Though it may not have attracted the mainstream attention of a Nate Diaz vs. Conor McGregor nor stewed as long as Daniel Cormier vs. Jon Jones, the two bantamweights have a legitimate hatred for one another like few others. It's a beef that has built for years and, at times, become deeply personal.
But how did it get to this point? Why, exactly, do these two hate one another so much?
With their epic rematch just a few days away, it's worth taking a look back over the years to reflect on the moments that brought things to this point.
December 18, 2012: Duane Ludwig Announced as Head Coach of Team Alpha Male
UFC welterweight Duane "Bang" Ludwig was never truly an elite fighter, but when he took over Team Alpha Male, he established himself was one of the best coaches in the world.
Though the gym had long possessed a stable of solid contenders, it went on a stunning 17-fight undefeated run with him at the helm, defined by a noticeable uptick in the power-striking skills of traditionally grappling-focused fighters like Chad Mendes and Joseph Benavidez. With time, Ludwig retired from competing in MMA and turned all of his attention to coaching.
February 1, 2014: Urijah Faber Falls to Renan Barao...Again
Though Team Alpha Male had a stable of top contenders, that was because it couldn't quite build a stable of champions. Benavidez was twice defeated by Demetrious Johnson. The same went for Mendes, who lost against Jose Aldo.
TAM founder and owner Urijah Faber fared no better in that regard.
Following a four-fight winning streak, Faber challenged bantamweight champion Renan Barao for the UFC title. Though they had faced off once before at UFC 149 with Faber falling by lopsided decision, his night was much shorter at UFC 169, as Barao once again came out on top, this time by a first-round knockout.
Interestingly, during the post-fight interview, Faber called for Dillashaw to receive the next shot at Barao.
March 19, 2014: News of Ludwig-Alpha Male Schism Breaks
Despite enjoying huge success in 2013, news of a breakup between Ludwig and Team Alpha Male came in the first quarter of 2014, and it was immediately obvious that this breakup was not amicable.
According to Ludwig, the news came just hours after he had sat down and told Faber of his plans to return home to Colorado later that year.
The quick announcement of his impending departure, coupled with the fact that he was still working with multiple fighters who were prepping for bouts, left a sour taste in Ludwig's mouth. He made that clear the next day by telling MMA Junkie that "it wasn't f--king supposed to be like this." Faber remained quiet on the news for some time but eventually told The MMA Hour (via MMAFighting) that Ludwig "was a little difficult to deal with here and there" and that his departure was "a breath of fresh air."
It's easy to infer that the two had lingering issues, though reasons for why remain unclear to this day. Either way, the divorce was set to be finalized on May 25, 2014: the day after Dillashaw faced Faber's old foe, Renan Barao, for the bantamweight title.
May 24, 2014: TJ Dillashaw defeats Renan Barao
Long a gym of bridesmaids, Team Alpha Male finally brought home the gold on May 24, 2014, when Dillashaw defeated Barao to become UFC bantamweight champion. Entering on short notice as a massive underdog, Dillashaw didn't just pull off one of the bigger upsets in UFC history; he posted one of the all-around most dominant victories ever seen in the Octagon.
In a vacuum, it was a perfect moment, as one of the most storied camps in MMA history finally achieved its goal of winning the big one. It was obvious to fans and pundits, however, that things were not trending in a positive direction.
July 10, 2014: Dillashaw Discusses Continued Partnership with Ludwig
Though Ludwig and Team Alpha Male officially split following his first bout with Barao, nothing was stopping Dillashaw from working with Ludwig on his own. Shortly after news broke that Dillashaw was booked for a rematch with Barao, he announced to MMAFighting his intention to keep Ludwig as his own private coach.
When pressed on whether that came from a rift between himself and his gym, Dillashaw insisted that wasn't the case, talking up new Alpha Male head coach Martin Kampmann while saying that Faber was his "best friend." And indeed, discussing how great his relationship was with the team and how inconceivable a fracture was between himself and Faber became a running theme for every interview with Dillashaw for the next year.
January 3, 2015: Cody Garbrandt Debuts in UFC
Though it largely went unnoticed at the time, Cody Garbrandt made a spectacular debut at UFC 182. Despite having just two years of pro experience and a humble 4-0 record, Garbrandt knocked out a solid Marcus Brimage at UFC 182.
Whether UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby liked what he saw that night or already had Garbrandt pegged as a fighter worth building up is unknown. Regardless, this marked the beginning of a massive push for Garbrandt.
May 23, 2015: Dillashaw Leaves MMA Inc.
When the UFC's apparel deal with Reebok went into effect, the hardest hit by it were high-end contenders and low-drawing champions. Nearly everyone at Team Alpha Male fit that bill, and when the gym's resident talent agency, MMA Inc., provided no succor, a number of the camp's most recognizable names looked elsewhere.
Dillashaw was one of the first to go, and while some (most notably Benavidez, a fellow MMA Inc. defector) waved off questions as to whether this indicated a schism in Team Alpha Male, it was obvious to onlookers that things were trending in that direction.
July 2015: "Snake in the Grass"
Though The Ultimate Fighter season 22 wasn't going to end with a bout between Faber and rival coach Conor McGregor, the season still had more than a few tense moments. Foremost among them was the near-brawl that broke out when McGregor began questioning Dillashaw's status with Team Alpha Male.
Ahead of a photo shoot that would include Faber, Dillashaw and Garbrandt (who was working as an assistant coach to Faber), McGregor accused Dillashaw of betraying Faber by partnering with Ludwig to capture the title that had eluded him. Faber dismissed McGregor, but Garbrandt retaliated by shoving McGregor. The situation fizzled shortly thereafter, but it wouldn't take long before McGregor was proved right.
October 6, 2015: Dillashaw Leaves Team Alpha Male
After months of circling the drain, the Dillashaw-Team Alpha Male relationship was finally flushed in October 2015, with Dillashaw leaving California to join Team Elevation in Colorado. Dillashaw, for his part, was as diplomatic as possible, saying to MMAFighting, "the last six years at Team Alpha Male have been irreplaceable, and my brothers there will forever be family to me."
Faber, though, was not so cordial, as he allegedly banned Dillashaw from the premesis.
Different fighters from Alpha Male ultimately took different stances on Dillashaw, though Garbrandt was behind Faber and quick to plant the seeds of a fight with the then-champion. "It's like Faber said you walked away from your family. If you're not with us, you're against us," he said to Fox Sports. "That's kind of how it has to be. I'm looking forward to a fight with him"
January 17, 2016: Dillashaw Drops UFC Title to Dominick Cruz
Now working extensively with Ludwig and with the divorce-related drama behind him, Dillashaw seemed poised for a long run with the UFC bantamweight title. Alas, that didn't come to pass, as he dropped the belt in his next fight, opposite Dominick Cruz.
Cruz had a long history with Team Alpha Male himself. Essentially standing as the gym's archenemy, he established himself as a pound-for-pound elite at the direct expense of Faber, his pupils and other Team Alpha Male-adjacent fighters. Though a win over Cruz would have sent a powerful message to his former friends, Dillashaw came up a hair short, losing via split decision.
June 4, 2016: Faber Heads Towards Retirement
Whether it was Cruz or Dillashaw holding the title, Faber was perfectly positioned for a title fight the following summer. Similarly, whether it was Cruz or Dillashaw holding the title, Faber was going to enter the contest as a massive underdog.
Despite standing as one of the most enduring fighters of his era, Faber was working on borrowed time. At 37 years old, the California Kid had become the California Middle-Aged Man and had clearly lost a step to Father Time. Worse, he demonstrated no new wrinkles to his game as the years progressed despite a rising tide of talent in his division.
Even as he was winning fights, his days felt numbered...a fact that wasn't lost on Faber. At UFC 199, he was soundly defeated by Cruz, and when he failed to rebound off up-and-comer Jimmie Rivera, Faber decided that his days of competing in MMA were coming to an end. He fought just once more, defeating Brad Pickett in December 2016, and then retired.
December 30, 2016: Garbrandt Becomes UFC Bantamweight Champion
With Dillashaw gone, Faber retired and Mendes suspended, Garbrandt was the toast of Team Alpha Male despite still being in the early stages of his career. It didn't take him long, however, to earn his place as the top dog.
Less than two years after his UFC debut, Garbrandt took home UFC gold by beating Cruz, completing one of the fastest rises to the top in promotional history. It was a massive win for everyone involved, as Garbrandt won the title, Faber finally got one over on his old rival, and Team Alpha Male reasserted itself a world-class camp, with or without Ludwig.
Still, that last ghost wasn't exorcised by defeating Cruz. With Dillashaw at the front of the contender line, Garbrandt had the chance to work out his frustrations with his former teammate and settle things once and for all.
January 6, 2017: The War of Words Begins with Alleged Sparring Knockout Video
Garbrandt vs. Dillashaw was made official shortly after Garbrandt's win, and with that, the two immediately started bickering over social media. The first topic up for debate? Who got the better of their sparring sessions.
Dillashaw opened by claiming to MMAFighting (via Bloody Elbow) that he made Garbrandt cry, while Garbrandt fired back that he once knocked out Dillashaw during a sparring session. If that sounds silly...well, it is. Knockouts during sparring are incredibly common, and there isn't much that can be extrapolated from them short of an extreme difference in ability.
Still, the topic of the sparring knockout lingered for months, and the video achieved almost mythical status as a result. It wasn't until November that the footage was produced, however, and the clip was so short that nothing could be gathered from it.
January 15, 2017: Garbrandt vs. Dillashaw Attached to The Ultimate Fighter
If the UFC has an interesting bout on its hands, it's probably going to make it the centerpiece of the next season of The Ultimate Fighter. That trend didn't change with Garbrandt vs. Dillashaw as the rivals were booked to coach season 25.
Anyone who has ever watched TUF can guess how that worked out. For 12 weeks, the two got in each others' face and promised to do bad things to the other come fight night.
No major revelations came from TUF25, but the show highlighted how real their beef is.
May 23, 2017: Garbrandt vs. Dillashaw Delayed Due to Injury
Initially booked for UFC 213, Garbrandt vs. Dillashaw was delayed due to a back injury sustained by Garbrandt. Though UFC President Dana White attempted to change direction by booking Dillashaw to face flyweight champion Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson, the bout never materialized. Instead, Garbrandt vs. Dillashaw was moved back three months to UFC 217.
September 7, 2017: Faber, Garbrandt Make Huge Allegations Against Dillashaw
For the most part, the verbal back-and-forth between Garbrandt and Dillashaw was standard fare over who is a "b---h" and how the other person isn't mentally tough enough to win. That changed in September, however, when Faber and Garbrandt went on The Joe Rogan Experience (h/t MMAFighting) and blamed Dillashaw for the injury woes of Chris Holdsworth.
In 2013, Holdsworth achieved blue-chip-prospect status by making a dominant run through The Ultimate Fighter season 18, defeating all four of his opponents by submission. He followed that up with a strong win over veteran Chico Camus in 2014 but hasn't been seen in the cage since. According to the pair, that absence stems from Dillashaw cheap-shotting Holdsworth in practice, a move that gave him a concussion that he never recovered from.
Garbrandt had previously mentioned Dillashaw being the cause of Holdsworth's absence over social media, though Holdsworth initially denied this. A month later, however, he reversed course and said on The MMA Hour that Dillashaw was the reason he had been shelved for three years.
This should be taken with a grain of salt, of course. It would make no sense for the camp to feel so betrayed by Dillashaw's departure if he was so problematic.
Still, this is an ugly allegation that will linger for the foreseeable future.
November 4, 2017: The First Fight Finally Happens
Garbrandt and Dillashaw finally faced off at UFC 217. Though the build was incredibly long, the fight itself wound up being short.
A back-and-forth first round was capped with Garbrandt cracking Dillashaw with a right hand in the final 10 seconds and nearly finishing him then and there. Though it was easy to wonder if Dillashaw may have been out on the stool, he roared back and landed a massive head kick that swung the fight in his favor and led to a stoppage at 2:41 of the second round.
April 4, 2018: The Rematch is Booked
The UFC was all about making superfights in late 2017, and one of the most popular possibilities among hardcore fans was a bout between the newly re-minted bantamweight champion Dillashaw and the long-reigning flyweight champion Johnson. Both men indicated that they were interested but, alas, the fight didn't come together.
From there, it became clear that the UFC's plans were for a Dillashaw vs. Garbrandt rematch, as the promotion tried to book it for UFC 222. Ultimately, the bout was scheduled for UFC 227.
To this point, the build towards the fight has been relatively quiet. Still, the contest promises high-level MMA action in a way few other contests do.