This is at least supposed to be awkward, if not downright impossible. That's what we've been led to believe by all of the fighters who have turned down in theory or practice, fights against friends or training partners. But it doesn't have to always be so complicated, at least according to UFC 150 co-main eventers Melvin Guillard and Donald Cerrone.
The two spent several years side-by-side at Team Jackson-Winkeljohn in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and even though Guillard left the team last year, they remain very close. Guillard and his wife have spent time at Cerrone's ranch. They communicate frequently. But when asked to fight each other at next week's event in Denver, there was really no hesitation.
"I never turn down any fights," Guillard said.
It's much the same for Cerrone, who in 2011 said he'd be willing to go back and forth between lightweight and featherweight for the chance to fight more frequently. And that was during a year in which he fought five times.
It didn't take much to get these two together. Guillard says that after receiving the call -- which he believes came to him only because other lightweights turned down the chance to fight Cerrone -- he verbally accepted the opportunity on short notice. Before officially signing a contract for the fight, he then spoke to Cerrone on the phone, and the two agreed it was a perfectly fine idea.
The prospect of fighting each other is an exciting idea for both. Guillard says that for the longest time, he struggled with Cerrone in practice, finding it difficult to navigate his height and reach advantage, and struggling to stop Cerrone's leg kicks.
For his part, Cerrone seemed to suggest that Guillard was playing up his modesty a bit, saying Guillard certainly returned the favor on plenty of occasions by incorporation his superior wrestling game.
But that was then, this is now. In those days, neither was really trying to hurt the other. The gym environment, after all, is all about learning. Next Saturday, there will be no mercy.
"It's going to be a great fight," Guillard said. "Donald's tough, I'm tough, and this is the first time we're actually going to be able to throw punches and kicks and not have to pull them."
"I hear you, Melvin," Cerrone said. "They’re coming, brother, don't you worry. I’m going to give him hell. I know he’s never been knocked out, but I'm going to kick his ass, kick him and kick him and hopefully he don't block them."
While Guillard has long since moved on to the Florida-based Blackzilians camp, out of respect for him, Cerrone decided not to spend the bulk of his training camp with Team Jackson, either. For this fight, which takes place in his home state of Colorado, the "Cowboy" has moved back to the gym in which he began training, Inyodo Martial Arts in Vail.
"Greg worked with Melvin a lot, and we were great teammates," Cerrone said. "I didn't want Melvin just thinking that all we're doing is picking him apart."
Guillard appreciates the gesture, saying it's just another example of what a stand-up person his old buddy is. But he also says it wouldn't have bothered him if Cerrone chose to work exclusively with Jackson. The reason is because he believes that both of them have added new wrinkles that devalue their previous training interactions.
What is not devalued though, is the friendship. Both athletes say that after the fight, no matter what happens, their relationship will resume as though nothing occurred. But in the three rounds between now and then, it's on.
"If I got him hurt, I'm going to take him out," Guillard said. "And I know he'll do the same to me."