Duane Ludwig is on Cloud 9 right now, and he should be. His coaching assistance helped T.J. Dillashaw defeat heavily stacked odds and do what many thought was unthinkable, take the UFC Bantamweight championship away from Renan Barao. It would be a very emotional night for Bang, as this was an official farewell to the camp he has called home for the last year and a half, Team Alpha Male.
The split between coach and team has been overall an amicable one, and will see Ludwig help out the team with various fight camps in the future, most notably, Dillashaw's camps. I caught up with Duane late yesterday afternoon after his plane touched down in his home state of Colorado.
During the 20 minutes I spoke with him, he was overcome by emotion more than once. It is abundantly clear that there is a great bond shared between members of the Sacramento based team and the man that helped take an already great group of athletes to even loftier heights. Here's what he had to say:
Bloody Elbow: Have you had a chance to watch the fight again and if so, what are your thoughts on it?
Duane Ludwig: I have, and it's exactly the way he is in the gym. A lot of footwork and head and body movement...basically, he did exactly what the gameplan called for. He's a true student of the game.
Bloody Elbow: I noticed a lot of rapid stance changes. Was this something you specifically worked on?
Duane Ludwig: That was our way of making sure to keep the opponent off balance and guessing. Dominic Cruz is very good at that, as well. We wanted to make sure that we weren't being a stationary target in front of Barao, especially with him being so strong, so we switched stances frequently and took the opportunity of all the different angles it provided.
Bloody Elbow: Was there a big adjustment in T.J.'s training when his opponent was switched from Mizugaki to Barao?
Duane Ludwig: We've been training for Barao since I got there. We've been training for this fight for a year and a half now. The sights were always set on him, because if we could beat him, we could beat anybody else in the division.
Bloody Elbow: When I spoke to you a few months ago, you said that you had no immediate plans to start a fight team of your own. Is that still the case? The guys from TAM still look to you for guidance, and Dillashaw said specifically he would continue doing his training camps with you.
Duane Ludwig: I feel like some of the guys still need me...[overcome with emotion], it's uh, it's a little bit weird for me to be gone from them.
Bloody Elbow: Danny Castillo mentioned that he would also like to benefit in the future from your coaching and that you were not just a coach, or even a friend, but that you had become a member of the family.
Duane Ludwig: He's one of the guys I will always make trips out there for or he can come out here. Any of the guys from that camp that need me, I'll always be there for them. All of them. It's not like I'm leaving the team, I'm just opening my business out here, like an extension of the team.
Bloody Elbow: There was the appearance of a misunderstanding or friction with Urijah Faber over your departure. Has that been resolved?
Duane Ludwig: We're good. It's just that I switched gears and changed direction, and because of that change in direction, our relationship is much better now.
Bloody Elbow: How many future champions have contacted you and are waiting for you to start the process with them in Colorado?
Duane Ludwig: You know, champions are born. It just takes the proper information and coaching and guidance for that champion to realize their full potential, and that's the relationship between T.J. and I. I can't just take some fighter and make them a UFC world champion. I can't say that T.J. wouldn't have won the championship without me, but I will say it was easier with me.
Team Alpha Male is an excellent team. It is a room full of killers. Urijah has an excellent eye for talent, and all those guys were personally recruited by him. He went out there and brought these guys to the table and then later realized that they needed a coach to get to the next step. He's a very smart guy and knows what's best for that team.
When they reached out to me, I don't think they understood who they called. I don't think they understood how committed I was and what I was capable of. I didn't understand it myself. I didn't realize how perfect our relationship was going to be.
Urijah had never worked with me before he called on me, but it worked out perfectly. I had just blown my knee out and I had 3 months of pay for a year-long injury. I needed a job and I was basically over fighting at that point. I was looking for something in martial arts and this was a great fit for me.
Bloody Elbow: When you first decided to stop fighting, you told me that it was a very hard decision for you to make. Was the coaching job instrumental in getting you over the loss of active competition, something you'd been doing for nearly 20 years?
Duane Ludwig: It was, but when I look back on it now, I realize that the last couple years of my career, I wasn't as passionate as I once was and I was just kind of going through the motions. I wasn't as committed as I should have been. If I had this coaching opportunity years back, I would have taken it, but I think it wasn't the right time. Everything works out for a reason, and this coaching job-being able to live vicariously through the team-definitely made the transition so much easier for me. I don't miss fighting anymore, I'll tell ya that much [laughs].
Bloody Elbow: Luke Rockhold said that of all the coaches outside of his own at AKA that he would be interested in learning from, you were the guy he'd be interested in picking up some tricks of the trade from. What do you think of that?
Duane Ludwig: I like that guy. He's a great fighter and I'm incredibly honored he would say that. He's a world class martial artist and it makes me feel good to be recognized and appreciated by someone within my realm. I respect him and I think it's awesome he mentioned me in that tone.
Bloody Elbow: I would imagine you're in high demand right now. What would it take for another team to lure you away for a 6 or 12 month stint?
Duane Ludwig: I'll say this, for me, it's not only about business and money. I genuinely care for my guys...[long pause, emotion], that would be hard for me to go to another team. I could never coach anyone else against a single member of Alpha Male. I just couldn't do it.
I've had some good offers, one really good offer, I mean it was a crazy good offer, but they aren't in Colorado, so that became a bit of an issue. I know I'll probably end up with a fight team years down the road after I get over the separation from the TAM guys, but I don't see it happening for at least a couple years.
The crazy offer that was sent my way was presented in a way that pretty much said, ‘Think of this like a football coach going to another team' but it's not like that for me. I can't just jump right into something like that. It's not how I view the team dynamic at all.
Bloody Elbow: The bigger weight class guys that wouldn't face off against TAM members, would those athletes be a welcome coaching assignment, if it were at your own gym?
Duane Ludwig: That is a very real possibility, but again, not right away. My goal is to get my gym established and running smoothly with instructors underneath me that would allow me the time to think about something like that. Obviously I will always make the time for T.J. and Danny and a few others, but my business and family come first right now.
You can follow Duane via his Twitter account, @DuaneBangCom