Former Team Alpha Male head coach Justin Buchholz was on the outside looking in for a UFC bantamweight title fight for the first time in four years at UFC 227.
Buchholz had been cornering one of the title competitors for the last seven championship contests, but enjoyed the main event featuring champion T.J. Dillashaw and former champ Cody Garbrandt, two of his former students, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles as a spectator.
"I was in the crowd. It was cool because I've done over a hundred UFC corners, but I think that was my fourth event ever [as a spectator]," Buchholz told The TSN MMA Show.
Going into the fight, Buchholz had a feeling of how the fight would go.
I kind of figured that Cody had about three minutes to get it done and I think at three minutes he got hit pretty hard,” Buchholz said. “I just knew that he was going to come out aggressive like that because T.J. is the hardest worker that I've ever met, that I've ever seen in the sport.”
While he acknowledges Dillashaw’s stellar work ethic, he also raves about Garbrandt’s ability.
“Cody probably has to be the most athletic, the most talented guy,” said Buchholz. “He's completely incredible. You can see his virtuoso performance against right now the greatest guy to ever do it, who is Dominick Cruz, and Cody completely dismantled him.”
However, Buchholz did not see that same Garbrandt at UFC 227 in his rematch with Dillashaw. Garbrandt lost the bantamweight championship in their first matchup at UFC 217 last November at Madison Square Garden in the co-main event.
“I didn't see that guy at all on Saturday night. I didn't see the guy that dismantled Cruz. I didn't see the guy that fought T.J. in the original fight,” said Buchholz. “In the original fight, I saw Cody as a stone-cold killer coming out there and throwing down. I didn't see the best martial artist on the planet, a guy who could blend the techniques of all the disciplines that are important to fighting. If anyone wants to see how good Cody is, just put that tape in real quick and you can stop criticizing his performance on Saturday. It was a tough fight to watch and to see how brutally T.J. did it too. That was a crazy, crazy fight."
Buchholz attributes Garbrandt’s performances to a lack of structure at his gym, which has been somewhat unclear since Buchholz’s departure from the team in February.
“Urijah [Faber] retired at the end of the year, so he wanted to get more involved. He's Cody's head coach now,” Buchholz said. “I don't understand how the coaching works because I've heard a bunch of different interviews about how there are seven head coaches. You've got to have somebody steering the ship. [When] You've got seven guys with their hands on the wheel, it turns into the year they've been having. As far as I know, Urijah is Cody's head coach for his last two outings and they didn't look that good, so you've got to think that if Duane [Ludwig] started training Cody for his last two fights and those results happens, all of you guys would be coming down on him and trying to kill him, 'He ruined Cody!' You couldn't have a worse result for the kid and it sucks."
Many pundits have pinned Garbrandt’s losses on his fierce rivalry with his former teammate Dillashaw and said that he approached the fights too emotionally. Buchholz finds that suggestion ridiculous.
“You see people saying, 'Oh Cody lost because he was angry.’ Oh, you think that's it? You think that's what happened behind the doors in the camp with the training, the coaches, the sparring partners? That's what happened from the first T.J. fight to now is because he was angry? That's why that result happened?” quipped Buchholz. “That was such a small, little thing of it, an emotion. Let's talk about the camp. Let's talk about the coaches. Let's talk about the coaching switch. That was never even mentioned!"
Buchholz had always been a firm believer in Garbrandt’s ascension, which saw him go from a 23-year-old newcomer to a world champion in less than two years.
"The thing was, I worked with Cody for a long time and in one calendar year this guy went from unranked to world champion. I always said this when I was the head coach at Alpha Male: I love it when a good plan comes together,” said Buchholz. “This stuff was no accident and we orchestrated that and put that together and I love that kid, so to see him go out like that in the first round, that was pretty brutal.”
Despite bad blood between himself and Team Alpha Male and both Dillashaw and his coach Ludwig, Buchholz has since mended fences with Dillashaw and explains why The Ultimate Fighter season featuring Garbrandt and Dillashaw as coaches was so contentious.
“I've got much love for T.J. too. Throughout the whole drama between Alpha Male and Duane and me as the head coach against Duane as the head coach, T.J. was always cool. He never really stooped to the level that others might have, that maybe I even did,” said Buchholz. “I was trying to be a reality TV star. It was a big joke for our team and we were just building the fight and we could do no wrong on TUF (The Ultimate Fighter). It was like, forget about the rules, let's make this some Snooki, Jersey Shore-style stuff. I'll try to fight Duane the whole time. It will be great and that's kind of what we decided going into it: We're a bunch of animals, we're Team Alpha Male."
Buchholz will continue coaching fighters in Northern California despite his split with Team Alpha Male and says to expect to see him in fighters’ corners in the near future.