(Let’s hope that when Evan Dunham fights a friend, he stops after he hears the first crack.)
by Cage Potato contributor Matt Kaplan
The potential UFC 115 lightweight match-up between Evan Dunham and Tyson Griffin – both from the Xtreme Couture camp – has MMA’s spirited fan base once again weighing in on the topic of teammate vs. teammate.
As expected, reactions range from the pragmatic (‘It’s their job to fight.’) to the more provisional (‘No way, unless it’s for a title or a title shot.’). Neither a title shot nor top-contender status is on the line for Dunham vs. Griffin, but UFC brass has nonetheless matched two training partners against one another, just like it has said it would.
As the debate over teammate vs. teammate continues to spiral off into its natural oblivion, I reached out to a few fighters – including Dunham and Dan Lauzon, who is set to face former training partner Efrain Escudero at UFC 114 – to get their thoughts about having to stand across the cage from a guy they usually have in their corner.
“Tyson [Griffin]’s a great guy, a great training partner, and a friend of mine, but we’re both in a business where we’re both trying to get as far as we can in the rankings. To hear that was a little disappointing, but I took it as a compliment because I have a lot of respect for Tyson, and to be paired up with him is bittersweet. I want to fight tough guys, but to fight your training partner is tough.
“I talked with him on the phone before either one of us signed, and we came to the conclusion that it is what it is, and we’ll be training partners and friends afterwards. So we’ll get in there and get paid for beating each other up – instead of just doing it in practice.
“This really hasn’t caused any problems at all because before we signed I told Tyson I’d be willing to go somewhere else and do my camp at a different camp. He’s been at Xtreme [Couture] longer, and he kinda helped bring me in, so I volunteered to get training somewhere else. But when the fight’s over, that next Monday, I plan on being right back at Randy’s.”
“Facing Efrain [Escudero] is going to be a little awkward, fighting my former training partner. I did three hard training camps with him. Two of the times it was me and him both getting ready for fights in RITC, the other was getting Drew Fickett ready for his fight with Kurt Pelligrino.
“We know so much about each other’s game. I feel my game has changed so much since we trained together and I feel his game has stepped up, in a sense he’s gotten so much better at everything he does, but he still has that strong wrestling base.
“For some people it may be hard to punch a friend, for me, this is a sport, I train with my own brother on a regular basis and have no problem punching him in the mouth, so I won’t have a problem punching Efrain. It’s just going to be a little awkward, but I want to win and I know he wants to win. I know he’s not going to be pulling any punches and neither will I.”
“There’s no real threat of me and Nick [Diaz] fighting each other [for the Strikeforce welterweight championship]. We’ve been friends for eight, nine years, and we always help each other prepare for a fight. There are always other people out there. There would be no reason for us to fight – (laughs) unless they want to give us some ridiculous amount of money.”
“You can’t turn it down. You can’t go and have yourself a nice six-fight win streak, and now you have to give it up because your boy has the title.”
“Honestly, I don’t want to fight a teammate. That’s common sense, but that’s what I do for a living. My training partners, my friends, that’s what we do. If we have to fight, then we have to fight. It’s no choice. We work for a company, and if this company tells us to do this, we gotta do it. That’s how we make our money and pay our bills.”
“It’s a weird thing. I can’t imagine training with someone every day and then having to go fight him. But someone I only train with once or twice a week – like Frankie [Edgar] – everybody talks about that: ‘When do you want to avenge your loss to Frankie?’ We train together once or twice a week, he’s a great training partner, he’s a friend of mine, but if it has to happen, we prefer it to come down to that; we’re one and two in the division, and it has to happen. I have no problem with that. We’ll mix it up, we’ll put on a show, and then we’ll go and have a beer together afterward.”
“I’ve got a boss, of course, and he tells us, ‘Hey, this is it,’ and you just kinda have to agree, you know? Do I want to? No. Do I have to as of now? No, and I’m glad.
“If it ever had to happen, hopefully it would be for a championship. I’ve been training since I was three, and [Tyson Griffin]’s also being going at it for a long time. Obviously [a championship] is our goal, and who am I to say, ‘Hey, man, let’s not do it’? It’s our goal. If we had to do it, of course, but I’d like to put it off for as long as I can.
“We take trips, we hang out, he knows my dad and mom, stuff like that, and you just get to the point where you’re really close. I get nervous as hell every time he scraps; I want him to win so bad. Jay Heiron, [Mike] Pyle, all those guys. I want them to win so bad.”
“I don’t think that’s something either [Dan Henderson or I] are anticipating or looking forward to, but I don’t want to rule out anything. I think it would have to be worth our while for both of us to do it, and I just don’t know if anyone really wants to see that fight. If that was something the fans were dying to see, and we could each make a lot of money doing it, that would have to be something we’d discuss.”
So there you have it, a definitively inconclusive sample of reactions to the idea of teammate vs. teammate. With Griffin vs. Dunham signed and set for delivery in a few short months, the hypothetical ‘What if?’ has finally become an actual ‘Now what?’ Let the fantasy teammate vs. teammate matchmaking begin.