Odds are good that Duane "Bang" Ludwig will walk away with the 2013 MMA Coach of the Year award. After all, since signing on as the head coach for Team Alpha Male, Ludwig's fighters have lost only one fight in the UFC, and that loss came via split decision. On Saturday night, Ludwig will have the opportunity to solidify his hold on that award when four members of Team Alpha Male fight on the UFC on Fox 9 fight card.
Oh, and to make things a little more interesting, the event will take place in Sacramento, CA, the home base of Alpha Male.
The four fighters that Ludwig will accompany to the Octagon on Saturday night at the Sleep Train Arena are Danny Castillo, Chad Mendes, Urijah Faber and Joseph Benavidez. Castillo will fight on the preliminary card, but Mendes, Faber and Benavidez will keep Ludwig hopping as they fight back-to-back-to-back in the final three fights of the event.
Ludwig recently appeared on The MMA Hour, and spoke about his tenure with Team Alpha Male, and why he feels his presence has had such an impact on the fighters in the gym:
I think it's a tighter knit team now. A bit more structure. More guidelines and goals.
As for what he tries to accomplish in that structured environment, Ludwig said that having his fighters become champions is the ultimate goal, but on a more micro level:
The goal is to see a little bit of an improvement each and every class. I just want to get them better. Of course, the main goal is to get the belt, and to get them wins, but the main thing that I look for is just little improvements each and every day.
For the naysayers that doubt that a Team Alpha Male fighter will ever leave the Octagon with a UFC belt around their waist, Ludwig said that if that is the case, it wouldn't take anything away from his accomplishments as head coach:
They'll still improve. They'll still be better martial artists. They're still getting better. They're still top ten athletes. So, if they're going to erase all that just to look at the UFC gold around their waist, I think that's a bit ignorant.
The 35-year old Ludwig, who has been coaching in some capacity since the time he was 19 was quick to point out that the success he is enjoying right now is due to the team that he is working with at Alpha Male:
The success I've had is because of the athletes that I have and how open-minded that they are, and how much they improve because of their own dedication.
When asked which of the group has improved the most, Ludwig did not hesitate:
Danny Castillo probably improved the most. Benavidez only had to improve a little bit. Everybody is getting better, but Danny, for sure, is the guy that has improved the most, and the main thing that he has improved on is just becoming his own athlete.
Before, I think he was trying to be somebody or something else.
While Ludwig thinks that Benavidez only had to improve slightly, he does feel that the man that will fight Demetrious Johnson for the UFC flyweight title on Saturday has improved since Benavidez lost to Johnson in September 2012. Ludwig offered the following on Benavidez:
The main thing is mental. He's not going after the fight like it's the last thing he has to do in life. He understands that it's just a fight and that we have to just go out there and spar. We don't have to make it our life. We just have to go out there, control the emotions, stick to the game plan and spar.
Last time I think he just put too much into it. He wanted it too bad.
Ludwig has a one-year verbal agreement with Team Alpha Male. That year is coming to an end very soon, but don't expect Ludwig to walk away from the gym just yet. He will be staying put for 2014 because he feels there is still work to be done:
We're still going to win gold. Mendes has to get a belt. Benavidez is going to have to retain his title, so there are still goals. I'm not leaving in January, but I won't be the head coach here the rest of my life.
When he does leave the gym, it will be to open up his own spot, something he said he could do right now if he so desired, claiming he has the backing and acknowledging that his popularity has never been higher:
I'm 100 percent more popular now as a trainer than I was as a fighter.
As for how his fighters will fare on Saturday, it was no surprise to hear Ludwig predict four victories:
It's going to end with Benavidez knocking him (Johnson) out in the fourth round. Urijah is going to choke (Michael) McDonald. Mendes is going to knock out (Nik) Lentz, and Danny Castillo is going to win a decision against (Edson) Barboza.
If Ludwig's prediction of a hometown sweep comes to fruition, the World MMA Awards might as well call the engraver on Sunday morning and have them put Ludwig's name on the Coach of the Year trophy.
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