Chad Mendes, a core member of Urijah Faber’s Team Alpha Male out of Sacramento California, will face Connor McGregor this Saturday night for the UFC Featherweight Championship. A few years ago, just as the team was starting to make an impact in MMA, I visited Urijah,Chad and the rest of Team Alpha Male for this article which first appeared in Fight! Magazine in 2010.
Urijah Faber is the reason why there is a credible Featherweight division in the United States. Along with Stars like Miguel Torres, he’s building the WEC’s brand to be second only to that of its parent company, the mighty UFC. Blending speed, power, technique and energy, Urijah boasts a record of 22-2, with 18 wins by stoppage. Eleven of the later came in the very first round, including his last fight in which he choked out Jens Pulver in 94 seconds after breaking his rib with a body shot. Urijah overwhelmed the MMA legend with unrestrained energy, strength, speed and pure physicality.
As I watch him train today at his successful Ultimate Fitness Gym in downtown Sacramento, however, Urijah is anything but unrestrained. He’s slowly drilling takedowns with a class of twelve other fighters from Urijah’s MMA team: Team Alpha Male. They’re doing “structured drilling,” in which they practice their maneuvers at about 25 percent resistance. The purpose of this type of drilling is to allow the body to recognize the position it’s in and to respond with the correct counter or technique without the athlete having to think about it. I watch the class drill through countless maneuvers. Later, they will concentrate on conditioning.
Urijah is running the class and also taking part in it. It’s an impressive display. He’ll run seamlessly through several positions with his training partner, Dustin “The Persian Prince” Akbari, before breaking out to go over to another pair of fighters and instruct them on something he’s seen out of the corner of his eye. Although Urijah is famous for his great physical gifts and for the way he steam rolls his opponents, it’s clear from watching him in class that his brawn is backed up by an encyclopedic knowledge of wrestling. The class drills innumerable techniques, and then transitions smoothly into an equally broad array of counters. Urijah flows into a sweet sweep off an attempt at a single leg by Akbari. Once they get back up, he goes on the offensive, moving in behind three quick punches that he pulls inches from The Persian Prince’s face, then changing levels by dipping perfectly at the knees (what wrestling legend Darryl Gholar refers to as disappearing in front of your opponent). He then fakes a shot, but instead goes for an ankle pick. Akbari drops, but before he can compose himself on the ground, Urijah throws a sweeping right. This would have been a devastating fight-ending sequence had Urijah performed it at full speed.
The level of grappling expertise in the room is extremely high. If one of his fighters isn’t up to par, Urijah has no compunction about switching him to one of the school’s more basic grappling classes. Urijah knows that if one of his fighters is training with someone too far above him in technical skill, it does neither of them much good. “It makes you tougher, but it doesn’t make you better,” he tells me later.
Urijah has known most of the members of Team Alpha Male for a long time, some since before he had a career in MMA. After practice he rattles off the back-stories of some of his teammates. “I’ve been training with Akbari since he was 15 and 135 pounds. Today he’s 21 and 185,” says Urijah.
“I recruited Chad Mendez when I was a coach at UC Davis,” he continues. “Matt Sanchez and I actually competed against each other in college wrestling. He beat me in my last match.” Urijah points over his shoulder to Danny Castillo. “I’ve known Castillo since the ninth grade.” Urijah adds that Castillo gave up a desk job to pursue his dream of being a fighter. “Uscola and I used to fight on the Indian reservations back in the day,” he says, talking about Kyacey Uscola. Urijah has the habit common to many ex-college wrestlers of referring to everyone, even close friends, exclusively by their last names. “And Benavidez ,” he says, referring to Joseph Benavidez, “walked into the gym one day after his flight was delayed, and the rest is history.” Read more ›