Greg Jackson's decision to corner Jon Jones against Rashad Evans was made in the 1860s. Not literally, of course. Instead, Jackson turned to Civil War history to help him through his personal struggle of how to handle a situation that saw him stuck between one of his most revered former students and his current standout.
Jackson originally planned to sit out the Jones-Evans fight, but after Jones and others in his fight team spoke to him about his decision, he reconsidered by reflecting on history. One day, he was reading about the Civil War, and was struck by the way many were forced to take action to a cause they believed in, even if it was an inconvenient battle to fight.
While he acknowledged his decision was nowhere near as profound as the one that ripped the country apart, he at least saw a small parallel that ultimately pushed him to take Jones' side when he opposes former Team Jackson member Evans at UFC 145.
"I felt I had kind of a duty to the team," Jackson said on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "What I mean by that is Jon Jones is on the team, Rashad has left the team and has made it pretty clear he’s not coming back. My personal feeling, if I wanted to be a little selfish, I would say, 'I don’t want to deal with any of it. I don’t want to be there at all.' But it has to mean something to be on a team. It has to mean something, and I felt I had a duty to do that, because Jon’s on the team, so it’s my responsibility to corner him. Even though it’s a really hard decision, I decided to go with it."
Jackson has been working with Jones throughout the entire fight camp, but that doesn't mean it's been a comfortable feeling given everything he's gone through with Evans over the years. The two were together for most of Evans' career, through his championship victory, until the tension with Jones caused a rift that ultimately became a rip.
"It’s not fun," he said of the situation. "I wouldn’t call it weird, it’s just not fun. I love Jon to death, but I love Rashad, too. And so it’s not a position I enjoy at all. It’s not something I like, but it something I think I have to do."
Jackson took the blame for the situation's genesis, saying he didn't have protocols in place to prevent it. Instead, it was simply an unwritten rule that teammates wouldn't fight each other.
Now he admits that's no longer realistic, and that especially if a championship is on the line, teammates may have to square off. When that happens in the future, Jackson won't corner either fighter, but coaches from his camp will take each side. That's already happening to a degree, as campmates UFC welterweight champ Georges St. Pierre and interim champ Carlos Condit were once scheduled to fight, and will again face that situation when St. Pierre is healed.
Jackson hopes that now that there is a procedure in place, things won't blow up again.
"Our camaraderie has been great," he said. "I thought it might wreck morale, but it didn't. In fact, because everybody knows this is the reality of the situation, everybody's OK with it. It's like being surprised. If you're surprised, if you're caught off-guard, things can go really badly. But if you know this is the way it is, when it happens, you're like, 'Well, we knew this would happen. Let's just get through it and move on.'"
For now though, he's left with a difficult situation. When he arrives in Atlanta, he knows he may be contributing to the downfall of someone he still cares for. Ironically, the city was a key battleground in ending the Civil War, and Jackson hopes it is the place where this personal war reaches its end.
"In a perfect world, they have a great fight and everybody squashes it and moves on from there, but we’ll see," he said. "Life is not a perfect thing. Everyone makes mistakes. I make mistakes, everybody else does as well, so yeah, I hope it gets squashed and everything works out after that. That’s my hopeful scenario."