Recently, the issue of teammates/training partners fighting each other has become a hot button issue in the sport of MMA. The conversation began with the prospect of UFC 205’ers Jon "Bones" Jones and Rashad Evans (both Greg Jackson trained fighters) having to fight each other. After interviews with conflicting messages and some initial bad blood, it was decided that the two would have to face each other for the title later this year. Anticlimactically enough, it was announced (shortly thereafter) that the fight would not happen, due to an injury suffered by Jones.
The loudest comments coming out of a lot of camps were that training partners didn't want to fight each other. Those were the initial reactions, but as the dust clouds have settled, and everyone has had a chance to really think it over, some of the responses have changed.
I recently did interviews with several UFC fighters who didn’t seem to think it was a big deal at all. Roy Nelson was adamant that he would "fight anyone".
When I spoke with Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone, he said, "I’d fight a teammate. We do it every day in the gym. At the end of the day, it’s about having a career. I fully support all of my teammates and I will help them with whatever, but when it comes down to it, you have to do what’s best for your career."
UFC middleweight Kendall Grove was more vocal about the concept. When asked if he would fight a teammate, this was his response: "If it comes down to it. If the price is right, I would! I could fight my best friend, and if it’s for a good reason, and that good reason is money. How do I pay bills? I need money. How do I get that? I gotta fight. Let’s just go out there and fight! I don’t care! That’s the business! A lot of these guys gotta stop crying and lollygagging. Like, c’mon dog, we’re in the HURT business. Fight! If not, then don’t ever say "Well, I coulda been the champion." Go try and BE the champ! Our job requires us to fight other people. People gotta stop being sensitive. You can quote me on that!"
Frank Mir went as far as to say (in a recent video interview with RawVegas.tv) that he was going to stop training with other heavyweights because he might have to fight them (in the UFC) someday.
Dana White has always been adamant about friends and teammates needing to be willing to fight each other. In October of 2010, he asserted that cowardice was a driving factor in some teammates not being willing to fight each other. "Me personally, what I think, is when one guy says, 'Oh, he's my friend I won't fight him,' that means, 'I train with this guy and this guy's probably going to kick my ass,'" White asserted. "That's what I get out of that - 'I'm not confident enough to fight this guy.' (source: fightline.com)"
It will be interesting to see what comes of it all. Will we ever see Koscheck vs. Fitch? How about Jake Shields vs. Nick Diaz? If Diaz fights GSP eventually and is able to beat him (which is a totally separate conversation to have), does Jake Shields move up to 185 lbs. just to avoid fighting him?
So far, push has never really come to shove. A fighter has not been told that he has to fight a teammate…or else. Is it that improbable to think it could happen? Will we start to see camps that are devoted to just one weight class? Will we start to see more fighters leaving camps over the prospect of potentially having to fight someone they train with?
These are all problems that will need to be addressed, but it seems all are inevitable bridges to be crossed. Dana White and the Fertitta’s have always pushed for the best guys fighting each other. If this is to continue to happen, it seems foreseeable that we will see some fights made that were previously somewhat unthinkable.
Here are some other notable teammate matchups that we could possibly see, barring one of the fighters leaving that particular camp:
- If Marlon Sandro eventually signs with Zuffa: Sandro vs. Jose Aldo Jr. (Nova Uniao)
- "Jacare" Souza vs. Anderson Silva (Black House MMA)