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Matt Brown stands by Merab Dvalishvili refusing to fight Aljamain Sterling: ‘I would never fight a friend’

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UFC Fight Night: Yan vs Dvalishvili Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Merab Dvalishvili could easily argue that he’s the true No. 1 contender in the bantamweight division yet he won’t be fighting for a UFC title any time soon … at least not as long as Aljamain Sterling is champion.

Currently riding a nine-fight win streak including his lopsided win over Petr Yan at UFC Las Vegas, Dvalishvili has established himself as a force of nature at 135 pounds but his best friend and teammate happens to sit atop the division right now. Time and time again, Dvalishvili has made it clear that he won’t fight Sterling no matter what kind of carrot is dangled in front of him.

UFC president Dana White called Dvalisvhili’s decision “a really bad idea,” especially given how unpredictable and difficult these kinds of opportunities are to come by.

Veteran welterweight Matt Brown sympathizes with White’s comments because he understands why so many teammates have set aside a personal relationship to battle for UFC gold but then again he can’t help but commend Dvalishvili for staying loyal to Sterling even if it comes at his own expense.

“I think Dana has a point and we’ve seen it play out that way before,” Brown explained on the latest episode of The Fighter vs. The Writer. “I think when you’re firing on all eight cylinders and the iron is hot, you’ve got to go for it and I totally agree with Dana.

“On the other side of the token, I’ve never fought a friend before. I’ve fought guys that I know well, guys that I’m close with, and I’ve fought training partners. I would never fight a friend and I actually stand by Merab’s decision on that. I think it’s very honorable of him to do that.”

Dvalishvili calls Sterling his “friend” and his “brother” and that bond between them isn’t worth breaking even if it means becoming UFC champion.

From his own experience, Brown admits that he’s fought past training partners and even teammates but there’s a different line drawn when it comes to friends.

“I stand by Merab and I respect that decision,” Brown said. “I think it’s very cool that he’s doing that. Again, I think Dana has a point though and from Dana’s point of view, it makes perfect sense. We have seen it play out that way before. This moment doesn’t last forever. You can’t deal with this forever. It’s a tough spot that he’s in but that’s his decision.

“I respect him for that. I think we all know he’s good enough to be a champion. We know that. We’re just going to have to see how everything plays out now.”

Over the years, the UFC has seen plenty of teammates sacrifice a working relationship in the face of a lucrative or potentially life-changing opportunity. In almost every instance, the fighters involved stop training together with some teams almost split down the middle over a potential matchup.

Robbie Lawler famously left American Top Team when he was booked to fight Tyron Woodley with a UFC title on the line. Kamaru Usman changed gyms and coaches after he got matched up against longtime teammate Gilbert Burns.

Meanwhile, Daniel Cormier actually started competing at light heavyweight specifically so he wouldn’t run into his friend and teammate Cain Velasquez, who was widely considered the best heavyweight in the UFC at that time. By all accounts it appears Sterling is willing to do the same after he previously announced plans to eventually move up to 145 pounds so Dvalishvili could have his day in the sun at bantamweight.

Brown believes the difference in all those scenarios really comes down to true friendship versus teammates who might be friendly with each other.

“I think in a lot of times in the dynamic one guy is seeing it as we’re training partners and that’s what we do and the other one is like we’re friends. That makes things complicated,” Brown said. “Guys like Aljamain and Merab are openly saying we are friends and we don’t want to fight each other. So I think that changes things a little bit. That’s why I say I would never fight my friends.

“I have a lot of guys that I’ve fought that are training partners and guys that I’m close with to some extent but they weren’t my friends. I don’t still keep in touch, they’re not sending me happy birthday messages. Maybe because I beat them up or they beat me up. I don’t know. These guys are going on vacation together. Aljamain went to Merab’s home country. These guys have a bond built together and the biggest thing, too, is Merab, he shows so much honor and integrity by saying this. He’s saying that Aljamain is part of the reason I’m here so I’m not going to try and take away from him what he helped me build. That deserves some respect.”

More than anything, Brown says Dvalishvili should be praised for his willingness to stick up for his beliefs that some things are bigger than championships, which in his case in the relationship he shares with Sterling.

As it stands, Dvalishvili is the odd man out at 135 pounds so long as Sterling is champion but it appears the Georgian fighter is comfortable right where he’s at.

“It’s easy for Aljamain to say I’m not going to fight my friend. He’s the champion,” Brown said. “For Merab, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. For him to say that, that tells me they’re friends and that’s all there is to it and I respect that immensely.

“I think Merab has probably earned a lot of people’s respect over the weekend not on just those parts of it but his actual fighting game. He’s the whole package. A great guy and an amazing fighter. You’ve got to give a lot of respect to that guy.”

New episodes of The Fighter vs. The Writer with Matt Brown and Damon Martin drop every Tuesday. Find the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio and Stitcher

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