A few years ago, Jardine, who is regarded as one of Jackson MMA’s unofficial captains, had to endure a steady stream of questions about the possibility of a fight between him and Evans, his good friend and everyday training partner. Had Jardine’s decision loss against Quinton “Rampage” Jackson at UFC 96 gone differently, the pressure to make that match happen would have only intensified. Evans was like a brother to him, but Jardine believes each situation is different.
“Georges doesn’t come down here that much anymore. Sure, we’re teammates, but we’re like distant relatives,” Jardine said. “Some people that have been around a while, like myself and Nate, will go up to Montreal and train and keep up the relationship that way. It’s not like two guys that are here every day are fighting each other.”
Villasenor is another one of the gym’s more tenured fighters, so much so that his peers sometimes refer to him as “Uncle Joe.” He recognizes that a bout like Condit-St. Pierre is simply business. Fight long enough, and you are bound to come across someone you know.
“The great thing about this is that Georges St. Pierre is a true champion. He’s a great champion. He understands that when you’re a No. 1 contender, you should be given the opportunity to fight,” Villasenor said. “I’ve trained with Georges on and off for the past five or six years. Carlos has become our new teammate the last two years. I’ve known Carlos since he was about 16 or 17 and Georges before his explosion in popularity. Georges is gracious and understanding of the situation. Carlos is a hungry young fighter given a great opportunity. There’s no faults there.”
Jardine agrees with Jackson that keeping the subject of teammates fighting taboo is no longer an option. “Our team’s just gotten too big,” he said. “If we’re successful at all, that means people are winning, and people will end up fighting. There’s no way around it.”
A Change of Pace
Perhaps the defining moment of Jackson’s relationship with Condit came at UFC 115, when Canadian welterweight prospect Rory MacDonald was getting the best of the “Natural Born Killer” after two rounds.
As Condit sat on his stool prior to the final frame, Jackson ripped into him with a fiery pep talk that was out of step with the trainer’s usual happy-go-lucky persona. It worked, as Condit finished MacDonald with just seven seconds remaining in the bout.
Jackson worked with St. Pierre on a very basic level before the fighter's upset loss to Matt Serra at UFC 69. After that, “everything changed,” Jackson said. “He wanted me in the corner; we changed a lot of what we did training-wise.” St. Pierre has not lost a fight since.
Winkeljohn recognizes the challenge that could potentially lie ahead, but he also believes it works both ways. St. Pierre’s crew will have to figure out a way to make things run smoothly without Jackson, as well.
“This is kind of weird because, usually, Greg’s right there and throwing in his ideas and I’m talking to him about it. It’s kind of a challenge now. It’s gonna be all of Georges’ coaches -- they don’t have anybody putting all that together like Greg has done in the past -- against Carlos’ coaches putting things together. It’s kind of fun,” Winkeljohn said.
If and when St. Pierre and Condit do touch gloves inside the Octagon, Jackson plans on being anywhere but the venue in which their fight takes place. He will corner whomever else he has to corner that night and then leave. Friends with his fighters first, he has no interest in seeing two friends battle in the cage.
“I won’t even be in the locker room. Hopefully, by that time, I’ll be long gone, eating dinner somewhere and hoping they get ‘Fight of the Night’ and make a ton of money,” he said. “It’s two of my guys. We have to do it, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
When Jackson speaks of his relationship with St. Pierre, it is easy to see why the situation is so difficult for him.
“He has been the kindest, most loyal human being on the planet,” Jackson said. “It’s really nice to have a guy like that in your life when not everybody handles everything well throughout the years, and just to watch the class that he has and to watch who he is as a person is really inspiring.”
St. Pierre has been a great ambassador for the sport, landing endorsement deals (Gatorade, Under Armour), selling pay-per-views and remaining poised in the face of all the attention he has received. Condit, the son of a politician, possesses similar polish to go with his killer instinct in the Octagon. That makes it hard to pick sides for those who have been around both men.
“It’s just the game, you know,” Jardine said. “I just try and step back and appreciate it as a fan. It’s cool to root for [Condit], and, again, it’s impossible to root against Georges.”
Villasenor does not plan to pick sides, either.
“I don’t ever want to feel like I’m disrespecting any one athlete. May the best man win,” he said. “They’re both very tough, humble, great guys. I’m excited for both of them.”
Seventeen years ago, Jackson never imagined he would be at this point, making a tough decision about current or former pupils competing against one another on a highly anticipated card.
“I just thought I’d be teaching out of a shack,” he said.
Of course, such modest accommodations could never hold Jackson’s legion of fighters. Get to this point, and the line between sports and business sometimes blurs. Jackson still believes team and family can win out in the end.
“As much as people want to say ...” he said, pausing. “We are bigger. It is harder, but if we didn’t have what we have to make us special, no one would stick around.”