It’s the holiday season, and with the new year quickly approaching, Combat Press is taking a look back at the best of 2014. Throughout the week, Combat Press will announce its award winners in 16 different categories, covering everything from the action in the cage to the biggest stories surrounding the sport.
In an MMA world of super-gyms, it can be tough for one to stand out above the rest. Although historically the big boys tend to captivate combat-sports audiences, 2014 saw the “little guys” take home the Combat Press Gym of the Year Award.
The most recognizable face of Team Alpha Male without question is former WEC champion Urijah Faber. 2014 didn’t get off to a great start for “The California Kid,” as he dropped his rematch against then-UFC bantamweight champ Renan Barao. There was a bit of controversy at the end as to whether the fight should’ve been stopped or not, but either way, Faber was sent back to the pecking order of the bantamweight elite.
Controversy would follow Faber to close out 2014 as well. After picking up a victory over the surging Alex Caceres, Faber defeated Francisco Rivera by submission. However, Faber’s submission win came with an asterisk due to an eye poke that occurred immediately prior to Rivera tapping out.
In the featherweight division, Team Alpha Male’s Chad Mendes only stepped into the Octagon once in 2014. After injuries caused his rematch with UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo to be delayed, the two finally faced off at UFC 179. Whereas Mendes was stopped via TKO in the first round in their initial encounter, he would put on the performance of a lifetime in the rematch. Mendes took Aldo to the limit like nobody had done before, but it was still not enough to dethrone the champion. He may have not had his hand raised to close UFC 179, but Mendes has absolutely no reason to feel like he left anything in the cage that night.
Coming off another title loss, Joseph Benavidez had something to prove in 2014. He defeated two top contenders in Tim Elliott and Dustin Ortiz to cement his place as the world’s second-best flyweight. He also introduced the world to the “Joe-A-Constrictor choke” in his win over Elliott. With two losses to the current UFC flyweight champion, Benavidez finds himself in a bit of limbo. Not content to hold his head down, Benavidez showed that the warrior spirit is still alive inside the Team Alpha Male fighter. He may not get another crack at Demetrious Johnson, but that doesn’t mean he can’t continue to make good money by taking out the flyweight elite.
The biggest winner of Team Alpha Male by far was T.J. Dillashaw. The surging banatamweight contender wasn’t even supposed to be in the UFC 173 main event, but an injury to Raphael Assuncao (who had previously beaten Dillashaw) allowed Dillashaw to slide into the title fight against the aforementioned Barao. Many fans had already written off Dillashaw as nothing more than a warm body to keep Barao busy, but Dillashaw put on a monumental performance. From the opening bell to the closing seconds, there would be no question who the better man was. Dillashaw would go on to follow his UFC 173 victory with a dominant win over late-replacement Joe Soto at UFC 177.
The triumvirate of stars mentioned above are proudly carrying the Team Alpha Male banner in present times, but the future is also very bright for the gym. Fresh off winning The Ultimate Fighter, Chris Holdsworth added another win to his record when he defeated the durable veteran Chico Camus in May. Facing a tough draw in his UFC debut, Andre Fili lost to Max Holloway at UFC 172 but would validate the hype by defeating Felipe Arantes at UFC 179.
Team Alpha Male’s 2014 campaign saw the team once again struggle in title fights, with Faber and Mendes suffering losses. Yet, Dillashaw’s dominant performance was enough for fans to forget those failures. It’s hard to argue, given the aura of invincibility Barao possessed, that Dillashaw’s performance alone would’ve been enough to garner Gym of the Year honors. Team Alpha Male finally has UFC gold under its roof and with all of its top fighters either still in their prime or just entering it, the future is definitely bright for the Team Alpha Male crew.
Other Finalists: American Top Team, SBG Ireland
Make sure you check out the rest of the Combat Press 2014 MMA Award winners.