Most MMA fans, no matter the age, get the opportunity to gaze upon a genuine rivalry between two elite fighters in their lifetime. They square off back and forth, split victories and keep fans hungry.
That’s like winning $15 on a $1 scratcher from the gas station across the street.
Few fight fans ever get the opportunity to be witness to two of the best fight camps in the world—stocked to the brim with elite fighters—showcasing a similar rivalry.
That’s like landing the rich girl, or guy, who's light-years out of your league.
MMA fans can rejoice, though, for you’ve all landed your wealthy partner who’s as capable of picking up the check as getting past all your insecurities and emotional baggage.
That partner can otherwise be referred to as the rivalry that’s brewing between Rio de Janeiro’s Nova Uniao and Sacramento’s Team Alpha Male.
Just in case you’re unaware, read on for a bit of a history lesson.
Nova Uniao’s Aldo, who at the time was riding a nine-fight winning streak, had just captured the WEC featherweight crown in 2009—a title once held by Team Alpha Male’s Faber.
After an unsuccessful attempt at regaining his title against Mike Brown—the man who would dethrone Faber but lose to Aldo—The California Kid got another crack at the belt.
Unable to defend against Aldo’s vicious leg kicks, Faber was forced to exit the cage with bad bruising on his legs and no belt on his waist.
Aldo would go on to take his winning streak even further, capturing eight more victories en route to becoming the first ever UFC featherweight champion and most dominant man to ever step inside any cage at 145 pounds.
Faber wouldn’t be the last Team Alpha Male member to try to knock Aldo off the mountain and end his dominant reign—a then-undefeated Chad Mendes tried his luck against the dominant Brazilian before taking a vicious knee to the face in the first round of their title fight at UFC 142 in 2012.
Mendes was out cold and Aldo would take his championship record to an undefeated 2-0 against the Sacramento-based team.
Two years later, and Aldo still sits on his throne while Mendes has knocked out four out of his last five victims upon earning a second chance at Aldo’s strap. They haven’t been so cordial this time around.
From volleying performance-enhancing drug allegations back and forth at each other to Mendes questioning the champion’s durability as a fighter, it’s evident these two men have thrown respect out the window.
This is huge for me. This is huge for me getting in there and taking that belt from him. I’ve never seen him talk like this about anybody. He’s being very disrespectful. I’ve never been caught red-handed or anything. It’s funny to me that as soon as the whole random drug testing started popping up, the next day he is injured and out of the fight. If anything, I could throw that in his face, but whatever.
After realizing he could no longer compete with the bigger, stronger fighters the 145-pound division had to offer, Faber made his way down to bantamweight.
He would go on to lose his first chance at UFC bantamweight gold when he came out on the bad end of a close, but unanimous, decision to then-champion Dominick Cruz.
Faber’s next chance at the title came against a rising, dominant bantamweight star in Nova Uniao’s Renan Barao.
Barao was riding a 28-fight winning streak and Faber was fresh off a dominant submission victory against Brian Bowles.
Faber’s fight against Barao went much like his last fight against a Nova Uniao fighter—he was left battered. A broken rib suffered early on inside the Octagon would prevent Faber from seeing his hand raised and leaving with UFC gold.
Three submissions in four wins in 2013 would place Faber back inside the cage against Barao, who was now seeking to defend his bantamweight belt for the third time.
The sequel would be nothing like the original—but that didn’t mean it would end well for Faber this time, either. Barao dominated Faber on the feet, stunning him and knocking him down twice before a premature stoppage from referee Herb Dean at UFC 169. He was 0-3 in title fights against Nova Uniao.
With seemingly nobody left to challenge Barao’s 32-fight winning streak, the UFC green-lit a bout between Barao and TJ Dillashaw—the latest Team Alpha Male member to get an opportunity at UFC glory.
With just one fight—a loss, at that—against a ranked bantamweight opponent, many (including this author) believed Dillashaw was merely the next body for Barao to dispose of.
He was supposed to be No. 33.
He was inexperienced. He was unproven. He was vulnerable.
It didn’t matter.
It took one round and a jaw-dropping knockdown to silence all the critics—Dillashaw, at the very least, belonged inside the cage with the champion. It took four-and-a-half rounds of complete and utter domination to prove he was the better fighter and the rightful heir to the bantamweight throne.
Team Alpha Male finally had a UFC champion to call its own.
Once an invincible, dominant, pound-for-pound beast, Barao now stands where Dillashaw once did—an undeserving title contender. Really, it wasn’t even close enough to give the greatest of champions an immediate rematch.
So, here we stand.
Bloody Elbow indicates Barao was the latest to take part in a Duane Ludwig striking seminar, and Mendes is finally under Aldo’s skin. If all that history isn’t enough to validate this rivalry, you might want to dust off your dictionary.
Kristian Ibarra is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. He also serves as the sports editor at San Diego State University's student-run newspaper, The Daily Aztec. Follow him on Twitter at @Kristian_Ibarra for all things MMA.