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MMA fighters debate the merits of fighting friends

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The Canadian Press
12/23/2009 1:44:20 PM
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Georges St-Pierre fights for a living and regularly goes up against some of his closest friends in sparring. But the Montreal mixed martial arts star draws the line at facing one of his training partners for real in the cage.

That's because he knows if that were to happen, he'd have to hurt them.

"You can say 'Oh I'm going to play football, I'm going to play hockey, I'm going to play baseball.' But you can't say I'm going to play fighting. It's not a game," the UFC welterweight champion told fans last month during a question-and-answer session prior to UFC 105 in Manchester, England. "It's a sport, yes, but it's a full-contact sport. And the way I fight, my so-called friend, if I fight him, it can affect his well-being.

"So let's say I'm mounted, on top of my friend, and it's time to land this last big elbow that will probably make a scar in the middle of his forehead and knock him out cold and cause him brain damage," he added, drawing laughs from crowd. "No I'm telling it like it is, if he's my friend, I'm going to think twice before I do it. I won't be able to do that to a friend. So that's the reason why I will never fight a friend. I know a lot of fighters who will disagree with me, but me that's my personal belief."

Backstage, St-Pierre acknowledged he may have carried the analogy too far. But he stood by his words, saying the stakes are too high in such instances.

As MMA grows and training camps expand, the issue of fighting friends is becoming an issue in the sport, in some cases blocking possible matches near the top of a weight division.

Three of the UFC's top welterweights -- Jon Fitch, Josh Koscheck and Mike (Quick) Swick -- train together at the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose. They say they will never fight each other.

Middleweight champion Anderson Silva and light-heavyweight title-holder Lyoto Machida are friends and train together. The two Brazilians won't raise a glove in anger either, so scratch that super-fight.

Unless UFC president Dana White gets his way. He says it's just business and when "push will come to shove," friends will fight.

"It's going to happen," he said. "Listen, it's the dumbest thing I've ever heard in the world. It's like Shaq not wanting to play against one of his friends. It's a sport and you're out there to compete with each to see who the best is, not you're my friend and I don't like you if we fight. You're competing to see who's better. Imagine if certain baseball teams didn't want to play other baseball teams because they're friends. 'He's my friend, I don't want to see him lose.' Give me a break. It's ridiculous.

"Every baseball team wants to win the World Series. Every football team wants to win the Super Bowl and every guy that fights wants to be considered the best in the world. And if you and a guy that you're friends with are two of the best in the world and you're in the same weight division, you're going to have to fight."

Friends do face off in the UFC and other MMA organizations, of course.

English training partners Ross (The Real Deal) Pearson and Andre Winner met in the finale of Season 9 of "The Ultimate Fighter."

Pearson, who won by decision, said it was hard to fight his friend. But the two lightweights knew coming into the reality TV show that it could happen.

"I said it before the fight, that 15 minutes (after) the cage door shuts, yeah we fight, but straight after the fight, we're back to being friends. If he'd won and I'd lost a decision, I'd still have been exactly the same way as he has been with me. He's a great guy, Andre. I really respect him and I like him as a guy. He's a real good friend."

Said Winner: "It made it slightly awkward but I wouldn't say it was difficult. . . . I was prepared for it. I mean out of all the guys that went in there, I was glad that it was the two of us in the final."

Welterweight contender Dan (The Outlaw) Hardy, who trains with both Brits, called it "the most difficult fight I've ever had to watch."

Relationships can be strengthened not weakened in some instances in the cage, it seems. It's not unusual to see two MMA fighters go at it hammer and tong and then stop to high-five or hug each other in the middle of a round.

But fighting someone you work with in the gym every day also means you know their strengths and weaknesses. And it can put coaches in a position of conflict.

During his days as a welterweight, Diego (Nightmare) Sanchez worked out of Greg Jackson's camp in Albuquerque, N.M. But Sanchez eventually moved to California to train elsewhere, with the arrival of fellow 170-pounder St-Pierre in the camp as one of the reasons.

The Jackson camp is a particularly close one. The fighters help each other prepare, often flying to the other's home base, and their bond is strong. St-Pierre has said one reason not to move up to middleweight is because training partner Nate (The Great) Marquardt is a top 185-pound contender and the two might have to meet. And Jackson light-heavyweights Rashad Evans and Keith (The Dean of Mean) Jardine says they will never fight for real.

Fitch says taking on a teammate just doesn't make sense when one bout could destroy years of working together.

"It is not a good business decision, you build something up in any business with a core group of people. . . . Why would you risk everything you have built for one fight?"

Hardy, who along with fellow English welterweight Paul (Semtex) Daley, has assembled an elite team called Rough House, has another reason for not wanting to fight a training partner. He needs Daley to get ready.

"Myself and Paul, we've been training together for about eight years now. We're pretty much like brothers," Hardy explained. "I'm in contact with him all the time, and we train together for every training camp. So to have to go into a training camp and not have Paul there would be kind of weird."

Canadian lightweights Sam (Hands of Stone) Stout, Chris (The Polish Hammer) Horodecki and featherweight Mark (The Machine) Hominick insist they are friends first and fighters second.

"Chris and Mark are like brothers to me," said Stout, who co-owns a gym with the other two in London, Ont. "We've been training together for nine years. And we have a bond -- it would take us coming to an agreement and they'd have to pay us a hell of a lot of money before we would do that."

Said Horodecki: "If they were going to pay us both a million dollars, I'm sure we'd do it. But there really isn't a reason for us to fight. . . . It's not a fight that needs to happen."

Canadian middleweight Jason (The Athlete) MacDonald disagrees.

"My belief is you're doing your friend an injustice by not fighting each other. . . . you're taking money away from yourself, you're taking money away from your friends and you're losing an opportunity to fight."

But Iowa lightweight Joe (The South Side Strangler) Brammer speaks for many when he dismisses the idea of fighting training partners like Jeremy (Lil' Heathen) Stephens and Josh (The Dentist) Neer.

"I mean those are the guys that help you every day . . . that would be like stabbing someone in the back."

Of course, even the best of friends go at in the gym. Manager Ed Soares says it is a sight to behold when champions Silva and Machida spar.

"It's a ballet of violence," Soares said with a smile, referencing a famous quote by UFC commentator Joe Rogan. "They go at it. They hit each other and kick each other with love."

Georges St. Pierre (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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