Team Alpha Male member recaps Wednesday’s debut episode
Unlike previous years, this season will feature Dillashaw sitting down to go over each episode with lead writer E. Spencer Kyte, talking about the high points and low points of each episode. Since last night was a two-hour marathon introducing the contestants, their first installment of the Season 14 TUF blog is a bit of an epic one as well, but they’ve both promised to keep it short and sweet from here on out.
Welcome to the Heavy MMA Ultimate Fighter blog with TJ Dillashaw, Episode 1.
Kyte: I guess the best place to start is with a bit of an introduction of yourself and how you got into MMA.
Dillashaw: The way I started MMA, first off it was through wrestling. I wrestled 17 years of my life, and I didn’t really think much about fighting while I was wrestling; I was just so focused on the goals I had wrestling. I wrestled at Cal State Fullerton. My junior and senior year, Mark Munoz was my wrestling coach; he was coaching at (UC-Davis) and he moved on and started coaching at Fullerton; he was my assistant wrestling coach to Dan Hicks.
After I got done competing, I really didn’t complete the goals that I wanted to, so I wanted to look for something else to do, and the only thing really to for me to be able to make a living and compete was fighting. I kind of started following Munoz around—just going to places where he was working out. I’ve always been interested in the sport; I was a fan of the sport, but I didn’t think I would really be doing it.
I just kind of started following Munoz around and kind of seeing what it was all about, and I really liked it. I was just kind of a natural at it. I started doing jiu-jitsu, doing some kickboxing at Joker’s, and I really liked it; it just started coming natural to me.
Munoz has a wrestling camp that summer that I went and helped him teach at, and Urijah (Faber) came down to also help at his wrestling camp. When he was down there, Munoz gave me the idea that I should head up to Sacramento and start training with Team Alpha Male. I started talking to Urijah at the wrestling camp—I didn’t remember this, but Urijah tried recruiting me to go to UC-Davis to wrestle there on a scholarship, but I chose Cal State Fullerton instead.
He kind of knew of me—he tried recruiting me, get me to go to his school—so he invited me to go up, move into one of his houses on “The Block,” start training up there, and the rest is history. The last two years now, I’ve been training at Team Alpha Male with—I think—the greatest lightweight team there is.
Kyte: This was the first fight of yours that I’ve seen more than highlights of, and right away I see that Team Alpha Male swagger and some of Urijah in some of your hand movements. How much of an influence has he been in helping you get to where you are?
Dillashaw: He’s been a huge influence. This is really the only place I’ve ever trained. I started getting into MMA down at other places, but the only place I’ve ever really consistently trained or learned anything, I’ve learned all my skills up here with Team Alpha Male, and Urijah’s the reason.
Not only through MMA has he made a big difference, but in life in general. He’s a good—I wouldn’t say Life Coach, but a leader; you tried to follow his footsteps. He made it successful for himself, so you kind of want to do the same.
He’s helped out a lot with my skills—he brought me up fast; I caught on to everything pretty quick. I owe a lot of my stand-up to Master Tong, who is his trainer as well. That’s probably why our hands and our stance look similar, because we have one stand-up coach, and he’s brought me a long way. I owe all my stand-up to him.
Kyte: Yeah, there’s the one point where you get your hands up high and shake them out a little, and I thought, “That’s Urijah right there. That’s Faber’s move.”
Dillashaw: (laughs) We’re a very, very close team, so we all train together, and we all learn the same things. A lot of other camps are kind of individual; yeah they have the same trainers, but they come in individually and train, work, but we’re kind of like a family up here.
We do everything together. We have dinners together, we watch fights together, we have training in different areas—we’re going up to Point Arena next week for 10 days to go train together in the middle of nowhere. We do a lot of things together and it helps everyone get better at different aspects of MMA because everyone is good at something, and has a knowledge in some form of MMA.
Kyte: You mention the closeness of the group. One thing people might not know is that you’ve got a teammate—Bryan Caraway—going through into the house with you.
How much help has that been having somebody that you know to stand beside when you’re first out there in front of Dana White at the Mandalay Bay, in an empty Octagon, in an empty arena? Having that guy you’ve spent time with over the last year and change?
Dillashaw: Yeah, well, Bryan to our team is more like an acquaintance; I wouldn’t really call him a teammate. Him and Miesha (Tate) really aren’t really there consistently; they’re kind of really more of a lackadaisical training. I wouldn’t really consider them our team. They’re never really doing all the stuff that we do; they come to our jiu-jitsu practices and stuff like that.
I mean, yeah, it’s cool that I knew someone there and I got to feel a little more comfortable because he was there, but I wouldn’t really consider him as close as everybody else. I wouldn’t consider him like the hard-working, Team Alpha Male tight-knit group, you know?
Kyte: Does it still take some of that nervous energy and those butterflies away, because this clearly is the biggest opportunity any of you guys have had to this point?
Dillashaw: It’s definitely nerve-racking. Like you said, this is the biggest opportunity of my life and I wanted to make the most of it. Having Bryan there, I think added to my nervousness because he’s a very nervous guy.
He lacks a lot of confidence. He’s always asking questions, and he’s always kind of putting his nervousness out onto you, so I actually think he maybe added to the nervousness of being there. We call him “Nervous Nancy.”
Kyte: The name of the team, obviously, is Team Alpha Male. In knowing some of the guys from the team, in talking to a bunch of you guys before, it really is more than just a name; you guys all carry yourself with that certain amount of swagger and over-the-top confidence that and Alpha Male has.
How important was that heading into this? What was your mindset when you got through to this elimination round in terms of preparing for an unknown fight, an unknown opponent?
Dillashaw: I think it means everything. I think your mental mindset going into fights is a huge part of fighting, and just competing in general. My mental mindset going into the fight was great because I train with some of the best guys in the world in my weight class and the weight class above me that’s also there.
There is no way that anyone is going to match the skills of the guys I train with every single day, so I knew that my sparring sessions, my practices would be way harder than the fight. I’ve been holding my own and doing very well in these practices back home; I’ve been catching up quick, and I feel like I’m a threat to the guys at our gym, so what’s this guy going to show me?
I felt like there was no way I was going home, there was no way I was losing. I did everything I could have possibly done to get there and be prepared to be there, so that gave me the confidence inside myself like you said. There was no way I was losing; I didn’t even have that thought. There was no way I was getting back on a plane, flying that long flight home, and missing the opportunity of a lifetime.
Kyte: What’s it like finally getting through the audition process, getting into that Octagon, standing amongst that group across from Dana, Michael Bisping, and Jason Miller, and knowing that this is the first step towards fulfilling your dreams and reaching one of your goals?
Dillashaw: Man, it was real exciting. I mean, just being there, walking into the Mandalay Bay—that’s where I watched my first UFC fight ever live—and having Dana White sitting there talking. Having Dana White in your face talking to you; he’s a very intense guy when he wants to be. It just keeps you going. It did nothing but fuel my fire of this is it; this is what I’ve trained to do. It was just surreal that my life could change instantly.
Kyte: Your fight comes up later in the episode. Are they ran in order in terms of who went out?
Dillashaw: Not at all; they did all the 135s, then all the 145s. I was the fifth fight of the night, so they didn’t show them in order at all.
Kyte: So did you get an opportunity to do any kind of scouting of the other guys that you’re going to be competing against? If so, was there anybody that stood out, names that you recognize, guys that you look at as your chief rivals in this competition?
Dillashaw: I didn’t really know anybody. That’s one thing I’ve never really gotten into, seeing who else is out there. I’m kind of bad about know who’s who in MMA; I kind of just work on the skills that I have, getting better, and worrying about me.
I knew of John Dodson; his name’s been around for a little bit. I think Bryan Caraway was talking about him during the interview process. There were a couple guys who didn’t make it that I knew of and stuff, but really, I didn’t have time to really scout anybody.
I was the fifth fight, so I missed the first four, and after my fight, we’re doing interviews and telling everybody how we feel afterwards, so I really didn’t get to watch many of the fights. It was real hard to kind of scout out who you wanted to fight next or what your competition looked like. I could tell by the way people looked, and size them up that way.
Once the fights were over and everybody knew who was getting into the house, everybody was sizing each other up. I think more people knew about other people than I knew; I didn’t know anything about the guy I was fighting or pretty much anything about any of the guys that are in the house.
Kyte: How did you feel about your performance? Everybody is their own toughest critic, so I’m sure there are elements you look back on and you want to pick apart, but overall, how did you feel you performed in that moment?
Dillashaw: I remember the fight—it’s hard to remember everything, especially this long after; I haven’t gotten to see it until just recently. I remember it a little bit differently.
I remember kicking his butt a little bit more, I guess. I was just so pumped; I felt like the fight went a hundred miles an hour, there was no time to even breathe. But it looked good. I got hit more than I remembered; I don’t remember getting hit as much as that. Like you said, I’m my biggest critic, so every time I get hit, I was like, “Aw, my hands should have been up there.”
Listening to the commentary of the coaches and what’s going on during the fight—they had some good criticisms, but then also, it kind of makes you mad because that is your style also. Yeah, I did have my hands low some times, but that’s what I like to do, that’s what Master Tong has taught me; relaxed, hands down, and hands up when they get in close.
I did take some shots that I didn’t remember too much of. I didn’t get really hit with anything that I remember it really hurting me. At some point during the fight, Dana White and the coaches were saying I got hit with a body shot and it was bothering me; that wasn’t the case. That’s just my style of keeping my hands low, more elusive, and just being cocky a little bit.
Kyte: Obviously you go into any competition wanting to win it. What was your mindset going in and your thought process when you get through that first fight? Is it just the singular focus of get in there, do the training that I need to do, learn what I can learn, and keep smashing people?
Dillashaw: It’s kind of one fight at a time. The first step was to get into the house. Then I was trying to size some people up, like you said. Obviously, I wanted to get on a team that had control so you get to pick who you get to fight, but that doesn’t always get to happen, so you’ve just got to get there, make sue you’re healthy, ready to fight again.
It’s a very hard process because you don’t know when you’re going to fight, who you’re going to fight, all that stuff. It’s very hard. It’s not like you get an eight-week camp to train for one person; it’s pretty difficult.
My mindset going in there was to put on a show. Ultimately, this sport is entertainment; people are watching it because they want to see you be entertaining. I didn’t want to go out there and just go for the win; I wanted to be an entertaining fighter.
I wanted to bring it. I didn’t want to leave anything behind. if I were to go in there, not do something, and lose, I would be kicking myself in the butt for the rest of my life. I knew that I was going to bring it as hard as I could, and if I were to get tired, I knew that the other guy had to be just as tired or more because I was in really good shape.
Kyte: We get a little clip of what to expect this season and it looks sometimes heated, sometimes crazy—I saw some donkeys in there. What can people expect both from yourself and from the show?
Dillashaw: It’s going to be a very entertaining season; there’s a lot of jokesters. No one is holding back any part of themselves. It seemed like a really great group of guys. Not only are the fights going to be amazing, but I think—from me experiencing it there—I think it’s going to be a real funny, real good, entertaining season inside and outside of the cage.
Kyte: Sounds good; we’ll do this again next week.
Dillashaw: For sure.