The UFC 111 post-fight press conference once again instigated the oft-opined, polarizing topic of teammates fighting teammates with the verbal exchange between president Dana White and victorious welterweight contender Jon Fitch.
The cliffs notes version is this: Fitch doesn’t want to fight his American Kickboxing Academy teammate and fellow top flight welterweight contender Josh Koscheck, but the UFC management would prefer if it came to fruition.
In theory it seems like a practical verdict. Two fixtures in the upper echelon of the division would agree to waive their membership to determine the better fighter for the greater good of both the division and the organization.
After all, the very basis for the UFC since inception has been to pit one individual against another in the cage and see who walks away, without so much of a mention or consideration to his allegiance.
But this is 2010 and times have changed. Teams are now a part of the everyday fabric of the sport.
Why then, is MMA still widely considered an individual sport?
Is this not a tired, short-sighted viewpoint given the current configuration?
You’re asking yourself how a sport in which one individual fights another in a cage (or ring) could possibly be a team sport. By definition, the fact that one individual competes on the “playing field” at any given time does not disqualify it from being a team sport. Swimming is considered to be a team sport. So is NASCAR.
In NASCAR, there is one man per team who ultimately drives the stock car on race day, but there is a small army of teammates working toward the common goal leading up to that juncture. These include pit crew members, fabrication shop techs, engineers, wind tunnel technicians, crew chiefs, spotters, statisticians, and on and on.
It’s no different in MMA where the members are comprised of sparring partners, jiu-jitsu coaches, wrestling coaches, boxing coaches, nutritionists, strength and conditioning personnel, managers, game plan consultants, etc…
Again, the lone team representative in the cage on fight night is the only individual aspect of the process. In reality, the fighters are prominent cogs within these subsidiaries that are the very foundation of the present day sport.
When this metamorphosis took place, no one can be certain. It’s been a gradual shift in importance through the years, and it’s undeniable.
These collections of fighters are a daily fixture as they are constantly being monitored and dissected by fans, media, and UFC commentators on fight night. In addition, the team arrangement is prominently highlighted on the UFC Primetime and UFC Countdown shows leading up to live events.
Look around. The globe is littered with world class teams such as Greg Jackson’s MMA, American Top Team, Team Rough House, Nova Uniao, and the aforementioned American Kickboxing Academy (AKA).
These MMA pods are occupied with fighters training all aspects of the sport on a daily basis amidst mutual blood, sweat, and tears. But it goes beyond that. Many fighters are good friends outside of training, their families are well-acquainted, and some may even live together. They also travel around the country (sometimes the world) to support one another and occasionally corner each other on fight night.
In other words, teammates = extended family.
If the UFC wants Fitch to fight Koscheck, I am confident they would agree to do so, but only with a championship belt on the line. Fighting for anything less than the golden sombrero would be uncivilized. It simply isn’t worth it to either man. They don’t want to injure each other, prevent the other man from making money, or stunt each other’s growth in any way, shape, or form. These are not unreasonable sentiments.
I would venture an educated guess that each man would prefer to move up a weight class or gladly give up their spot in a non-title fight as opposed to doing battle with one another. If that means giving up the opportunity at the No. 1 contender designation, then so be it.
How does the UFC retort?
The same way they always do—adapt.
Matchmaker Joe Silva is known for his ability to put together intriguing and quality matchups. There are always a plethora of alternatives within any division. The UFC prides itself on having the deepest talent pool in the world, which equates nicely to flexibility. Alongside Fitch and Koscheck near the top of the welterweight division are the likes of Paul Daley, Thiago Alves, Paulo Thiago, and possibly even Jake Shields by year’s end.
Why not have the Josh Koscheck-Paul Daley UFC 113 fight determine the next No. 1 contender?
Why not schedule Fitch-Daley and at the same time a Koscheck-Thiago rematch?
Why not reschedule the Fitch-Alves rematch?
By no means is the UFC painted into a corner by Fitch declining to fight Koscheck.
Furthermore, if a fight between these two did commence it would likely result in a stalemate as both would be fully aware of the other’s strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies. It is not inconceivable that teammates spar with one another 35 to 40 times in a given year. That’s 35 to 40 times a year since 2006.
Ask yourself, is there a deeper issue here? Why did the UFC call out Fitch and AKA specifically?
Fitch is certainly not the first man to refuse to fight a teammate. Georges St. Pierre, Anderson Silva, Dan Hardy, and Lyoto Machida have all publicly expressed their disinterest. Nevertheless, it is Fitch and AKA who continue to be questioned and even mocked for their repudiation.
It’s no secret the UFC and AKA have had a rocky relationship at times over the past few years. I think we are safe to assume that some form of this tension manifested itself as an underlying role in the recent post UFC 111 episode.
All differences aside the larger issue is that the sport at hand needs to be viewed through a more appropriate, more dated prism. All stakeholders, most importantly the UFC, need to embrace the team-oriented reality and reform their current viewpoint. This is not a major overhaul in philosophy by any stretch. All it really does is present more factors for the UFC to contemplate during various decision making processes.
Given the relationship-laden nature of the sport today it is unfair to ask teammates to fight one another in non-title bouts. More importantly, the fighters don’t want to participate if this idea is perpetuated. They simply won’t sign the bout agreements. Other options should be sought out and executed.
Consequently, those still thirsting for a Fitch-Koscheck matchup will have to come to a consensus on a date and time to descend on 1830 Hillsdale Ave No. 2 in San Jose, California. At this address you will find AKA headquarters, otherwise known as the only venue you will ever see Fitch and Koscheck infighting. And rightfully so.
Derek Bolender is a contributor to MMAmania.com, FoxSports.com, and BleacherReport.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DerekMMAWriter or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org .