Mixed martial arts is an individual sport, but many of the best fighters train together, and the bonds that form among training partners are increasingly becoming a headache for UFC President Dana White. White says that he'll force top fighters to fight each other, even if that means two training partners in the Octagon. But many fighters say they'll refuse to fight friends, and the coach at one of the best MMA gyms, Greg Jackson, says he'll have nothing to do with two of his fighters taking each other on.
"I certainly won't be a part of one of my guys fighting another one of my guys," Jackson told New Mexico Combat Sports. "But the UFC is Dana's organization so he can do whatever he wants. ... That'll be between the fighters -- for myself I just stay out of it. It's their organization and we work for them, so it would be a matter of what the fighters decide. I really think when push comes to shove the fighters won't give in on that. I hope so."
In theory, I agree with White: MMA is a sport, and sports are all about the best athletes competing with each other. In tennis, Venus and Serena Williams relish the opportunity to meet in tournament finals. In theory, MMA fighters should be the same way.
But in practice, I fail to see how White can force fighters to fight each other if they simply refuse. Yes, he can give them strong financial incentives to fight each other, and if they refuse he can tell them they won't get to fight anyone else, but ultimately, how can he really make two fighters fight if they insist they won't do it?
I worry about where this all could lead. Just look, for example, at the light heavyweight division of the UFC. Jackson already coached two of the UFC's Top 10 light heavyweights, Rashad Evans and Keith Jardine, and he recently added the UFC's top up-and-coming light heavyweight prospect, Jon Jones. Meanwhile, light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida and middleweight champion Anderson Silva (who is probably the second-best light heavyweight in the UFC) are also friends and training partners and say they'd never fight each other either. And the UFC's light heavyweight division just added another friend and training partner of Machida's and Silva's, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
With those six fighters in two camps, how many potentially great fights might we miss out on if teammates keep refusing to fight each other? In this dispute between Jackson and White, I think Jackson is correct that the fighters won't give in. But I hope White can prove me wrong.
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