UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- Bryan Baker believed he had been sent to Colorado for a reason. It was there he discovered he had leukemia, it was there he was cured. But his time there was also short. More recently, Baker felt compelled to move again, this time to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he would force himself out of his comfort zone and away from longtime coach Thomas Denny to train with the renowned Jackson-Winkeljohn team.
One of his first visits there set up a bit of an awkward situation. It was then when he ran into fellow Bellator fighter Chris Lozano, who had recently decided to set up a lengthy camp at the gym.
At the time, Baker had already decided he was moving down to welterweight, a division also populated by Lozano. But while Baker had a guaranteed slot in the upcoming season six tournament, Lozano had been designated an alternate. That changed shortly thereafter, when Jon "War Machine" Koppenhaver was scratched due to a jail sentence, and Lozano was named to replace him.
By then, Baker had already decided upon training in Albuquerque, and Lozano was firmly entrenched there. That effectively meant that the two would have to work together and train together, yet one day in the near future, they might also have to fight each other.
Right now, there are obstacles in the way, as each man will first have to get at least past his first-round match, set for Bellator 63 on Friday night at Mohegan Sun Arena. Baker will have to get past the debuting Carlos Alexandre Pereira, while Lozano has Karl Amoussou to contend with.
If they can both get past the tournament's opening night, they may well be on a collision course.
As Baker tells it, the two have so far managed to handle the difficult situation well.
"It definitely stirred up a misunderstanding at first, but once we realized that, we’re professionals," he said. "We had to understand this next fight is the main thing. That’s what we put all our energy towards."
Athletes are notorious for refusing to look past what's directly in front of them, but Bellator's compressed tournament schedule makes that more difficult than usual. And you can't ignore the obvious. If they both keep winning, they will eventually meet up. There's no way around that truth.
Because of the setup, you can't help but compare their situation to the one that exploded into a feud pitting UFC stars Jon Jones and Rashad Evans against each other. The latter parted ways with his longtime home in Albuquerque after then-teammate Jones simply admitted he would take the match if it was requested by the UFC brass. At that time, it hadn't even yet been offered; it was simply a hypothetical.
That's not to say that one approach is better than the other. Sometimes, co-existence simply isn't a possibility, and other steps must be taken. For now, for Lozano and Baker, that's not an issue.
Lozano, who has spent most of his career training with Strong Style Fight Team in his native Ohio, has traveled back and forth to Albuquerque several times over the years. But his most recent stretch at Jackson-Winklejohn's has been his longest, with an intensive four-month camp leading into his next bout. The 29-year-old said the move was as much mental as it was physical.
"I felt like at home I was going through some personal issues I had to get away from," he said. "I had to focus on me, my career. This fight game is a very short period in our lives, and you can’t play with it. So, I separated myself from a lot of distractions. I just wanted to focus not only on getting myself physically ready, but mentally and spiritually ready for this fight. Jacksons, since I’d been there before, the scenery, the environment and the mental state of Greg Jackson, the way he approaches fighting, it was just the perfect move for my career."
In the end, the prospect of working with top talent like Jon Jones, Carlos Condit, Donald Cerrone, Clay Guida and others on a daily basis was more important than staying away from someone you may or may not fight down the line.
"We keep the respect knowing that we may end up matching up together," Baker said. "But at this point, that’s not the main concern. Our main concern is the next opponent. And if it gets to that point, it’ll be that within it’s time. It’s just an honor to work with such great guys in the camp. We really do push, and we want to give the fans a great fight."