Greg Jackson, the MMA coach who has long sought to foster a team-first environment at his gym and claimed he would never participate if two of his students planned to fight against each other, has made a difficult decision: He has decided to corner Jon Jones at UFC 145, when Jones will defend the light heavyweight title against Rashad Evans, a longtime member of Team Jackson.
Evans left the Jackson team only after it became clear that he and Jones were on a collision course at the top of the light heavyweight division, and there's some lingering bitterness between Evans and Jones. Jackson's decision will do nothing to lessen that bitterness, and it will undoubtedly lead to some hard feelings for Evans toward Jackson as well.
But it's the right decision: Jackson is Jones's coach, and Jackson needs to do his job as Jones's coach and be there for Jones at UFC 145.
It's easy to see why Evans is unhappy. He came up under Jackson's wing and always subscribed to Jackson's teachings about teammates not fighting each other. For a long time, the question Evans faced wasn't whether he would fight Jones, but whether he would fight his friend and training partner Keith Jardine. Evans and Jardine always insisted they would never fight each other, and Jackson always insisted that was the right course of action.
Things started to change a year ago, when Evans suffered an injury while training at Jackson's gym for his planned fight with Shogun Rua, and Jones stepped in to take Evans' place. Jones became the champion, Evans remained the No. 1 contender, and although it's taken a year to get the timing right, the Jones-Evans title fight is now going to happen. In the mean time, Evans left Jackson's gym in large part because he wasn't happy about the way things transpired between himself and Jones.
Jackson never wanted Jones and Evans to be in a position where they were fighting each other, but the reality of the business is that the UFC needs its best fighters to be willing to fight. They may be friends or teammates or training partners, but if one is the champion and the other is the No. 1 contender, they need to fight. Jackson has long supported an ideal in which teammates never fight teammates, but that ideal just isn't realistic at the highest levels of the UFC. Sometimes the two best fighters in a weight class just have to suck it up and fight each other.
And when those times come up, a coach who has a relationship with both fighters will face a difficult decision. Jackson was faced with a difficult decision as soon as Jones and Evans were identified as likely future opponents, and now Jackson can't delay that decision any longer. He's made his decision about where he'll be at UFC 145, and he made the right decision. He'll be in Jones's corner, doing everything he can to help Jones beat Evans.