Tyson Griffin, Evan Dunham: The Great MMA Teammate Debate

E. Spencer Kyte@@spencerkyteSenior Analyst IFebruary 3, 2010

With Xtreme Couture teammates Tyson Griffin and Evan Dunham agreeing in principle to meet at UFC 115 in Vancouver this summer, The Great Teammate Debate is bound to heat up again.

While I certainly understand all the arguments for teammates squaring off in the center of the cage or ring, I have always, and will always remain, on the side of the fighters who are disinterested in doing battle with their friends and teammates.

For starters, the idea that MMA is an individual activity is flawed.

Yes, a fighter is alone inside the cage during their fight, but that is the only time during the entire process leading up to that bout where that is true. In the months of work before the 15-25 minutes spent solo inside the cage, each and every fighter is surrounded by a collection of people who are dedicated to helping them get ready for their fight. Included in that group are teammates who serve as sparring partners, coaches and friends during the journey to the cage.

Many fighters will tell you that it's not the fight itself that is the hard part; it's the time spent in the gym with teammates and coaches. The alone time in the cage is the reward for all the hard work put in as part of the collective.

The notion that a fighter should "do their job" and take the fights offered to them is misleading as well. Let's use Jon Fitch and American Kickboxing Academy as an example.

Some would argue that it is Fitch's "job" to take the fights offered to him by Joe Silva and the UFC, even if the offer is to fight fellow AKA members Josh Koscheck or Mike Swick . In actuality, Fitch, like all fighters, has the ability to turn down any fight they are not interested in taking.

Martin Kampmann turned down a fight against Canadian T.J. Grant following his win over Carlos Condit last year because he felt Grant was a step back in competition after having beaten the former WEC champion. Few, if any, cried foul or called for Kampmann to "do his job" in that instance.

In the case of Fitch and his fellow AKA welterweights, more people are interested in the fight because each of the trio resides in the upper echelon of the UFC welterweight division. The same applies to the potential for fights involving members of Black House in the light heavyweight division. We want to see those fights not because we're eager to see teammates wage war against each other, but because we view them as compelling fights.

Additionally, the UFC—or any other promotion for that matter—does not have the ability to force a fighter to take a fight. If that was the case, we might have seen Bobby Lashley fight Shane Del Rosario or Jay Hieron fight Marius Zaromskis this past weekend at Strikeforce: Miami , but we all know neither of those fights happened.

One thing that often goes unconsidered when talking about why teammates should fight is the importance of routine in preparation for a fight, and the upcoming Griffin-Dunham fight serves as a perfect example of the problem that arises.

While very little will change for Tyson Griffin as he prepares for his trip north of the border, Evan Dunham will play the part of a gypsy for a couple of months. Griffin will remain at Xtreme Couture, working with the same coaches, the same sparring partners and in the same surrounding as he always has, while Dunham will be forced to find a new place to call home for the time being.

Being based in Las Vegas will certainly make things easier, as the number of top-flight facilities and fighters available to work with is greater in Sin City anywhere else, but the kid from Oregon will be forced out of his comfort zone, and that can have a serious impact on performance.

Look at it this way: staying in a hotel is fun... for a week, max. Sure, the new surroundings and new bed are great for those first few nights, and the excitement of trying something new makes you forget about home, but after a while, all you want is a good night sleep in your own bed, to eat your favorite restaurant, and to hang out with your regular group of friends.

Whenever two teammates agree to fight each other, one is automatically separated from everything routine and familiar about their training. While Dunham will find a temporary home and a good group of guys to work with, it won't be as comfortable as working with Neil Melanson, Ron Frazier, and the rest of the coaching staff at Xtreme Couture who already know how he works.

The question of teammates fighting is one I ask in just about every interview I conduct; it's a great topic and one many fight fans have an opinion on, so hearing what those in the industry think certainly makes sense.

One of the most common responses I've heard involves necessity, as in "It's not like there is a shortage of guys at [insert weight class] for me to fight." Honestly, it's hard to argue with that, isn't it?

Evan Dunham isn't the only lightweight out there for Tyson Griffin to fight. Josh Koscheck isn't the lone welterweight for Jon Fitch to face off against. Lyoto Machida has other options outside of Anderson Silva and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira .

In the case of Machida, it could be difficult to avoid a matchup with one of his Black House brothers should he remain atop the light heavyweight division for an indefinite period of time. At some point, he could, in fact, run out of challengers and be left with just Silva and Nogueira as options. But until that day comes, is there really a need to try and force the issue?

While all of the reasons and angle above are great arguments against fighting a teammate, the best of the bunch that I have heard thus far has come from Georges St-Pierre. In speaking about the subject with the Canadian Press, the current UFC Welterweight champion had this to say:

So let's say I'm mounted, on top of my friend, and it's time to land this last big elbow that will probably make a scar in the middle of his forehead and knock him out cold and cause him brain damage," he added, drawing laughs from crowd. "No I'm telling it like it is, if he's my friend, I'm going to think twice before I do it. I won't be able to do that to a friend. So that's the reason why I will never fight a friend. I know a lot of fighters who will disagree with me, but me that's my personal belief.

It's hard to argue with the welterweight champ.

Anyone who says they wouldn't think twice about splitting their friend or teammate's head open with an elbow is either not really that other person's friend or lying to themselves. Could you honestly punch your best friend in the face with the intention of knocking them out without second-guessing yourself?

If you could, I don't ever want to be your best friend, and I feel bad for the person currently occupying that position.

The Great Teammate Debate is one that will continue on for years in this sport. In truth, it will probably only get larger as more and more fighters make their way to a select number of top level training camps, increasing the opportunities for this type of situation to happen.

Tyson Griffin and Evan Dunham have decided to put their shared membership at Xtreme Couture aside and square off at UFC 115 and I tip my hat to them, because no matter the money and no matter the opportunity, I wouldn't be able to do it.


Originally posted at FiveKnuckles.com