It’s the fight everyone wants to see but two African-American mixed martial artists have people asking what place brotherhood has in non-team sports.
Rashad Evans and Jon Jones are seemingly on a crash course to fight for the Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight title but both say they would pass on the bout if it meant fighting one another.
Both Evans and Jones train out of the same Albuquerque, N.M. gym, Submission Fighting, run by Greg Jackson.
Jones insists that more than just the pledge he made to Jackson, “not to use the skills he learned there against the other members of the team,” that their status as two of the sports brightest African-American stars and their personal relationship would prevent him from even wanting to do so.
Jones told the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Adam Hill, “Not that it has anything to do with race, but we’re both African-American guys and we’re fighters. We’ve got a lot of similarities between family and all this other type of stuff.”
Jones continued, “Rashad’s a unique character to me. There’s not many guys that I can relate to like Rashad, and preparing to do physical damage to him just doesn’t add up to me.”
If for nothing else, it’s admirable. But how does two of the sports handful of African-American stars refusal to fight each other actually help either? How does it affect future African-American fighters who may be faced with a similar scenario?
In boxing, we’ve seen two heavyweight contenders refuse to fight each other over similar circumstances. The Klitschko brothers, Vitali and Wladimir, instantly come to mind. But the Ukranian heavyweights split a share of the heavyweight titles at the moment and they’re actually siblings.
On the other hand, we’ve seen Venus and Serena Williams play each other in Grand Slam finals before. Both sisters have spoke about how awkward a task it is for themselves and their family, but they put those things behind them and competed. What if they had vowed early on to never to play each other for a title?
They’ve accepted the fact that while uncomfortable, their bond shouldn’t prevent the other from excelling. Then again, pounding each other with 120 mph serves is a whole lot easier than pounding each other in the face with your fists and feet.
Evans and Jones may be close like brothers but at the end of the day, they’re just boys. Close friends. Teammates.
We’ve seen the idea of individual-team sports work before. Think about the Tour De France. Lance Armstrong was part of a team in an individual competition. His teammates didn’t just let him win, they were competing for the title as well, just using a team dynamic to help each other along and get better. So it’s not totally unheard of.
Like top racing teams in NASCAR or Formula One, some of the UFC’s best fighters tend to come from camps where other amazing fighters also train.But another pair of UFC fighters, Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch, who are teammates at the American Kickboxing Academy, have also came out and said they won’t fight each other for the UFC welterweight title, if the scenario arises. Finch went so far to say, he’d move up in weight classes if it meant he and Koscheck didn’t have to fight.
UFC, historically, hasn’t been kind to fighter’s refusal to give to people what they yearn for. UFC president, Dana White, had typically strong comment on the subject appearing earlier this month on the Jim Rome Show.
“The bottom line, and the way it’s been in the UFC, is that it’s a camp thing. You’ll find a couple of camps that are saying, ‘Oh, no. This guy is my friend. I’m not fighting him.’ What? This isn’t personal. This isn’t, ‘Oh, I hate him. I’m going to fight him.’ You train, and you work hard to be the best mixed martial artist you can be, and you’re going to compete against other mixed martial artists to prove you’re the best,” said White.
That’s a great point. He added fuel to the fire though by taking the age-old approach of outright questioning their manhood. “What I think, is when one guy says, ‘oh he’s my friend I won’t fight him,’ that means I train with this guy and this guy’s probably going to kick my ass. That’s what I get out of that. I’m not confident enough to fight this guy.”
Is this sentiment enough to make Evans or Jones question their own toughness and kick the other’s behind? Their feelings towards one another would suggest not.
There are still fights in the way of this potential stalemate. Jones has to beat undefeated prospect Ryan Bader in his Feb. 5 fight and Evans would have to defeat Maurico Rua when they fight after Rua recovers from knee surgery.
I highly doubt either Evans or Jones would take a dive to kill any possibility of having to fight one another but Jones’ admiration for Evans is unique in a sport where most people obsess with being #1. His long-term outlook is something you don’t hear a lot of in any form of athletics.
In the same Las Vegas Review-Journal interview, Jones said, “Fighting Rashad is the last thing I’d ever want to do…to me, being able to call Rashad when we’re 40 years old and say, ‘Let’s go fishing,’ or something like that, that’s more important than the paycheck we would get today. I train with the guy. We’ve had conversations about personal things.”
How do you tell a man to fight his brother? Better yet, how do you make a man fight his brother to fill your lust for controlled and skillfully executed violence?
I have a feeling we’ll find out over the coming year just how crafty the UFC is at using their fighters egos against them in getting what they want and inevitably, Jones and Evans will have to knuckle up or walk away.
Whatever the outcome, this type of camaraderie among African-American athletes in a sport where they’re glaringly the minority, is refreshing.