No shortage of drama for UFC to sell in Garbrandt-Dillashaw bout

In February of 2016, I interviewed Team Alpha Male head coach Justin Buchholz over the phone for a story on Cody Garbrandt, who was preparing for his third fight in the UFC.

The interview happened less than one month after Buchholz had cornered TJ Dillashaw in a UFC bantamweight championship fight against Dominick Cruz. At that time, Dillashaw had already left TAM and was training full time in Denver, but Buchholz had remained a part of his camp. The two have been close friends for years.

Dillashaw lost that bout to Cruz, along with the title, but he was still ranked high. Garbrandt was making his way up. I asked Buchholz what he would do if the UFC ever booked a fight between the two.

Initially, he admitted he wasn't sure. That'd be tough. He considered Dillashaw a brother, but technically, Dillashaw was no longer with TAM. We finished the interview and hung up. Buchholz called back moments later.

"It's Team Alpha Male versus everybody," Buchholz said. "That's the bottom line. If Cody were to have to fight [Dillashaw]? I'd have to corner our guy."

Nothing props up a cage fight like some good, old-fashioned drama, and there is a compelling storyline brewing at the top of the 135-pound division.

Garbrandt ended the calendar year by taking the title from Cruz on Friday at UFC 207, and Dillashaw looked spectacular in a win over John Lineker on the same night. UFC president Dana White hasn't announced the next 135-pound title fight, but pitting the two former teammates against one another would seem to be a no-brainer.

The two do not loathe each other, but there are plenty of plot lines surrounding the matchup.

In May 2014, Dillashaw became the first TAM member to win a UFC championship, breaking a streak of six failed attempts by Urijah Faber, Joseph Benavidez and Chad Mendes. It was one of the Sacramento-based camp's highest moments, but happened to coincide with the departure of head coach Duane Ludwig, whom Dillashaw was especially close to.

Ludwig went on to open his own facility in Colorado, which Dillashaw frequently visited. Dillashaw continued to represent TAM, but lines were blurred a bit. In 2015, while Faber was coaching against Conor McGregor on "The Ultimate Fighter" reality series, McGregor famously referred to Dillashaw as a "snake" and predicted he wasn't long for TAM.

As it turned out, McGregor's prediction came true. By October of 2015, Dillashaw had announced he was switching fight camps to Denver.

That was a transitional period for TAM. Buchholz was serving as head coach but was still an active fighter himself. The team had lost two head coaches -- Ludwig and Martin Kampmann -- in two years, and its first born and bred UFC champion had just left for another camp.

So when Buchholz called me back after the interview to adamantly change his response to "Team Alpha Male versus Everybody, even if it's Dillashaw" -- it was a noteworthy moment.

Buchholz hasn't cornered Dillashaw since. He stopped accepting fights and has focused completely on building the team, along with other former fighters Danny Castillo and Chris Holdsworth. Their star pupil, Garbrandt, has rattled off four consecutive wins and won the title. TAM weathered the storm Dillashaw's departure created -- and then some.

Buchholz is a former student of Ludwig and says he's very comfortable coaching against his striking system. Plus, of course, he knows Dillashaw very well.

And one last potential lighting rod: Garbrandt claims to have video of him knocking out Dillashaw in practice when they were still on the same team. Dillashaw has laughed the claim off, saying that it never happened, and added that he made Garbrandt cry after practice multiple times.

Again, the two don't loathe each other. In fact, according to a backstage account, they congratulated each other on their respective wins at UFC 207. According to one UFC staff member, Dillashaw told Garbrandt he wanted to congratulate him, "before the bulls--- starts."

Well, heading into the new year, Garbrandt versus Dillashaw is one of the top stylistic matchups the UFC can promote. And if that isn't enough -- to Dillashaw's point -- there's plenty of drama to help the sell.