Wednesday, April 20, 2011

UFC Fighters Refusing to Fight Friends/Teammates

One of the biggest issues currently facing the UFC is the recent epidemic of fighters refusing to fight their friends and training partners.  While the UFC is trying to run a business and put on the most exciting fights possible for the fans fighters are flat out refusing fights and in some cases denying themselves an opportunity for a title.

This is by no means a new phenomenon as fighters have always looked to avoid fighting their friends and training partners.  It just seems that lately it has been occurring far more frequently.

The first major refusal to fight a friend, that I can think of, came from Anderson Silva.  Silva had been cleaning out the Middleweight division and there was a growing theory amongst fans he would step up and fight at Light Heavyweight as well.  The only problem was that at the time the Light Heavyweight champion was Silva's friend and training partner Lyoto Machida.  Although Anderson had just come off back to back victories over light heavyweights James Irvin and Forrest Griffin he said that he would not be interested in making a permanent move to 205lbs if Machida was champion.

Even after Machida lost the belt to Mauricio “Shogun” Rua at UFC 113 Anderson still refused to move up to fight for the title.  He still believed that Machida was in the conversation as a potential challenger for the title and didn't want to do anything to prevent Machida from getting a title shot.  So despite fans desires to see a Silva-Machida superfight the hands of the UFC are tied as they can't force Silva to fight his friend and don't want to upset their biggest star.

Since all of that transpired more and more fighters have come out and said they would refuse to fight their friends.  For example Jon Fitch said that had Josh Koscheck beaten Georges St. Pierre he would have moved up to middleweight and challenged for a title there in order to avoid having to fight his American Kickboxing Academy training partner.

In an interview with MMA Mania Fitch had this to say about the whole situation,"To me there's no reason to fight a teammate. It's just not a fight we're interested in at all. It's a situation where, if Koscheck is able to win the belt and defend the belt, I will move up to 185. [If Georges wins] I'll be waiting on the front doorsteps with flowers [for a title shot]."

A more recent example would be Rashad Evan’s initial refusal to fight Jon Jones.  Obviously since Jones victory over Shogun at UFC 128 Rashad has had a change of heart.  Now a war of words has begun and the two will fight at some point in 2011 but this is the exception and not the rule.

I can understand why fighters wouldn’t want to fight their friends and the people they train with as no one wants to be responsible for setting a friend’s career back by beating them.  I mean if Jones does beat Rashad then Rashad may never get a title shot again and that’s a lot of pressure to put on a friendship.  Guys make their living by fighting and if you're a title contender you are going to be featured on main cards and make more money.  To beat a friend and therefore hurt his earning power is something that I'm sure no fighter wants to do.

Having said that the UFC is a business.  When these fighters sign contracts with the UFC it should be under the assumption that they will need to fight anyone at anytime.  The UFC is trying to pormote MMA and put on the best possible fight for fans and UFC matchmaker Joe Silva needs to have the freedom to make the best fights possible without having his hands tied because of friendship.  In the case of Rashad and Jones the UFC got lucky that they changed their minds and agreed to fight but that won't happen every time.

Another factor to consider is that these days a lot of the top fighters in the world train at the same gyms.  Jackson’s MMA, Black House and AKA are the home gyms of 4 of the current UFC champions and at least 10 fighters that would be considered top 5 in their weight class.  If guys from AKA refuse to fight one another then that's going to be a problem as that gym continues to grow and attract better fighters.

Staying with the theme of gyms by forcing training partners to fight it might also divide the gym.  The best example of this is occurring presently with Rashad and Jon Jones.  Rashad trained at Jackson's MMA long before Jon Jones did and now he has left the gym and is training elsewhere as he feels betrayed by Greg Jackson and the other coaches.  Now other people that trained at Jackson's MMA have to take sides and the whole situation can get out of hand quick.

In the case of Rashad and Jones if they had just agreed to fight in the first place the whole thing wouldn't have gone down the way it did.  Instead they let public pressure and misinterpreted quotes from interviews guide their decisions. Had both fighters realized that they were involved in a business and put their friendship aside this mess could have been avoided.

The UFC needs to put a stop to this sort of behavior as soon as possible because if they don’t eventually it’s going to be hard for them to put on the fights that fans really want to see. Fighters need to realize that they are involved in a business and although it’s understandable they don’t want to fight their friends if you want to be a great fighter you can’t turn down fights.

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