In the wake of UFC 128, MMA websites have more resembled All My Children fan blogs than destinations for news about grown men (and women) punching and kicking each other in the face. No matter how hard they try to deny it, people love drama, and the love triangle between newly-crowned UFC champ Jon Jones, former teammate Rashad Evans, and coach Greg Jackson is rife with accusations of backstabbing, declarations of brotherly love, and metaphors invoking spilled milk. It's the real-life soap opera for men that pro wrestling wishes it could be, and it's being played at the highest stakes.
We've heard from all the principals involved. We heard from Team Grudge trainer Trevor Wittman. We heard from Team Grudge/Team Jackson mainstay Nate Marquardt. Yesterday, ESPN reported quotes from a man who is probably closer to both Rashad and Jackson than anyone else in the world:
"I went in [Monday] and it was business as usual," said longtime Jackson member Keith Jardine. "Once the hype for the Jones/Evans fight starts happening, I don't know. Is Jon going to stay in Albuquerque? I don't know. Right now there are no weird feelings in the gym or any of that."
"One thing to remember is Rashad is instrumental in this whole Jackson phenomenon starting," Jardine said. "Without Rashad, who knows if it ever would have happened? He was one of the first guys to come in from out of town and join the team. And he was a guy who, when the sport was growing, he was winning fights and everybody was looking at him as he was getting better. People were calling Rashad up and he was bringing people to town, and without him, who knows if any of that would have ever happened? Without Rashad Evans, maybe this Jackson's phenomena never happens."
"You know, I haven't thought about it too much, but no question I would be supporting Rashad," Jardine said. "He's one of my closest friends in the world. I have a lot of loyalty and friendship with him."
"It all started from that interview that Jon did, talking about the possibility of fighting with Rashad [with Ariel Helwani on Versus]," Jardine said. "That's just something that doesn't need to be said. Of course they could have been made to fight, and they both knew it. But for Jon to go out and say that made Rashad look like a punk, and that's kind of what happened to start it all. It was already sensitive, so it blew up after that."
Whether anyone at Jackson's cares to admit it, lines have been and will be drawn. Jardine is supporting his BFF Rashad. Greg Jackson still insists that he refuses to train either fighter -- Jon Jones by default, since Rashad has declared his secession -- and has indicated that coaches Mike Winklejohn and Mike Van Arsdale need to go with their gut. Inferring from his interview with Bloody Elbow, Rashad believes that Van Arsdale is going to be in his camp for this fight.
One has to wonder what Jones will do if Jackson follows through on his promise.