When Urijah Faber started Team Alpha Male more than 15 years ago, there was no way to predict that it would evolve into the powerhouse of a mixed martial arts gym that it’s regarded as today. That wasn’t even really the plan.
“I just saw a need, and filled it,” Faber said with a casual shrug, adding that he was really just looking to live out his “dream job, which is work out all day, hang out with my buddies, travel to fun places and work on my own schedule.”
And just like that, his dream job became his day job.
Faber, who split training for his own professional mixed martial arts career between a handful of different gyms for each discipline, decided the solution was simple: create a one-stop shop for the modern martial artist, and fill that space in Sacramento with the “baddest dudes” he knew.
“I was recruiting heavily for my guys who I knew were bad dudes. Chad Mendes, Danny Castillo, Scotty Jorgensen… the list goes on,” Faber said. “In turn, we really built a great culture. It was top-down, it was about wanting to be the best, having fun, having a great attitude, and really getting a community of guys that wanted to work hard and be champions.”
It’s a culture that’s not only cultivated an impressive level of success over the past decade and a half, but also has attracted fighters from around the world.
First came Faber’s own success — now a former WEC featherweight champion, the holder of multiple UFC bantamweight records, a multi-time UFC bantamweight title challenger and a member of the UFC Hall of Fame — and the success of those around him. After that, everything started to fall into place.
“I started making a name for myself… and after I became a world champion, we started attracting all these dreamers that didn’t think they had a chance,” the 42-year-old explained. “So then I started getting guys like Joseph Benavidez and guys who were traveling from other states to come see California and the group that we had here. So it was kind of a west coast thing, then it became a national thing, and now at this point, it’s really international.
“In any given day we have maybe ten countries in here. We have fighters from China, a handful from Japan. We have Korean fighters, Russia, a lot of fighters from the UK and Australia, the list goes on. I love that. My grandparents are immigrants from Holland; my dad is first-generation American, and I think that’s what America is about and what makes us so unique.
“So having that in this gym, in humble Sacramento, as a destination spot for some of the baddest people on the planet… I really feel like we attract a good group of energy. When they think of our team, it’s hard work, but fun. It’s been really cool to track the people that identify with what we’re doing here.”
Names like Urijah Faber and Chad Mendes eventually evolved into names like Cody Garbrandt and TJ Dillashaw as the sport grew, alongside Team Alpha Male roster mainstays and UFC veterans like Clay Guida and Darren Elkins to carry the torch.
Then came the new breed, flocking in from every continent on the globe; a generation made up of athletes like Song Yadong and Maycee Barber, where a language barrier was of little concern because, as Faber put it, “We’re fighters. We all speak the same language.”
Seemingly the biggest difference maker in Sacramento is the sense of community that’s built among the athletes who spend most of their waking hours under the Team Alpha Male roof. After all, behind every champion or big name is the village that helped create it.
“It’s more than just coming in here and getting good at fighting. That would be a miserable life, to be honest,” Faber said, chuckling. “We’re coming in here and we’re building a community of people that are visualizing things that are magnificent, thinking about their dream scenarios, and using that to motivate a journey that’s very tough — not everyone can do it — but a lot of fun. We make sure that we have good energy in here and that we have a fine balance between beating each other up and lifting each other up.”
The type of environment Team Alpha Male emanates harbors a harmony between grizzled veterans hardened by experience and Octagon time and the fresh perspective of any UFC rookie, driven by dreams. But regardless of where an athlete falls on that spectrum, they’ll get out what they put in.
“The balance is incredible. As a team, there’s people who have been here a long time and kind of earned their spot, and then there’s newcomers, and a newcomer can become a focus very quickly here. Some people think that’s not fair, but it doesn’t matter. We don’t really choose who stands out. If someone comes in and has the energy, can carry the workload, and meshes well, they can become someone that we focus on. It’s earn your stripes. It’s not a seniority system, it’s a priority system that’s based on skill set, work ethic and mentality.”
Well, at least we know it’s not called Team Alpha Male for nothing.