Sunday night, amid the fisticuffs on the first event of the year in Phoenix, Arizona, the UFC announced some of the details for Season 25 of The Ultimate Fighter and the latest installment of the long-running reality TV competition is shaping up to be a doozy.
In addition to declaring that the cast will be made up of welterweight competitors that have appeared on previous seasons of the show, including one current active member of the UFC roster, the organization confirmed that the two men heading up the rival sides will be newly crowned bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt and No. 1 contender TJ Dillashaw. While a date and event has not been determined as of yet, the coaches will battle for the UFC bantamweight title at the show’s conclusion later in the year.
While Garbrandt and Dillashaw will have their names on the marquee and be charged with leading their respective teams throughout the competition, both will rely on the outstanding collection of coaches that helped carry them to tremendous heights inside the Octagon to give the veterans on their respective squads the best chance of ultimately emerging victorious.
Garbrandt, who claimed the bantamweight title in a masterful performance against Dominick Cruz at UFC 207 in December, is a representative of Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California, the highly regarded fight team founded by the recently retired Urijah Faber that has produced an assortment of elite contenders and talented competitors over the years.
After a brief period of uncertainty a couple years back, the coaching staff at Alpha Male has been solidified and quickly emerged as one of the best up-and-coming crews in the business, with a trio of former UFC competitors taking the reins and making the successful transition from fighting to coaching.
Justin Buchholz assumed the head coaching duties at Team Alpha Male officially in January of last year and should bring the same energetic, vocal presence to Team Garbrandt during this upcoming season of The Ultimate Fighter. Joining Buchholz will be former lightweight stalwart Danny Castillo, who has become the wrestling coach for the Sacramento-based collective since his 22-fight run between the WEC and UFC came to a close last January.
The third member of the Team Garbrandt coaching staff is a fighter who knows all about life in the Ultimate Fighter house – Chris Holdsworth, who won Season 18 of the competition as a member of Team Tate. Out of action since UFC 173 due to concussion issues, the 29-year-old Holdsworth has developed into one of the top young jiu jitsu coaches in the sport and will bring his knowledge and attacking style to the mats inside the Ultimate Fighter training facility this season.
Part of the intrigue surrounding this season – and the origins of the rivalry between the opposing coaches – is that Dillashaw, himself a former TUF finalist, entered the sport and ascended to the top of the bantamweight division as a member of Team Alpha Male before officially parting ways with the group in October 2015.
The former bantamweight champion, who picked up unanimous decision wins over Raphael Assuncao and John Lineker to cement his standing as the No. 1 contender in the 135-pound weight class, moved to Colorado to work with his sensei, striking coach Duane “Bang” Ludwig, on a permanent basis and will surely have the man who holds the record for the fastest knockout in UFC history by his side during this season.
In addition to Ludwig, several members of the talented Elevation Fight Team coaching staff will join Dillashaw in Las Vegas.
One member of that group will be Eliot Marshall, a semifinalist on Season 8, who recently took over the head coaching position with the Denver-based outfit when Leister Bowling announced he was stepping away, though the long-time leader of the team and accomplished wrestling coach is sure to make an appearance in Sin City. The former light heavyweight competitor Marshall is a jiu jitsu black belt and, like Buchholz, has quickly become one of the top new coaches in the sport since transitioning into the role following his career in the cage.
Others that could join Team Dillashaw either in full or in part during the season include renowned strength and conditioning coach Loren Landow, who previously was a part of Team Carwin on Season 16; striking coach Christian Allen; and former UFC light heavyweight competitor Cody Donovan, who has himself made a seamless transition from competitor to coach after hanging up his four-ounce gloves for good following a July 2014 loss to Nikita Krylov.
Along with the announced members of their respective coaching staffs that will be permanent presences with their teams throughout the season, both sides have a wealth of teammates, coaches and training partners (past and present) they can call on for guest appearances throughout the competition.
On the Team Garbrandt side, you know “The California Kid” is going to stop by and inject some positive energy into a training session or two, with fellow “next generation” Alpha Male fighters Andre Fili and Lance Palmer likely to get some time on camera as well. As for Dillashaw, look for him to bring in Ultimate Fighter vets and Elevation Fight Team members Matt Brown and Neil Magny, and you can be sure both sides will call on a surprise guest or two along the way.
Regardless of who rounds out each coaching staff and which special guests make appearances over the course of the season, the tension and animosity between Garbrandt and Dillashaw is bound to clock it high right from the start and only continue to escalate as the season wears on, the competition between their opposing squads heats up and their championship showdown draws closer.