Friends Fighting Friends

Oct 24, 2008
They say familiarity breeds contempt, but in the world of mixed martial arts, the lines are a bit more blurry. Promoters often pit teammate against teammate, friend against friend, in their pursuit of financial success. Some fighters refuse those advances, no matter the lure.

“We won’t fight each other,” says famed mixed martial arts trainer Greg Jackson when asked about a potential fight between two of his top protégés, Rashad Evans and Keith Jardine.

Former UFC light heavyweight champions Tito Ortiz and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson have pledged never to fight unless the money was “right.” Other competitors seem to have no trouble putting relationships on the back burner and going toe-to-toe with their friends. Karl James Noons and Yves Edwards come to mind.

Few dynamics can match friend-versus-friend in terms of piquing interest. One needs only to look at the clashes between Ortiz and Chuck Liddell to understand the hype such fights can generate. In the case of James Irvin and Scott Smith or Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin, mixing it up inside the cage can forge even stronger bonds and lead today’s modern-day gladiators to hone their games inside the same gym as their former opponents.

Here are some past, scheduled and potential bouts with thick plotlines.

Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog.com

Hermes Franca (right) once was
a close friend of UFC 90
opponent Marcus Aurelio.
Hermes Franca vs. Marcus Aurelio

One-time training partners will find themselves on opposite sides of the Octagon, as a feud between the two Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts comes to head at UFC 90 this Saturday in Chicago. Aurelio represents the same American Top Team camp from which Franca was exiled, and their matchup stirs a boiling pot of bad blood. Franca’s back-to-back decision losses leave him in a desperate position, and Aurelio wants to prove he’s better than his 2-2 UFC record indicates.

Would they fight? They meet at UFC 90.

Josh Thomson vs. Gilbert Melendez

When Thomson upset Melendez to capture the Strikeforce lightweight championship in June, the MMA world again took note of “The Punk.” Leading up to the fight, much was made of their friendship. However, without the Zuffa-hype machine behind their enthralling title match, the battle between friends did not receive the attention it might have garnered on a bigger stage.

Would they fight again? A rematch seems almost a certainty, as long as Melendez re-signs with Strikeforce following his next fight. Thomson and Melendez are both popular, and they have a solid five rounds of action against each other behind them.

Rashad Evans vs. Keith Jardine

The aforementioned 205-pounders have more than beating Liddell in common; they both train at Jackson’s Submission Fighting in Albuquerque, N.M. UFC matchmakers placed the proverbial 900-pound gorilla in the Jackson camp when Evans was awarded an immediate title shot after defeating Liddell at UFC 88. Jardine got no such benefit and was instead sent back to the bottom of the ladder by Wanderlei Silva at UFC 84. Should Evans defeat Griffin, Jardine could be stuck in a division in which reaching his ultimate goal becomes an impossibility -- unless he fights his friend.

Would they fight? While they mixed it up as heavyweights on season two of “The Ultimate Fighter” -- Evans won a decision -- a rematch does not appear to be an option for either man.

Tyson Griffin vs. Gray Maynard

The two lightweights train together at hotshot training center Xtreme Couture Mixed Martial Arts in Las Vegas, and both will compete at UFC 90 this Saturday -- against Sean Sherk and Rich Clementi, respectively. The unbeaten Maynard is on the fast track in the UFC’s 155-pound division, having already defeated the highly touted Frankie Edgar, who was, ironically, the first man to beat Griffin. Since that loss to Edgar in one of the best fights of 2007, Griffin has posted a 4-0 mark. His experience and exposure could land him a title shot soon should he continue his winning ways, but Maynard’s bullying style places him almost parallel to the Californian in the UFC lightweight contenders line.

Would they fight? “Why would you ask that question?” Griffin asked. “We’re training partners.”

B.J. Penn vs. Joe Lauzon

While a fight between Penn and his understudy seems highly unlikely any time soon, it seemed plausible earlier this year. However, Lauzon was knocked down a few notches by a technical knockout loss to Kenny Florian in April. Prior to that fight, Penn expressed confidence in the Massachusetts-born fighter and spoke with candor in terms of how he would advise Lauzon should a matchup between them materialize. “I would make him fight me,” Penn told MMAJunkie.com. In a sport rich in strong student-teacher bonds, it was a refreshing take on the situation. Penn’s dominance and Lauzon’s potential keep the fight a distant but real possibility.

Would they fight? Yes. Anytime, anywhere Penn wants -- in the gym or in the Octagon.

Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

Jon Fitch vs. Josh Koscheck (pictured
together) is always an entertaining
sight at AKA.
Mike Swick vs. Josh Koscheck vs. Jon Fitch

American Kickboxing Academy founder Javier Mendez believes the space-time continuum might experience a hiccup should three of his top fighters have to battle each other. Mendez suggested a pay-per-view be held from the AKA training center if such a scenario arose. Losses by Koscheck and Fitch to UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre have allowed Swick -- 2-0 as a welterweight and 7-1 in the UFC -- to close the distance on his comrades.

However, Fitch may have doubled his fan base in his gutsy UFC 87 loss to St. Pierre, and Koscheck’s technique may finally be catching up to his talent. Either of them could make for a compelling rematch against St. Pierre. As Fitch, Koscheck and Swick vie for their piece of the UFC pie, their refusal to compete with each other will only limit their earning potential.

Would they fight? “Only for a title,” said Bob Cook, who trains the three welterweights.

Diego Sanchez vs. Georges St. Pierre

When Jackson began training St. Pierre, he inadvertently alienated Sanchez, his longtime student and a top-five contender in the UFC welterweight division. The situation prompted “Nightmare” to pack his bags for San Diego, though the move was also a personal decision for Sanchez, who wanted to be closer to his family. Teacher and student have wished one another well, but Sanchez could be a win or two away from facing St. Pierre for the welterweight crown.

Jackson despises to such a degree the idea of having two of his students matched together that he prefers to train no more than two top fighters in each weight class. In short, he sees his team as a family. Quarrels are not welcome. Fortunately for MMA fans, Sanchez no longer trains under the Jackson’s Submission Fighting umbrella.

Would They Fight? “I don’t know,” Jackson said. “Put it this way, I haven’t even thought about it.” An injury forced Sanchez out of his UFC 90 bout with Thiago Alves and delayed any potential bout with St. Pierre.

Anderson Silva vs. Paulo Filho vs. Lyoto Machida

Brazilian ties run deep for Silva, the dominant UFC middleweight champion who continues to stake his claim as the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world. A quick venture into the 205-pound division saw him take out James Irvin and then express no interest in picking up a second title there. He believes the light heavyweight belt belongs to Machida, a fellow Black House member.

Silva has also resisted calls to fight Filho, a longtime friend who considers a bout between the UFC and WEC 185-pound champions out of the question. Filho’s powerhouse Brazilian jiu-jitsu and Machida’s unorthodox style seem to pose the only threats to “The Spider,” but fans may never find out who’s the best of the three.

Would they fight? Ed Soares, Silva’s manager, believes it may take an act of God for the Black House members to face each other. “I can tell you right now, 95 percent it won’t happen,” he said.

Wanderlei Silva vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua

These two aggressive strikers were both baptized by Chute Boxe Academy violence. Rua mimicked Silva’s gangbusters style en route to becoming the 2005 Pride middleweight grand prix winner. Despite having the strongest claim to a title shot against Silva, then the Pride champion, Rua refused to fight his mentor.

Still strong friends, they have found their way to the UFC and have settled at new camps -- Silva at Xtreme Couture and Rua at Universidade da Luta. A fight between them would be a matchmaker’s dream.

Would they fight? Even though they now train at different gyms, it seems unlikely Rua and Silva would ever meet inside the Octagon. They embody the fight-anyone-anywhere mantra but still place a great importance on their friendship.
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