and without structure," Benavidez said. "We had great teammates to train with everyday, but we got that close, split decisions away from a world title when we really didn't have all the other luxuries that other fighters have, which is just a coach. People take all that for granted. Just having somebody to watch video, watch your opponent, we've never had that before. If we were that close and we were getting better with him this might be the year we add some gold.
"He's 100 percent the missing link at Team Alpha Male."
The results have shown thus far with the top fighters from Team Alpha Male in the UFC, but Ludwig has also improved the entire team. Top featherweight prospect Lance Palmer recently added the RFA 145-pound title to the team's stable of championships, while former UFC fighter Justin Buchholz has gone 2-0 with two knockouts while winning the Showdown Fights lightweight title.
Next up for Team Alpha Male in the UFC will be bantamweight T.J. Dillashaw, who hopes to move the team's record to 14-0 under Ludwig when he faces Raphael Assuncao at UFC Fight Night 29 in Brazil.
Both Benavidez and Mendes are coming off recent knockout victories, and may be in title contention in the next few months as well.
It's safe to say at this point already, after less than a year, that hiring Ludwig may be the best move Team Alpha Male has ever made.
Damon Martin is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and all quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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