One of the best storylines from last week’s UFC on Fox 7 were the three competitors from Team Alpha Male cleaning house in their respective fights.

Former title challengers Joseph Benavidez and Chad Mendes continued to roll forward in impressive fashion since their failed bids and T.J. Dillashaw notched another finish of his own to again raise eyes to his talent and potential to clash with the division’s top 10. Throw in perennial top bantamweight and Team Alpha Male patriarch Urijah Faber, who took his second win (a finish a week prior at The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale) since his own failed bid for an interim title, and we’ve got ourselves the MMA equivalent of murderer’s row in the lighter weight classes.

Yet as much promise as each has shown time and again in their outings, they share their own unique set of uncertainties when it comes to envisioning them as future gold-belt models.

Mendes, Faber and Benavidez float around the very top of their divisions, but have lost in their recent opportunities to become a champion. A No. 1 contender match could very likely be in the near future for one, if not all of them, but getting to that point will require a high degree of consistency against stiff competition.

Dillashaw, on the other hand, is only fighting upwards for that respect. He’s a TUF 14 finalist who has earned two stoppage wins this year and four in a row in the UFC since losing to John Dodson in his debut. That run has him primed to enter the mix.

But who has the best shot at capturing UFC gold?

First, let’s look at top featherweight Mendes.

Make no mistake, he is one of the best featherweights in the world. His only loss stands against the reigning champion, Jose Aldo. Granted, it was a one-sided fight for the single round that it lasted. Aldo looked an entire weight class bigger than “Money” and, due to a healthy advantage in range and striking, was able to negate any sort of offense that his challenger could deliver. Mendes was left on the outside of Aldo’s jab and his attempts to shoot for a takedown were easily thwarted. The most success Mendes could muster in their short meeting was connecting with an outside leg kick and being able to close the distance to get Aldo’s back standing. Even with a strong collegiate wrestling background, Mendes simply didn’t have the strength to take Aldo off of his feet. With a few seconds remaining, Aldo was able to turn around from Mendes’ hold and blast him unconscious with a knee to the chin.

Maybe if Mendes hadn’t gotten caught and with more time, a cautious standing approach mixed with a grinding wrestling attack could have worn the champ down and turned the fight to Mendes’ favor. But he did get caught. And the fact is, Aldo is in no short supply of challengers. So Mendes has quite a bit more waiting and fighting to do before he’ll get another crack at the Brazilian after such a loss. Aldo will meet Anthony Pettis in August at UFC 163, and surging fighters Ricardo Lamas and Chan-Sung Jung square off in July at UFC 162 to likely vie for the next chance at the belt. Mendes has called for a rematch against Aldo, but he’s not near a position to get that wish at this point. Things will need to shake out for the UFC to set Mendes up for a top opponent, so the timing just isn’t right for his next crack at a belt in the foreseeable future.

Frankly, Mendes needs to build a better case against top guys in the meantime, anyway. Since his loss to Aldo, Mendes has reinvented himself as a knockout artist, but he’s not taking out top guys. Even in his run in the WEC through to the Aldo fight, Mendes was decisioning guys outside of the top-10 and the 2010 versions of Erik Koch and Cub Swanson. Since the Aldo loss, Mendes has won impressively over similar outsiders like Cody McKenzie, Yaotzin Meza and Darren Elkins. The decisive finishes prove that Mendes deserves his top spot in the division, but he hasn’t really done enough against other top-10 guys. An up-and-comer like Elkins was a great start, but we’re going to need to see him defeat guys from matches like Jung vs. Lamas to unequivocally call him a contender again.

Representing the Alpha Male flyweights is Benavidez.

Like his other teammates who are former contenders, he’s a guy whose only recent losses came to champions.

It was only last September that Benavidez dropped a split decision to champion Demetrious Johnson. But Benavidez has bounced back with a win over fellow top flyweight Ian McCall and dispatched Darren Uyenoyama at the Fox 7 event. That brings the 28-year-old’s record in the UFC to 5-1.

In two of those fights, Benavidez was able to put his opponents down with punches, a very desirable trait to have in the flyweight division. Factor in Benavidez’s appeal from his broadcast work on Fuel TV, and we have ourselves an exciting fighter who is also a company man. Furthermore, the flyweight division is by far the most shallow in the UFC. There are a few men that will likely get their shot against the champ, such as John Moraga in July, but it will only be a matter of time before Benavidez is granted another title bid. All that’s required is that Benavidez can keep doing exactly what he always has done.

Then there’s Urijah Faber.

Faber’s case is a bit tricky. We all should know his story by now: a crossover sports star and champion from the WEC days that has had zero luck winning a title in recent years, but can dispatch almost anybody else. Sherdog’s Tristen Critchfield succinctly described Faber’s current situation: “It has become a tiresome theme for more than a few fight fans, but Faber continues to hover around title contention, despite suffering losses in his past five championship bouts.”

Oh, Faber, what are we going to do with you?

The UFC could relegate him to gatekeeper status and continue to use him as a recognizable name on main cards, but he’ll probably keep winning. If that’s the case, then closing out a trilogy with his old rival, Dominick Cruz (if he can retain his title upon his return), doesn’t seem like such a bad idea, even if Faber has been given more title opportunities than most fighter’s could ever dream of. But, hell, you can’t knock a guy because he still has the goods.

Still, a large part of Faber getting another chance at a title depends on the outcome of longtime (injured) champion Cruz’s fight against the winner of interim bantamweight champion Renan Barao’s match with Eddie Wineland in June. Faber has already lost handily to Barao, so if the Brazilian is to become the undisputed champion, then Faber’s chances to again fight for a UFC title at bantamweight start looking very slim.

Last, there’s Dillashaw.

Nobody expected much from the TUF Finale loser, but Dillashaw’s recent run through mid-level competition has turned enough heads to warrant positive attention.

Handing Hugo Viana his first loss by an exciting TKO to add to what would become a stellar card is a great start to advancing his career. I’m not going to argue that Dillashaw will be fighting for a title soon—he’s barely approaching the division’s top-10 at this point—but he’s ready for some stiff competition after finishing his last three fights.

Setting Dillashaw up against anyone right outside of the top 10—for instance, Mike Easton or Ivan Menjivar—makes sense. Maybe Dillashaw could be paired with a guy even higher up the ranks if he’s to be tested in a hurry.

So, as we’ve seen, the guys at Team Alpha Male are doing very well for themselves in their recent Octagon outings. Part of the credit should go to the team’s new head coach, Duane Ludwig. But for the former contenders of the group, it’s going to take more than a new head coach to get them back into contention. The improved striking is a great start to get fans excited, but the other side of the equation is circumstantial. These guys have already had their chance for a title and they are going to have to wait their turn in line (though the line for Benavidez will be the shortest), because the UFC is in no hurry to rush a rematch.

Yet with the way they’ve handled themselves in the cage and the entertainment that they’ve brought to fans on televised cards, it’s hard to argue that the Team Alpha Male fighters are not far off. It just won’t be an easy road.

Photo: Urijah Faber (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

About The Author

David Massey
Staff Writer

David Massey studied Humanities and Art History at the University of Central Oklahoma. He first found interest in MMA from the first TUF show and has been hooked ever since. He began posting on mmajunkie then submitting Sunday Junkie entries and that began his interest in writing about MMA. Through twitter David found other MMA enthusiasts and began contributing articles to marqueemma.com. He looks forward to growing as a writer and being a part of the sport he loves.