Combat sports are unique for a lot of reasons, but the biggest reason is due to the team aspect of the individual sport. It is common for fighters to say in a post-fight interview that they weren’t fighting alone in the cage, but rather that they had their entire team in there with them. These teams create a family-like mentality where relationships develop to where the fighters become like brothers and sisters. At the highest level of the sport, teams like Jackson’s MMA, American Kickboxing Academy, Team Alpha Male and others forge elite-level fighters because, as the saying goes, iron sharpens iron.

While families do get in their fair share of arguments and fights, it is very uncommon in the world of combat sports for two fighters who are teammates to square off in an actual bout. It is one of the many thorns that dig into the side of matchmakers and promoters, especially UFC President Dana White. It creates scheduling conflicts and prevents potentially huge fights from happening.

Back when Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck were top-five welterweights, White wanted to see the two lock horns. After all, it would have been a great fight to sell. It would have happened, too, except for the fact that both fighters were teammates at American Kickboxing Academy.

Two current fighters who call AKA home are heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez and Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix champion Daniel Cormier. If “DC” wasn’t teammates with Velasquez, it would be reasonable to think that the two would vie in the near future for the UFC strap. However, their relationship as teammates means that they do not want to fight. To avoid the issue, Cormier will be making the drop to light heavyweight for an upcoming fight against Rashad Evans at UFC 170.

Now, this isn’t an effort to paint a bad picture of AKA. The camp just happens to be blessed with the ability to produce multiple top contenders within one division, and that makes it a perfect example of the scenario we’re discussing here. However, these politics happen across the board. Just look at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, Calif.

Their camp more or less focuses on fighters in the featherweight, bantamweight and flyweight divisions. The camp has fighters outside of those weight classes, but the premier fighters at the gym fall into those three weight classes. Specifically, the camp is loaded at bantamweight, where Urijah Faber and T.J. Dillashaw stand as the fight team’s best 135-pounders. While Dillashaw still has some work to do to put himself in direct title contention, “The California Kid” is getting another crack at Renan Barao next month for the title. If Faber exits the cage victorious, it puts Team Alpha Male in a tough spot.

On Wednesday, the No. 6-ranked Dillashaw dominated the No. 7-ranked Mike Easton. All three judges scored the fight 30-27 to award the unanimous verdict to the TUF alum. He picked apart “The Hulk” with crisp combinations that were the product of new head coach Duane Ludwig. Despite dropping his prior fight to Raphael Assuncao, the Alpha Male product is clearly on the rise.

Considering that Dillashaw is now ranked as high as he is after the victory over Easton, he is truly starting to put himself in the territory of the elite. For most, that would be a blessing, but in this case it means that he would be directly rubbing elbows with his teammate, Faber. That’s the type of situation that could disrupt and bring down the entire team. This situation puts Dillashaw in somewhat of a purgatory, where he won’t really be able to advance further until he gets himself out of Dodge.

Depending on how the cards fall, fighters that are in the same position as Dillashaw unfortunately have to see the writing on the wall and pack their bags to train elsewhere. Teams can get a fighter so far, but just as it is ultimately up to the individual to execute in their fight, it is also up to the individual to make the proper career decisions that will best put them in the position to become a champion at the highest level.

If his priorities are straight, sticking around Sacramento may prove detrimental for the 27-year-old Dillashaw. There are more than likely plenty of teams out there that would be willing to bring him into their day-to-day operation, but the question that remains for Dillashaw is whether he will indeed opt to leave and, if so, what camp to call home.

About The Author

Brian McKenna
Staff Writer

Brian McKenna was born and raised in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts. A sports nut from as long as he can remember, he came to be a fan of Mixed Martial Arts from a roommate watching The Ultimate Fighter while attending Westfield State College. Brian came to writing by starting his own blog, Four Down Territory, which focuses on Boston based sports, life, and of course MMA.