“The lady doth protest too much, methinks”
The age-old tale of teammates not wanting to fight one another is always a revalent story in the landscape of mixed martial arts because it always seems to happen.
The most infamous case of two teammates who once upon a time vowed they would never face each other were Team Jackson fighters Rashad Evans and Jon Jones.
At the time, Evans was the patriarch of the team, a former light heavyweight champion who had been a mainstay at the gym for years. Then young upstart Jon Jones came along and started his meteoric rise up the ranks of the 205-pound weight class, but time and time again through every interview conducted, both Jones and Evans stated they would never fight each other.
“(I would) absolutely not (fight Rashad Evans). If Rashad Evans won the belt, which I’m hoping he does, my only goal would be to be the toughest contender there is, and keep whipping butt without being champion. I’d stay at 205 and be the second best. That would be my goal. As I said, I’m hoping he wins, we’re very proud of him. I can’t do it,” Jones told ESPN in late 2010.
Unfortunately, Evans never got the chance to fight for the light heavyweight title because his planned bout against then champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua was scrapped after Evans suffered a knee injury in training. So with Evans out, his teammate and close friend Jon Jones was offered the opportunity to step in and compete for the title instead.
Even at that point, Evans still wasn't ready to say he'd face his teammate because friendship ran deeper than any title, or so we thought.
“I'm not going to fight him,” Evans told MMA:30 just days after Jones was offered the shot against Rua. “We fight enough in practice. Everybody always said like ‘you've got to fight Jones' and I told Jon I was like ‘you know what man, I enjoy working with you as a teammate and I think whatever's going to be for you, is for you, and whatever is for me, is for me, and the way it shapes out, it shapes out.'”
Jones went on to win the title, but soon after the championship changed hands, both competitors also started singing a whole different tune.
Rashad Evans exited Greg Jackson's camp and vowed never to return, and shouted with anger at how Jones had betrayed their pact to not fight each other when in another interview the new champion admitted that if UFC president Dana White wanted the fight to happen, it would have to happen.
“It's Dana's world when you're a UFC fighter and we live in it,” Jones said when speaking to Versus TV back in 2011. “So, I respect Dana a lot, and if that's what he absolutely wanted to happen, I guess that's what would have to happen. Me or Rashad would not want to get fired over the situation. It would just be majorly awkward for us.”
The awkwardness obviously faded in favor of animosity as every dirty secret, every bad moment that ever occurred between Jones and Evans soon fell into the spotlight as the one-time teammates soon became heated rivals.
Not every teammate vs. teammate situation will end as bitter as Jones vs. Evans did, but it's hard to ignore the signs surrounding these types of scenarios as the “super camps” continue to fill up with top talent in the same weight classes.
Take for instance, UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre and 170-pound prodigy Rory MacDonald. Both train under head coach Firas Zahabi at the Tristar gym in Montreal, and both have been quite adamant in the past that they would never, ever face each other.
“I’m not interested in fighting him. There are a lot of welterweights. I don’t think we have to do it now. In two years, who knows? Maybe I’ll go to middleweight,” St-Pierre told reporters at UFC 145 earlier this year where he attended as one of MacDonald's cornermen.
“He’s a friend, like a brother for me. I just hope the best for him and I know one day he’ll be world champion.”
MacDonald has been singing the same tune about never fighting GSP, and how out of respect for his team and coaches, he'd take the backseat for now while St-Pierre continues to drive as welterweight champion.
“It's like this, Georges has seniority at our gym, Tristar. Georges is a friend of mine. We're training partners together. I don't know about you, but you probably don’t like to beat up your best friend, cut him, watch him bleed, cry, lose money, all that stuff, it sucks,” said MacDonald.
“But there's also a thing at our gym, I don't want to get kicked out for one. I'm newer there, and Georges brought me in as a guy in his own weight division. I have to respect that you know? I have a long way to go in this career of mine, and in the UFC, and I want to wait till I am peaked to carry that title.”
As MacDonald continues his climb up the welterweight ladder, however, it's hard to ignore the similarities between his situation with St-Pierre and what happened not long ago between Jon Jones and Rashad Evans.
Recently, the often soft-spoken MacDonald has started to show the maturing process even when speaking to the media. In past interviews and press conferences, MacDonald seemed to defer to St-Pierre almost in a “big brother” sort of way, learning and growing under the UFC's welterweight champion.
MacDonald is starting to become his own man now and that could eventually turn into him being a top contender standing right behind St-Pierre in the welterweight divisional rankings.
“I've come to a point in my career where I don't look up to anybody in this sport anymore,” MacDonald said at the UFC 152 pre-fight press conference earlier this week.
“Yeah, Georges he's a good friend of mine, but I don't look up to anyone. He's a regular guy and a great training partner for me and me for him so it works good together.”
There is a calming influence in this situation as coach Firas Zahabi continues to lead and work with both St-Pierre and MacDonald, but Jones and Evans also had a fierce general heading up their training with legendary coach Greg Jackson at the helm.
Both St-Pierre and MacDonald seem clear when saying they won't fight each other, and right now it's not even a matter that has to be discussed. St-Pierre is recovering from knee surgery and takes on Carlos Condit later this year, with another top welterweight contender being crowned in a fight between Martin Kampmann and Johny Hendricks.
Meanwhile, MacDonald has his own biggest test coming up at UFC 152 in Toronto as he faces future UFC Hall of Famer B.J. Penn. Still if MacDonald wins, it's going to be hard to ignore that he's slowly but surely creeping up behind his friend and teammate in the welterweight rankings.
White has never understood the concept of teammates not fighting each other, especially with the biggest prize in the world on the line. He's confident if they wanted St-Pierre vs. MacDonald to happen, it would happen.
“Why are you in this? You're in this to become the world champion. I guarantee you if Rory looks at (expletive) GSP's bank account, he'll want to beat the (expletive) out of him. That's what it's about,” White told MMAWeekly.com in April.
“This is the fight business, not the friend business.”
Are St-Pierre and MacDonald strong enough in their friendship and statements to stay the course and truly avoid each other for the foreseeable future or do we have another Jones vs. Evans situation brewing just beneath the surface?
The next year in the UFC welterweight division should be an interesting scenario to watch unfold.