Friend or foe, when the cage door slams, the only thought that should go through a fighter’s mind is how to secure victory.
Former UFC Middleweight Champion Rich “Ace” Franklin has had to square off against his friend—Matt Hamill. “This industry is a small one,” Franklin says. “In some way, shape, or form, you end up fighting somebody you have spent some time with. However, I would never want to find myself in a situation where I had to fight a friend again.”
Franklin makes it clear that while he did agree to pit himself against Hamill—someone he’d trained with before—he would never step into the Octagon against one of his current training partners. “I would never fight somebody I train with now,” he says. “It was difficult enough fighting somebody I had trained with in the past. If my friend had the title, I would be willing to stand down. You have to make a decision, because once the cage door closes, you have no other choice.”
Former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Rashad Evans has been vocal about his thoughts on fighting friends. “I won’t do it, I’ll quit first,” Evans says, explaining the difficulties that arise even in training against a friend. “Even as sparring partners, if I hit him in his eye or his nose, I’m like, ‘Are you alright?’ We’re like a family, so you don’t have that intent to hurt them.”
Evans explains that another huge drawback of having to go up against a friend is that each fighter knows eachother’s strengths and weaknesses. “If KJ [Keith Jardine]or any friends and I were to fight, it would be the most boring thing in the world,” Evan says. “It would be so boring because we practice every day and we know exactly what each other is going to do. We have the same coaches, so it wouldn’t even make for a good match for the fans.”
Recent UFC signee Jake Shields knows there is a lot of pressure to fight friends, especially when one earns the belt. “People always ask if I’m ever going to fight Nick Diaz because we’re about the same weight,” Shields says. “I’m such good friends with Nick and we’ve helped each other out from the beginning, so I would have no interest infighting him. The money is just not worth it. I wouldn’t fight a teammate. However, there are some friends like Josh Koscheck or John Fitch that I would fight, but it would still be tough.”
Shields might well be facing Koscheck or Fitch in the near future as they are all in the upper echelon of the UFC welterweight division.
KEEPING IT REAL
Top honors for valuing a friendship over a title goes to Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. For more than five years, the talented 205-pound fighter refused to step into the PRIDEFC ring to challenge friend and then-champion Wanderlei Silva. Now, the two friends have nothing to fear—Rua captured the UFC 205-pound belt and Silva dropped to the UFC 185-pound weight class, ensuring that both can be in the title picture.