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Monday, March 9, 2009
What's to stop friends from fighting?

By Jake Rossen
Sherdog.com

There had to be a guilty moment in which Rashad Evans breathed a sigh of relief when teammate Keith Jardine was knocked down in defeat at UFC 96 on Saturday in Columbus, Ohio.

Evans -- who is all but a lock to face Jardine's attacker, Quinton Jackson, at some point in the calendar year -- has made repeated statements over the years that he will never, ever square off against Jardine. Not for all the money in the world. Not for an advance screening of "Iron Man 2." And certainly not for the amusement of UFC president Dana White, who once got into a contentious exchange with Evans over this exact issue during a news conference.

The paraphrased dialogue:

White: You'll fight Jardine.

Evans: Oh, no, I won't.

White: If I tell you to, you will.

Evans: Hell, no.

White: Yes, you will.

Evans: No, I won't.

And etc. It was not unlike watching a parent insisting a child eat his vegetables.

With Evans the UFC titleholder in the 205-pound class and Jardine the perpetual hot and cold contender -- always flirting with opportunity, never quite grabbing it -- their reluctance is not an immediate headache for the promotion. But it does ignite discussion over an interesting dilemma in the ever-incestuous world of MMA: Is there anything preventing friends and teammates from trying to break each other's noses?

Keith Jardine
Keith Jardine, above, won't have to worry about fighting Rashad Evans after dropping a decision to Quinton Jackson.

One school of thought says no, that fighting is exactly the same as any other competition. It's no different from two chess grand masters sharing an appropriately pompous eight-course meal and then trading rooks in the finals of some important championship. Josh Thomson and Gilbert Melendez were friends before (and presumably immediately after) their Strikeforce title bout in June, and will square off again in the near future. Mark Coleman and Mark Kerr were fully prepared to beat the brains out of each other in a 2000 Pride tournament. More recently, Rich Franklin left his warm feelings for Matt Hamill aside and proceeded to turn his face into irradiated hamburger.

Others, like Evans and Jardine, are in more complex situations. If their fight is inevitable, who gets to train at their gym and who has to leave? Is there a psychological hurdle that some men have to climb in order to traumatize a teammate in the ring?

Fair play would dictate that both Evans and Jardine distance themselves from their trainer, Greg Jackson, eliminating any pretense of favoritism or postfight awkwardness. There's an easy irony, though, in the idea that the two probably try to decapitate each other in the gym in the course of a training camp. As most in the sport are fond of saying, "The training is much harder than the fighting."

If that's truly the case, Jardine and Evans should welcome the vacation afforded by a session inside the Octagon. (And to pile it on further: They've fought once already on "The Ultimate Fighter," Season 2.)

As the IFL learned the hard and expensive way, MMA is only a team sport up to a point. Everything before the bout is a rally, a demonstration of a support system. But once the cage is locked, there is no opportunity to pass the ball or look for an assist. The championship belts don't go to a group. There's no one bounding onto the mat to replace you if you get hurt.

It's a selfish business. As it should be.

Years ago, in talking to brothers Joe and Dan Lauzon for a magazine profile, I was struck by how apathetic both seemed about the potential for a prizefight against each other. Family gatherings would sometimes end with the two throwing punches, they reasoned, so why not get paid for it?

Putting Evans and Jardine -- or any two stablemates -- into a fight when it isn't absolutely necessary is probably a bit of sadism, a power trip booked by leash-tugging promoters. But when it's time to decide on who the best man is, and it so happens the only two left standing share a gym, it's time to remember that a fight reflects the bigger picture we all face.

You go in alone and you die alone. That's life.

Jake Rossen is a contributor to Sherdog.com.