There is an obvious element of pride that comes along with the make-up of a fighter. Like all competitive sports, that pride drives the greatest of athletes to rise to the top of their games.
In doing so, they raise the bar so high that others are judged by their accomplishments. In MMA there are so many gleaming examples of competitors that have risen far and above most that surround them.
Names like Fedor Emelianenko, Anderson Silva, B.J. Penn, Georges St. Pierre, and Lyoto Machida come to mind. When those names resonate on the educated mind, the word elite begins to echo in the thoughts.
What makes them elite is their ability to overcome challenges and dominate. All of the fighters listed have overcome their failures and demons to become the athletes they are today. They emerged champions in every sense of the word.
Most of the fighters mentioned may never encounter one unique obstacle that can hinder their paths to further greatness—the unbreakable barrier of brotherhood found amongst the most loyal of teammates.
Two of the fighters mentioned are in the thick of that very discussion. The UFC MW Champ known as "The Spider" Silva, and UFC LHW Champ known as "The Dragon" Machida. The two both hail from team Blackhouse.
Silva and Machida are two of the most feared and accomplished competitors fighting in the Octagon today, and they reside as champions a mere 20 pounds apart.
Silva, a seemingly unstoppable force, and brutal striker, can't seem to find his match in the UFC. Silva defines dominance and seeming invincibility, having not lost once since competing for the UFC.
Machida is an undefeated fighter, period. Having only been in deep waters one time in his UFC career, at the hands of Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, Machida has proved a master of chess, a master of martial arts, and is also seemingly unsolvable.
So it would seem that, since the two have yet to find that challenge necessary to push themselves, it makes sense for these two elite champions to square off, right?
The answer to that question depends on which school of thought one employs when discussing the matter of close friends going to war.
Silva and Machida are not the only ones with this issue. There is the duo currently residing very close to the top of the WW division, Josh Koscheck and John Fitch, both from American Top Team.
These are two proud and capable elite WWs who more than likely will see their paths cross, depending on how Kos does against Paul Daley in their upcoming fight.
Speaking of Daley, there are also two WW British bombers who will probably see their careers intersect in the next year or so. Those fighters being Daley and recent No. 1 contender Dan Hardy.
Both fight out of Team Rough House. Both will find themselves atop the WW heap as time moves on.
That is four UFC WW's who may refuse to compete.
So what happens when said fighters careers do cross? Do they step up and compete, or do they refuse and preserve the integrity of their relationships with their dear friends and training partners?
Many times fighters will refuse to discuss the idea of competing with a friend. The nature of the sport is so inherently dangerous and aggressive that they can't fathom the idea of inflicting pain on a close friend.
They are comfortable in their right to choose, and their choice is their own. Neither the fans, nor Joe Silva, nor Dana White can force them to fight, and if they tried, what good would it do? Does anyone really want to see fighters compete in a match where their heart and drive isn't 100 percent on display?
On the other side of that coin, it's the fans that drive their stardom, it's the fans that support their ascent and participation in MMA. If the best fight a competitor can pursue is that which takes place with someone who happens to be a dear friend, should that obstacle rob the fans of their right to see such a match?
Many would say no, but consider for a moment the stakes, as well as the comfort level required to turn one's nose up at a proposed fight.
For example, Anderson Silva wants for nothing—his time as a dominant champion has been established. Money should not be an object for him when taking fights more so than legacy at this point.
Machida is in similar situation. A situation that allows for the comfort of their place in life and in this sport to open the door for them to choose. They choose not to compete because they are comfortable or entrenched enough in their positions to do so.
Now consider for a moment, if you will, episode one of The Ultimate Fighter 11. Two dear friends, two up-and-coming hungry fighters trying to claw their way to an opportunity to compete for the UFC.
Charley Lynch and Clayton Mckinney found their friendship and their MMA careers at a crossroads as they were matched against one another for an opportunity to fight their way into the TUF house. In their case, it was fight or go home.
The luxury of championship purses gaining dividends in the bank, or their lack of status as well-known stars, did not allow for them to pick and choose their next steps. They were told this is what is necessary to compete for our promotion, and they made their choice.
It turns out they put on one of the best fights of the night. As dear friends, they were able to overcome their adverse perceptions of competing with each other. In doing so, it would seem they brought out the best in one another.
Did they set a tone for a belief that friendship can overcome the raw competition found inside the Octagon? Did they paint a picture that shows how two friends can truly challenge each other to be the best fighters they can be? Did they open the door to the idea that maybe it's not as big an issue as it would seem?
Could this example of true hungry warriors, of two friends who know each other well, of two guys who swallowed their wishes to avoid each other? Could that example shine true for champions who sit high atop their thrones and choose a different path?
Looking down from atop the mountain, that glimmering light the champs see at the lowest point of the UFC is two fighters who will do anything to succeed in this sport. They want to prove themselves to everyone, regardless of the stakes.
Could a complacent MMA star learn from a raw, up-and-coming hungry fighter? Can a champion learn from the lessons taught by those just trying to gain entrance into elite levels of MMA?
Can a champion who values his friendship more so than his drive to emerge as one of the best ever change his perception based on the actions of two guys no one has ever heard of?
This is not to say one way is right and the other is wrong, but sometimes in life, and especially in MMA, someone comes behind you and displays a better way, a harder drive, a bigger will to succeed. Either they push you to be better and do more, or they pass by you in the fast lane while you try to figure out where you went wrong.
One thing is certain, the old guard may have their reservations about competing against close friends, but if this newer, younger crop of fighters is any indication of the next generation of athletes, and their willingness to compete under any circumstances, this issue may not remain a problem for the UFC or MMA much longer.