mma / Columns

Urijah Faber on T.J. Dillashaw’s Falling Out From Team Alpha Male, Smooth Transition Into Life After Fighting

November 16, 2017 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris

Author’s Note: This interview with Urijah Faber was conducted shortly before UFC 217.

411mania recently had the chance to sit down and speak to former WEC featherweight champion and UFC Hall of Famer Urijah Faber. Urijah Faber recently ended his MMA career in December 2016, following a Brad Pickett at UFC on Fox 22, but he’s still an active presence in the world of athletics and combat sports.

Besides working as a coach and trainer for the next generation of MMA superstars at Team Alpha Male, Faber is working with numerous brands and companies to further good health and mixed martial arts. Faber is also currently Managing Partner and an investor for Trifecta Nutrition, who recently partnered with the UFC to sponsor UFC 217 and former UFC bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt. The company offers all-organic, fully cooked meals online, and they helped Cody Garbrandt during his training camp. Here’s what Urijah Faber had to say about T.J. Dillashaw’s split from Team Alpha Male, his transitioning into life after fighting, and more.

Urijah Faber

Jeffrey Harris: Trifecta Nutrition is sponsoring UFC 217, and you are a managing partner and investor. Tell me about Trifecta Nutrition and how they’ve helped Cody Garbrandt for his title fight?

Urijah Faber: Trifecta is a organic, food delivery system, which basically makes life easier with tasty and healthy food, especially for athletes. Mixed martial arts is so much about the mental game, but it’s also about all the preparation that goes into it. The weight cut is a big part of that and also the healing process, the rest, the recovery, and all these different things. So it plays in perfectly, and it’s an awesome part of the UFC. It’s very cool to see something I’m a part of get together with the UFC that has such a basis in health and work together. So this is the first time we’re sponsoring a card. Cody is a Trifecta representative and has been using the food. It’s been a big part of his camp on top of just general health. The UFC is now like a full-on partner with Trifecta, which is exciting for me.

Jeffrey Harris: Do they have vegan and vegetarian options for those type of eaters?

Urijah Faber: They do. They have all sorts of different options. They have paleo. They have all sorts of different options. You can do a la carte. You can do pre-made meals. The air-sealed packaging, it’s got a longer shelf-life than most food that is pre-made with local foods that they have there. I myself, I like to get it a la carte; a bunch of salmon, a bunch of chicken, quinoa and then sweet potatoes and just put my own little meals together here and there. It’s a convenience thing on top of a health thing. It makes life a lot easier and a lot healthier.

Jeffrey Harris: You and Cody Garbrandt have never had issues with making weight your entire career. But what is the key to your diet when you get into town on fight week, and what kind of foods are you eating?

Urijah Faber: I’m a lot different than Cody. I cut a lot more weight than Cody ever did. The biggest thing for us, which we both have an issue with, is time. People want to butter our time. There’s a lot of things to do in a day. There’s a lot of distractions. Fight week in particular, it just depends on your individual needs on your weight cut. You may be eating some meat. You maybe eating some carbohydrates, some fruits, vegetables. Drinking a lot of water. There’s definitely an art and a process to it. But more important is time. You can’t get more than that and having things ready to go without having to be mindful of it is the key. Having it taste great and be healthy for you is the other key. Everybody’s needs are different on the week of the fight. I probably cut maybe an extra eight or nine pounds my last few years fighting at 135 pounds. His needs and my needs are much different.

Jeffrey Harris: I imagine the weight cut is the thing you miss the most about fighting since you retired, right?

Urijah Faber: *Laughs* Yeah, that can’t be further from the truth. I get the sarcasm and your absolutely correct. It’s a miserable part of our sport.

Jeffrey Harris: I think you do need to be commended because you’ve handled your transition from being one of the top combat athletes in the world to being a great statesman and representative for the sport and being a UFC Hall of Famer. You helped build these lighter weight classes for the sport. When you retired, you were arguably still one of the top five in your weight class in the world. Can you speak to that at all in your transition into this next chapter of your life?

Urijah Faber: I think the biggest thing is being super consistent. When you do something that your passionate about and you don’t let off your gas pedal for 20-some-odd years as an athlete, as a wrestler, as a mixed martial artist, you create healthy habits and take your training seriously. You take a lot of things about the fight world serious and don’t take breaks from that, that for me has been the key to a long and decorated career. It’s been consistency, being persistent, being somebody that doesn’t peaks and valleys in lifestyle, that’s been a key. And keeping the mind strong. Knowing when you need to improve and knowing what caused you to win or lose a fight and filling in the blanks and keeping things sharp that you’re sharp at, it’s a process, and it’s something that I understand. It’s why I’m able to help pass it on to the next generation.

Jeffrey Harris: Was the last Dominick Cruz fight the major turning point that put you on this path right now?

Urijah Faber: There’s been a lot of things and different times where I’m like, “OK. Is it the time?” And being part of a team where you’re bringing in the next generation and seeing guys that were nine years old and are now 22 years old and 9-0 as professionals and making their debuts in the UFC, getting big wins like Joseph Morales, it keeps you very honest. The honest part was that I was competing at the very highest level until the very end. It’s a good or bad day that wins me a championship. I had a lot of attempts at the championship after I lost it. Was a top contender my entire career, but I feel like getting out without a massive downslide in my career, getting out with my my mind — my body — intact was important for the next phase of what I was doing. It just felt right for me. That last year, I had a title shot. I lost the title fight, and then I lost a fight — a close fight — it wasn’t like I got beat up, but it was the first time in my career I lost two fights in a row. My focus was in so many places on top of being a guy who’d been doing it for 13 years and being 38 at the time also. Just saying, “Hey. This is my time to go out. I’ve enjoyed this whole process, and I want continue to have a great memory in this sport as someone who enjoyed it all the way through.” I think that’s the reason I stepped down when I did.

Being resourceful and intelligent outside the Octagon helps. If you don’t hang your hat on the only way I can make a living is being a fighter, then there are options to find other ways. The margins in fighting compared to most other businesses are incredible. You get a restaurant, you get an 18-20 percent profit on your business, that’s doing good. In the fight game, hopefully you’re keeping 75 or more percent of what you earn. The margins are great. It’s something that’s a passion. It takes a long time to develop a skill set that not many people can do at the highest level. So it’s very tempting. You’re not afraid, and you’re not intimidated of going out there to compete. It is hard to step away when you say, “This is *now* looking at it after putting in all the hard work after 20 some odd years, this is an easy way to make a good buck. And I enjoy doing it. Why stop now?” For me, it’s about being able to focus on other things and at least attempt to make a great living and maybe a better living possibly if you do things correctly with your mind intact. That’s the most important thing for me.

Jeffrey Harris: Is this fight between TJ and Cody hard for you because you helped bring TJ Dillashaw into this sport and helped train him to get to the title level. Is there still a bond there with TJ on any level, or are all the bonds broken and you’re not bothered by it at all?

Urijah Faber: I would like to say that I can be just mindless in this situation. But to be honest, I sat down last night in [Washington,] D.C. and support Lance Palmer in the Professional Fighters League that’s here today. So, I realized I haven’t The Ultimate Fighter. I haven’t watched any of the buildup to this fight. I stopped following TJ on Instagram a long time ago. I just don’t put it in my mind. For me, that says something. That means I’m avoiding it because it’s an uncomfortable situation, and I don’t like dealing with it. So that just kind of says something that I avoided the buildup and everything. Last night was the first night that I tuned in and watched the Countdown show, and I watched some of the fight week stuff that the UFC puts out. And it started drumming up some emotions. There’s obviously some emotion involved with it, but there’s no question of whose side I’m on this thing. I’m Cody Garbrandt all the way. The way TJ left the team, we’ve had plenty of people leave the team. It’s not a big deal. It happens all the time. It’s the way he went about it, and the lies that he continues to say. It really hurts me. There’s no love lost. I’m proud to be a part of anyone’s success in the sport, whether it’s acknowledged or not acknowledged. I know where I’ve been and what I’ve done. I’m pumped for Cody to go out there and put the journey together and the vision that he’s had since he was a little kid. I’m pretty honored to be a part of the vision originally. Before he even knew me personally, I was a part of his vision. To be see him kind of manifest destiny, it means a lot to me now. I’m definitely rooting for him big time.

Jeffrey Harris: When Chris Holdsworth was on the MMA Hour, he said on T.J. Dillashaw, “And then it comes to where I hear he’s on some special supplements and stuff, and I just lost respect for the guy. There’s no hard feelings, it’s whatever it is, but he’s a cheater.” Do you think on any level that T.J. Dillashaw is a PED-user or that he’s suspicious?

Urijah Faber: You know, I’ve learned a lot about T.J. after he left the team that has made me lose respect for him. I’m not going to say what I’ve heard because I’m almost like a patriarch of the team. People don’t tell me what’s going on if it’s not above board. But the things that I’ve heard are pretty shocking, and I’ve lost a lot of respect. I’m not going to say anything because I was never in the room. It’s unfortunate to know that kind of stuff goes on, and some are playing by a different set of rules. A guy that cheats, he’s always going to find a way to cheat. I was watching the Embedded series, and T.J. talks about going with Coach [Sam] Calavitta — Coach Cal — who is a good friend. I’ve known him for a long time. And now he’s going with [Mark] Munoz, who is a very good friend. I was actually going to post a picture when I was in Munoz’s corner in 2007. I was the one who got Munoz into this sport. He talked a lot about, “Hey. I’ve met Coach Cal, and Coach Cal is an incredible guy. And I’m trying to get my natural levels of testosterone up naturally.” All this kind of stuff, which is so funny. He moved his whole life to Denver for whatever reason, and now he’s moving to California. And now he’s doing this and doing that. It says a lot about the guy, and I know Coach Cal and I know Munoz. They’re both good guys. Cal is a great motivator on top of being a great trainer. So, I know what T.J. is trying to do. He’s trying to get some sort of gifts in an area where he lacks, which is natural athleticism. He’s always been a guy that’s been a little bit smaller and not as gifted. I remember he used to complain about that — about guys like Chad [Mendes], who is one of the most gifted athletes I’ve ever encountered. He’s like, “I don’t have that gift! I’m having trouble keeping weight on!” He’s like 143 [pounds] and over-training because he’s such a hard worker, but not seeing the benefits because for whatever reason. So, it is what it is. At the end of the day, we’ve got a champion in Cody Garbrandt, who works his butt off. He’s got natural gifts and has a mean streak, and he’s put in his time. He has a good head on his shoulders. I’m excited to see him go perform and everyone else can do their own thing. It’s not our business.

Jeffrey Harris: Did it ever come up for you to fight T.J. after he left Team Alpha Male, and do you ever regret not accepting the option for that fight?

Urijah Faber: You know, I don’t think it did ever come up, which is weird because I tried to keep it cool, calm, collected when T.J. left. I didn’t want any beef or drama. The drama happened when he started lying about what really happened, which came way after because we filmed The Ultimate Fighter, and then it played way later. So, the things that happened on The Ultimate Fighter, like Conor [McGregor] saying that T.J. Dillashaw “was a snake,” T.J. was still a part of my team helping me coach on The Ultimate Fighter. At that point, we were defending him. Then he left, and then there was blank time that happened. Then the episode gets played after T.J. had bounced out. A lot of the drama and the negative push back that he got was because Conor called him out before it happened. He was the Mystic Mac and made the prediction or whatever. We were trying to defend T.J. and follow his word. But that’s when T.J. started to get real defensive and had fans calling him snakes and all this kind of stuff. Then he had to play the victim and turn me into the bad guy, which is really bizarre to me. I did nothing but help that kid. So, it turned into a thing where people were attacking him, and he turned around and changed the story. And the story keeps on changing. Cody saw that. He’s an emotional guy. Everyone else saw it on the team, so that’s where things continued to grow.

Jeffrey Harris: T.J.’s coach, Duane Ludwig, had a legendary schism and falling out with Team Alpha Male. Did that start when he said to SiriusXM’s Fight Club, “T.J. is the only one that actually wants to be a champion.” Was that where his schism started with Team Alpha Male?

Urijah Faber: Duane was broke as a joke, and I gave him an opportunity to come and coach. And he started to market what he was doing, and he was doing a good job for about a year with our team. But when he left, naturally, you saw a boost in his notoriety. And now, all of the sudden, he has a brand name that’s working where it hadn’t before. He was trying to encourage guys to come and be with him. Part of that is striking fear that you need him, and the only way to do it is with him, etc., etc., which is a cancer really. So for me, yeah, that was part of the problem is him talking bad about our young guys — guys like Cody Garbrandt. There’s nothing that’s going to help waver his brain but a weaker mind maybe. But yeah, that was kind of an issue. That’s how Conor found out about it because he asked what was up with Duane saying stuff like that; somebody that I hired and everything else. I said, “Aw, it’s a long story. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” Conor took that little bit of information, and next thing you know, he’s grinding. He’s an intelligent guy and started the whole snake thing. That was kind of what happened was that little tidbit of information of me saying, “Oh my gosh. I don’t even want to talk about that guy.” Whatever, just kind of dismissing it, and Conor taking a little bit of that knowledge and then calling T.J. out — “Why would you be with this guy when he just came in at the last hour and blah, blah, blah!” So yeah, that was part of it.

Jeffrey Harris: So how does Trifecta work with sponsoring fighters and other athletes?

Urijah Faber: Trifecta is partnered with Olympics, has a massive presence in the Crossfit world, some NFL teams, some NBA teams. The UFC is a new relationship, but Trifecta is much bigger than this relationship. It’s an established brand that has its presence in a lot of different places atop the fitness world in general.

Jeffrey Harris: Any sponsors or people you want to thank or give a shout out to?

Urijah Faber: I’ve got a lot of things in the health industry, so Trifecta Nutrition obviously. We’ve got Kombucha Culture, which is a distribution company for kombucha. We’ve got Vibe Health Bars, which are local in Sacramento that are expanding quick and good health. And Purus Labs, which is a supplement company. It’s kind of cool to be a part of all these things which are in my passion in the health industry, and Trifecta is a big part of that.

Thank you to UFC Hall of Famer Urijah Faber for taking time out of his busy schedule to speak with us.