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SportsColumnistsMark La Monica

Friends fighting? It's business

UFC welterweight challenger Josh Koscheck flexes during the

UFC welterweight challenger Josh Koscheck flexes during the weigh-in for UFC 124 in Montreal Koscheck takes on UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre. (Dec. 10, 2010) Photo Credit: AP

If two athletes who share the same sideline in a professional team sport were to get into a scrap, it would be the hot topic of every sports talk show on television and radio. All the Internets would spit hot fire about how it's so unprofessional and represents the continuation of the demise of sports in the big-money era.

So why should mixed martial arts be any different? Why can't teammates - those who train at the same gym and/or fight under the same flag - step into the cage and slug it out with each other? They do it in the gym during training camps, so why not get paid for it one time? It would actually be met with cheers and praise rather than boos and disgust.

Most fighters, of course, don't see it that way.

"I'll never fight Jon Fitch," said UFC welterweight Josh Koscheck, who fought and lost to champion Georges St-Pierre Saturday night at UFC 124.

If Koscheck had defeated St-Pierre, he might have had to face his training partner from American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif., sooner than later. "I'll move up a weight class or I'll cut my leg off and move down a weight class," Koscheck said.

But regardless of the outcome of last night's bout, Koscheck should be forced to fight Fitch should that be the most viable fight to schedule, market and promote.

All teammates should have to do so.

While the prospect of having to punch and kick a friend in the face or abs or legs may not seem as nice as, say, sending them a birthday card, it's their job. They're fighters. They chose this line of work. The nobility of the profession lies in having the courage to step into a cage and seeing who emerges victorious.

Back when Lyoto Machida was atop the light heavyweight world with the UFC belt around his waist, popular sentiment was to put him in the cage with middleweight champion Anderson Silva.

Silva, a fellow Brazilian, declined. Refused. Said he'd never get into the cage with "my brother."

Jon "Bones" Jones, from upstate New York, is the rising star of the UFC, the template of what's to come in the years ahead in mixed martial arts. He's part of noted trainer Greg Jackson's team in Albuquerque, N.M. So is Rashad Evans, the No. 1 contender at light heavyweight. Same division as Jones.

"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," Jones told London media in October during UFC 120 fight week. "I'd stay at 205 and be the second best. That would be my goal."

UFC president Dana White has been outspoken on the issue of fighters from the same camp not wanting to mix it up. And with the expansion of the UFC into featherweight and bantamweight divisions and the influx of those WEC fighters, the topic will continue to be raised. At some point, members of bantamweight Urijah Faber's Team Alpha Male, a rising group of talented and smaller fighters, will have to step into the cage with one another on television, not just in the gym.

"When you step in there, you're by yourself," said UFC welterweight Ricardo Almeida, a member of the Renzo Gracie family. "But it's a team effort. You need a lot of people to be there for you doing the training and during the tough times for you to be able to perform in the octagon. And people who don't see that, too bad for them."

And too bad for the fans who don't get to see potentially terrific fights.


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