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5 times when a UFC fighter had to face off with a friend inside the octagon

Donald Cerrone and Melvin Guillard put their friendship aside to throw down in 2012
Donald Cerrone and Melvin Guillard put their friendship aside to throw down in 2012

UFC president Dana White has always gone to great lengths to state that MMA simply isn’t a “team sport." Few things appear to anger him more than fighters who refuse to fight their training partners and friends.

While plenty of big fights have been missed due to fighters not wanting to throw down against their buddies, there have been examples of UFC fighters who were willing to face a friend in the octagon.

Often, the friendships on the line in the octagon could be considered more like acquaintances than anything else, usually a result of the large training camps that are common in MMA today. However, knowing that two fighters have at least socialised outside the octagon before squaring off still makes for interesting viewing.

Here are five UFC fighters who had to face off with a friend inside the octagon.


#5. Roy Nelson vs. Antonio Silva – UFC Fight Night 95

Roy Nelson didn't seem to happy about having to hurt his friend Antonio Silva in 2016
Roy Nelson didn't seem to happy about having to hurt his friend Antonio Silva in 2016

When Roy Nelson was booked to face off with Alistair Overeem in early 2015, it made a lot of sense for him to bring Antonio Silva into his camp as a training partner.

After all, ‘Bigfoot’ had ruined Overeem’s big UFC comeback in 2013 and seemed like the perfect man to help ‘Big Country’ prepare for his meeting with the Dutchman.

The fight didn’t go so well for Nelson, as he lost a decision to Overeem, but he did make a friend out of Silva. That made things extremely curious when the two big men were matched to fight one another in Silva’s home city of Brasilia just over a year later.

The two heavyweights agreed to put their friendship aside to throw down, but it quickly became clear how close they’d become when, after knocking ‘Bigfoot’ out, Nelson reacted angrily to what he believed was a late stoppage from referee John McCarthy.

Roy Nelson kicks & flips off Big John McCarthy for stopping the fight too late #UFCBrasilia https://t.co/IZvmxGigeu

‘Big Country’ risked a suspension and a fine by kicking McCarthy from behind as he checked on Silva and then went onto state his anger with the stoppage after the fight, explaining that he was angry over having to throw follow-up punches after decking the Brazilian.

In Nelson’s words, “He’s my friend, he has to go to his family, I know I already won, so what’s the sense?” In essence, it was hard to disagree with him.


#4. Donald Cerrone vs. Melvin Guillard – UFC 150

Despite their friendship, Donald Cerrone and Melvin Guillard threw down wildly in their bout
Despite their friendship, Donald Cerrone and Melvin Guillard threw down wildly in their bout

The Albuquerque, New Mexico-based Team Jackson Wink MMA has been home to multiple UFC stars for years now dating back to around 2004. So, it was probably inevitable that two members of their roster would end up clashing in the octagon.

While the majority of Jackson’s fighters always avoided facing off against their teammates, the same could not be said for lightweights Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone and Melvin Guillard.

In fact, when they were offered a fight against one another at UFC 150 in the summer of 2012, both men jumped at the chance to face off in the octagon. According to Guillard, the fight was easier to accept because they were friends, as it would be the first time they’d squared off without having to pull their punches.

In fact, ‘The Young Assassin’ even claimed he’d spoken to Cerrone on the phone right after accepting the bout, ensuring that his friend and training partner felt the same way.

When it came to fight time, while the two men were clearly cordial with one another, nobody could’ve accused them of pulling punches.

In one of the most exciting bouts of all time, Guillard stunned Cerrone with his first flurry, only for ‘Cowboy’ to somehow come back and end the fight with a head kick and a right hand just moments later.

Six years ago today, Donald Cerrone slept former training partner Melvin Guillard at UFC 150. Via @Tudor_leo https://t.co/sxf6epKuFg

The two men immediately reaffirmed their friendship after the fight was over, proving that a great fight could happen without any bad blood being involved.


#3. Travis Browne vs. Andrei Arlovski – UFC 187

Andrei Arlovski and Travis Browne put their friendship aside to produce a classic in 2015
Andrei Arlovski and Travis Browne put their friendship aside to produce a classic in 2015

As mentioned earlier, due to the sheer amount of top UFC fighters calling Jackson Wink MMA home, eventual fights between them were inevitable.

Three years after Donald Cerrone and Melvin Guillard threw down, then, fans were treated to a fight between Jackson Wink-based friends that was equally as exciting to watch.

The fight in question saw heavyweights Andrei Arlovski and Travis Browne square off. While ‘Hapa’ had actually departed the Albuquerque-based camp for Edmond Tarverdyan’s Glendale Fight Club by the time the fight came around, his friendship with Arlovski was well-documented.

‘The Pitbull’ had not only trained closely with Browne for two years, he’d even lived with the Hawaiian for six months, meaning that the two men could’ve been forgiven for going easy on one another.

That wasn’t the case, though. Instead, the two big men went to war, hitting each other with everything they had in one of the wildest one-round fights in UFC history.

#OnThisDay 7 years ago, @AndreiArlovski & Travis Browne went at it in one of the CRAZIEST one round fights in UFC history 📖[ Watch more classic fights on @UFCFightPass ] https://t.co/5zwBZaeRVu

Both men ended up hurt on multiple occasions, with Arlovski seemingly knocked out at one point. But somehow, ‘The Pitbull’ was able to recover, stun Browne, and finally put him away with a heavy flurry of shots.

After the fight, Arlovski revealed that he’d felt terrible about hurting ‘Hapa’, outright stating that punching him felt like punching his mother or father. Thankfully, it didn’t seem like Browne held any grudges, and as far as it’s known, they remain friends today.


#2. Stephen Thompson vs. Rory MacDonald – UFC 189

Friends Stephen Thompson and Rory MacDonald faced off with a title shot on the line in 2016
Friends Stephen Thompson and Rory MacDonald faced off with a title shot on the line in 2016

While former UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre always refused to face off with his training partner, friend and protégé Rory MacDonald in the octagon, the same could not be said for Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson, who trained with both men at Montreal’s Tri-Star gym.

At the beginning of 2016, Thompson defeated former welterweight kingpin Johny Hendricks to affirm his status as the top contender for Robbie Lawler’s title, while MacDonald, who’d lost to Lawler in an all-time classic in 2015, was vying for another shot at the champion.

It made sense for ‘The Red King’ and ‘Wonderboy’ to square off, but the fact that they knew each other so well might’ve made the fight tricky to book. However, thankfully for the UFC, neither Thompson nor MacDonald had a problem with it.

MacDonald stated that he saw Thompson as “just another body” coming into the bout, despite admitting that they were friendly away from the octagon.

In the end, the two men put on an enjoyable five-round bout that ended with Thompson edging out a tight decision, despite having to deal with a hostile crowd in MacDonald’s home country.

After the bout was over, it was clear that there was no bad blood between the two, as they posed for an Instagram shot – with Thompson paying tribute to ‘The Red King’ by labeling him an amazing martial artist and even better person.


#1. Lyoto Machida vs. Mark Munoz – UFC Fight Night 30

Mark Munoz's friendship with Lyoto Machida probably saved him from taking too much damage in their 2013 clash
Mark Munoz's friendship with Lyoto Machida probably saved him from taking too much damage in their 2013 clash

Had circumstances been slightly different, middleweight stars Lyoto Machida and Mark Munoz, who had trained together for a number of years, would never have faced each other inside the octagon.

Late 2013 saw Machida matched with Tim Kennedy in his debut at 185lbs, while Munoz was booked to travel to Manchester, England to take on hometown hero Michael Bisping. When ‘The Count’ was forced out of the headliner, though, a replacement was needed.

Despite his friendship with ‘The Filipino Wrecking Machine’, Machida agreed to step in, citing the fact that he didn’t want to let the UFC down as his reasoning for being willing to fight his friend.

‘The Dragon’ also stated that Munoz had always been friendly with him during their training sessions and that both men had helped each other a lot – although they’d put that aside in the fight.

In the end, training with Machida certainly didn’t help Munoz, as he fell victim to a head kick knockout just three minutes into the first round. However, his friendship with ‘The Dragon’ did save him from taking too much damage, as Machida refused to follow up the kick in the knowledge that Munoz was clearly done.

Through the guard. 😳 Flashback to @LyotoMachidaFW's devastating head kick vs Muñoz. #UFCBelem https://t.co/0Fntmn52d8

After the fight, ‘The Dragon’ admitted that it’d been hard for him to accept the fight, but now that it was done, “the friendship will continue.” Given both men’s reputations as two of MMA’s nicer guys, it was hardly a surprising conclusion to see.

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Edited by Harvey Leonard
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