Yesterday, it was reported that Lorenzo Fertitta, UFC Owner and co-founder of Station Casinos, had made some comments regarding UFC matchmaking. Fertitta stated that teammates will have to fight each other in the future, and that fight camps wouldn't be excluded from fighting each other just because they train with each other day in and day out.
"At the end of the day, we are here to see fighters and we are here to see fights," Fertitta said when asked about the potential of teammate vs. teammate match-ups.
"If teammates don’t want to fight, then they are just going to have to go somewhere else," he continued. "We don’t put up with that stuff.
"That’s just the way it is. You step up. You’re a UFC fighter and I don’t care who it is, you have to fight."
First and foremost, I've been waiting for someone at Zuffa to say this for quite some time. Most notably, the UFC's welterweight division has three top-flight fighters all training out of AKA in Mike Swick, Jon Fitch, and Josh Koscheck. Furthermore, if the UFC signs Jake Shields in the future, he would be added to the laundry list of fighters that train at AKA on a semi-regular basis.
There are also other divisions that could benefit greatly from the news. Xtreme Couture has a number of fighters fighting within the same division, especially at lightweight where a Gray Maynard vs. Tyson Griffin showdown could prove a lot in testing Maynard's takedown defense and striking. Greg Jackson's camp is another nightmarish scenario for Rashad Evans and potentially Keith Jardine. American Top Team would be another major camp that would be affected by the comments as well.
So, why would anyone be against this proposition by Fertitta? Interestingly enough, some fans are expressing concern after seeing the progression of Stephan Bonnar before his fight with Mark Coleman on Saturday night. Specifically, Bonnar was exiled to training with a few Xtreme Couture fighters at another gym while Coleman was taken in at Xtreme Couture. The reasoning behind this has been pure speculation, but it may stem around the fact that Coleman is a Hall of Famer while Bonnar has been on a slide and tested positive for steroids in the past.
Photo by Tracey Lee via Combat Lifestyle.
In any case, from some of the accounts I read, Bonnar was able to train at Xtreme Couture, but only in a limited capacity at specific times. He wasn't using Shawn Tompkins as a striking coach, but rather working with a new boxing coach in Chris Ben. He stated in an interview with MMA Fanhouse that he was getting his sparring in at Xtreme Couture, but I'm sure it was much more limited to what he's seen in the past.
Why is this a huge issue? It's definitely going to become a substantial problem for camps that push the "family" philosophy. Greg Jackson's camp has pushed that philosophy time and time again, and if the UFC decides to match-up two of his own fighters, one of those fighters will either need to find another camp to train with, or the gym will have a divide in training partners and training times to avoid crossover. Some fans suggest that with such a good relationship with GSP's camp in Montreal, fighters could move up there while their opponent stays in New Mexico. What happens if one camp wins most of the matches though? I could see some hostility coming out of a situation like that. Also, note that Greg Jackson has a rule that teammates will not fight each other.
Ultimately, this isn't the bigger issue in my mind. I'm more worried about the skill levels of fighters fluctuating before these inter-camp matches because of a non-ideal training schedule and partners. A guy like Bonnar probably needs the best available training in order to perform at a peak level, but other fighters such as those in the AKA camp might have a better go in the cage even with different training partners and instructors. That's a major question though. Do these guys rely heavily on the already established training partners and instruction they receive? Will a small mix-up in their routine hurt them in the upcoming bout?
In the end, Lorenzo Fertitta is giving the fans what they want. Divisions shouldn't get stale because three out of the top five fighters within the weight class are from the same camp. It absolutely hurts the potential pairings that can happen at the top, but it also causes the UFC to have to go out and sign new talent to challenge these guys. In his scenario, there will be less of a lengthy layoff for each fighter who is healthy, and that's a good thing. It'll also give us a definitive contender if inter-camp fighters are at the top of the heap, and that's the way it should be.