Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
A potentially difficult situation is brewing in the UFC's welterweight division, where teammates Carlos Condit and Diego Sanchez are top contenders, teammates and share the same manager.
On Thursday in Atlanta, Jon Jones and Rashad Evans will share the same stage in an event designed to kick off UFC 145 ticket sales. The two have become the posterboys for the teammate vs. teammate debate which has slowly simmered to a boil over the last few years. As supercamps continue to expand, there is no end in sight to the problems that will be caused by top divisional fighters nearing the top and a potential collision course.
But the difficulties don't stop there. What if, beyond teammate vs. teammate, there is an extra element added into the mix? Take for instance a situation that is brewing in the UFC's welterweight division. At Wednesday night's UFC on FUEL event, Diego Sanchez is facing Jake Ellenberger in the main event. If Sanchez wins, he could possibly vault to the front of the division, setting up a potential bout with his teammate, interim champion Carlos Condit.
To make matters more complicated, both Sanchez and Condit have their careers overseen by the same manager, Malki Kawa, which means he will be placed into a situation where he must lobby for a Sanchez title shot while protecting Condit's best interest as the interim belt holder.
On its surface, those two scenarios seem at best diametrically opposed and at worst a conflict of interest. But Kawa disagrees, saying the situation will work itself out.
"The best way to answer it is very simple," he recently told MMA Fighting. "They're both guys who are in the gym, who see each other on a daily basis, who both live in New Mexico. So it's not like they haven't discussed this or aren't going to be able to discuss this. But what I think about that situation is, when Diego Sanchez wins this fight, my job is to put him in position as the No. 1 contender. That's the way I look at it with every one of my clients. My job is to get him his title shot.
"On the other hand, if I have a client that is the champ, and he says to me, 'I'm not interested in that fight, I want to move on and look for a fight with say, Georges St. Pierre,' considering that client is the champion, he owns all the cards in the deck," he continued. "He's the one that has the preference. [The UFC] is going to decide based off of him. If he says we fight Sanchez in the interim, let's fight. It's not going to be my decision of what they do. I can only advise both of them independently of the other."
That could still leave a high-pressure environment for both members of Team Jackson-Winkeljohn.
Consider a scenario where Sanchez wins impressively and is declared the top contender, only to see Condit decide he's going to wait until the end of the year to face St. Pierre. Condit is certainly well within his rights to do so, but couldn't that decision lead to resentment? After all, both Condit and Sanchez have already said they'd have no issue fighting each other.
"We both want the same thing, and that's UFC gold," Sanchez said on a recent edition of The MMA Hour.
If that is the case, and one party is willing to fight and the other isn't, that doesn't sound like a comfortable situation for either of them. Neither does it sound like an easy road to navigate for Kawa. To be fair, boasting too many contenders in your stable is the type of problem many managers only wish they could have.
But imagine fielding a call from one client asking what your other client is going to do. It's all one big game of dominos, one simple decision affecting everything else behind it.
"If Diego wins this fight, I'm going to push for Diego to be No. 1 contender and next in line for the championship," Kawa said. "I'm not going to go back to Carlos and convince him to fight one guy or another. I'm going to explain to him what his options are, what's in his best interests financially, fight-wise and career-wise. And if he says, 'I think you're wrong, or I want to wait for Georges or I want to fight Diego or Ellenberger,' it will ultimately be his decision at the end."
Condit has already done that once, deflecting Kawa's advice to decline a rematch with Nick Diaz before Diaz's failed drug test scuttled those plans.
The funny thing is, if Sanchez wins and is declared No. 1 contender, tension is likely to build regardless of the decision Condit makes. If he declines the fight, Sanchez certainly wouldn't be thrilled. And even if Condit does agree to fight him, you're faced with a situation where the camp is split in half. At least Evans made a clean break from the New Mexico team in order to fight Jones; for a possible Condit-Sanchez fight, it's just the loyalties that are likely to be divided.
Winning might seem like enough for Sanchez on Wednesday night, but it creates a wave that will lead to ripples. From that point, there will be no easy answers as a manager and his two fighters attempt to navigate two separate courses towards the top. Condit and Sanchez both have the same dream. What happens when they intersect at the same point? You don't have to know the inner dynamics of fight camps to realize that when mutual aspirations collide, there is bound to be some collateral damage.
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