At UFC 145, Jon Jones faced and defeated former teammate Rashad Evans in a fight that came into realization when Jones stepped in for the injured Evans to face then-light heavyweight champion, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua.
Jones crushed Rua, became the new champion and Evans went from being glad for his teammate to resentful; the reality of his new situation fell heavily on his shoulders.
His teammate had the belt and Evans wanted it.
Evans left Greg Jackson's camp, and in doing so, seemed to typify the notion that one camp isn't big enough for two fighters wanting the same belt.
For UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez, watching his teammate, Daniel Cormier, vanquish Frank Mir must have been a sweet thing, not only because it’s a win for his team, but because the two men are friends as well.
However, each win that Cormier puts on his record brings him closer and closer to a title shot, which is the true aspiration for every UFC fighter.
Thus, Cormier will have to make a decision: either be ready to fight his teammate for the heavyweight title or move down to light heavyweight and work to contend for the 205 belt, currently held by Jon Jones.
This kind of situation is nothing new to the world of MMA, and it certainly isn’t new in the UFC; there have been more than a few times when discussions of teammate versus teammate have popped up.
For a time, it looked like Josh Koscheck and his teammate and friend, Jon Fitch, might be placed in a position where they would be expected to fight each other, and the same situation was growing between Rashad Evans and Keith Jardine when both men were winning in the light heavyweight division years ago.
Velasquez and Cormier addressed the situation in the same way that Koscheck, Fitch, Evans and Jardean did: with a simple “no.”
In an interview on Fuel TV (h/t MMAWeekly.com), Velasquez shot it down simply and honestly.
“I wouldn’t,” he said. “This is my friend, this is my teammate, this is my coach. You want to see us fight, go to AKA three days a week, we’re going to fight for free.”
Cormier was of a like mind on the subject.
“We spar three days a week, we work hard. Cain Velasquez is going to force me to do something I never wanted to do for a while and that’s maybe cut some weight. They’ve got a lot of guys for me to fight. I’m happy my man is the champion.”
While it would seem that refusal is the answer to the question across the board, other men, such as Chael Sonnen and Dan Henderson—longtime teammates at Team Quest—seemed to simply shrug and indicate that fighting each other would not be a big deal at all, and Henderson said a bout between them would be “quite possible” given that they were both fighting in the same division at the time.
Randy Couture, who is a friend of both men, echoed the sentiment when posed the question about Sonnen and Henderson in a interview with Cage Junkies (h/t MMAWeekly.com).
“Yeah, I think they’d fight,” Couture said. “They’ve wrestled each other for a spot on the Olympic team, they’re wrestlers at the end of the day and now they’re fighters, they’re professionals, this is what we do.”
And what of Rory MacDonald, who is working his way closer and closer to a title shot against friend and teammate Georges St-Pierre?
For a long time now, I have been of the mind that teammate should fight teammate, no questions asked, simply (and possibly naively) because fighting professionally is a choice and potentially facing a teammate is a known possibility.
But that is the perspective of a fan and enthusiast, nothing more, and this is an issue that goes deeper than any fan or writer can truly understand from our lofty perch on the sidelines.
The life of a professional fighter is one of confrontation, over and over again, hour by hour, day by day, week after week, all toward the end of making them the best they can be, and hopefully the best in the world in their weight division.
Often times the public accepts this as if it was the same as shooting hoops or playing a video game.
It is, in truth, drastically different. In the world of professional MMA, you are only as good as your last performance.
That may be one of the reasons why teammates don’t like fighting teammates. With a loss, they may find their worth lessened inside of their camp, just as it is for the outside world.
It has been said time and again that fighting is far more mental than it is physical.
Being defeated (perhaps brutally and embarrassingly) by a teammate would drastically alter the mood in camp after the bout, with the vanquished feeling like they should no longer be training in the same camp as their next potential opponent, especially if the defeat was so one sided and violent that they feel they must have a rematch in order to salvage any self-worth
For men and women who face fear and doubt every day, confidence would seem a very important thing; how confident could a fighter be going back into training and looking across the gym, day after day, at the man who just crushed him professionally?
No matter how clear cut the fight game is, these men who train together are going to form friendships because this is a world based on the idea that you can trust your training partners to have your best interests at heart, focusing on helping you win your next fight.
While it may seem that a fighter could see his “game” elevated by training alongside a man who has defeated him and therefore can use that experience to better the man he bested, it doesn’t account for how their relationship is altered.
And altered it is.
Fighters are human beings who carry all the faults and advantages as the rest of us. Pride can can carry a fighter onward while his body is begging him to quit.
Do fans have the right to expect teammate to fight teammate?
None of these men and women get into the sport because they like to lose; they get into the sport because they love to win in the most primal and pronounced way possible—by beating their opponent down, plain and simple.
When a fighter loses, it is said that it is pride that carries them back into the gym—“Once more unto the breach, dear friends”—and the gym is where the rebuilding of the fighter and his wounded pride begins.
When you consider that, it isn’t hard to imagine that a defeated fighter would find it hard to trust the teammate who crushed him to also help rebuild him, especially since your defeat resonates far more deeply inside the house where you both live.
When looked at it that way, teammate vs. teammate could be seen as some bizarre and twisted species of domestic violence.
Yes, these men and women slug it out in the gym, but that is behind closed doors, for the betterment of each other toward the end of defeating an opponent they don’t really know and don’t really care to know.
This is a sport that demands some level of distance between opponents and fosters aggression for the sake of progression, but when that is aimed inward—inside the house where they train—instead of outward, toward another camp with the same goals, division will occur on some level.
And a house divided cannot stand for long.
So, while the issue is never going to go away, I think that all of us can understand on some level why the idea of a fighter having to face his teammate on a professional level is an unpopular one inside those glorious houses.
But they are professionals and fighting is their profession, and where the belt is concerned, it really does boil down to just how badly they want it.
As upsetting as teammate vs. teammate is, the pursuit of the belt is demanding and vigorous, in many ways like a cruel mistress; and she demands that only the best fighters get to wear her gold and only the best fighters get to keep on wearing it.
And if the two best fighters for the title come from the same house, then so be it.