Amongst acquaintances, at times, one finds a friend. Good friends are hard to come by. Once found they can remain a friend for life.
In the world of MMA, the seeds of such bonds are planted on the training mat. Two fighters who train and sometimes even travel together become as close as brothers.
Those seeds grow and flourish into a weaving vine, as the fighters ascend and, in some cases, transcend the sport.
What happens, though, if the higher path that two close friends followed were to lead them on a path set for each other?
What if the pinnacle of a growing friendship that started a career ago, ends with two friends standing alone? Only one left to challenge the other.
In this world of combat sports, it is not uncommon. Friendships forged in the gym are the very essence of what drives our fighters.
It is against the best opponent that a man becomes stronger. Many times the best opponent is good because of the man he trains with. Look around the best of fighters and often you will find many great fighters.
This has been the case with two great fighters of this era, Fedor Emelianenko and Josh Barnett. Emelianenko and Barnett are friends, yet on August 1st, 2009 at Affliction Trilogy, they will square off for a war.
They have trained together in the past and have nothing but kind words for each other. They have expressed the utmost in professionalism when the subject is breached.
On more than one account they have been asked about the other and the tone is always the same, one of respect, integrity, and careful delivery as to the answer. To the casual fan this may seem less than riveting.
To the trained eye though, it is seen for what it truly is: a representation of camaraderie amongst two great friends. Two friends who understand that their true place in the world is performing their art for the fans who love to watch them.
While friendship may seem the deterrent for two friends to fight, Barnett even eluded to the fact that it would bring the best out of both of them.
Imagine, who knows you better than your best of friends? Who could hurt you the worst? The great Bob Marley once said, "Only your best friend knows your secrets, so only he can reveal them."
Imagine how that plays out for a fighter. These men are familiar with eachother and know their respective strengths and weaknesses more so than any random fighter they may face. It should prove very interesting come fight night.
The fans of MMA owe these two men a great deal of gratitude for their efforts. To put aside friendship in the name of battle is surely more difficult than they are given credit for.
They do it for us fight fans. They make their sacrifice because they know it is what we desperately want to see. They also know their efforts will strengthen a company that many view as struggling in Affliction.
There are others in the fight world who can take a page from the book of these two less-than selfish fighters. Two names every bit as huge as Emelianenko and Barnett: Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machinda.
The two current UFC champions are also great friends, and at times training partners. Each carry prestigious titles around their waist.
Sadly, even though he is making his second jump up to the HW division, Silva has given the impression he will never fight Lyoto. He does not want to fight his friend. Is that commendable or selfish?
Either way its a shame. Fans have built this sport with their ticket and pay per view dollars. They deserve the very best that MMA can offer. In these times, their money never comes easy, so why should anyone else get it that way?
One of the best fights possible is Machida vs. Silva, and it may never happen. Another one of the best fights possible is Emelianenko vs. Barnett. And that, my friends, is just around the corner.
Thank you Affliction, Tom Atencio, and of course our titans who are bound to give us war.