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Miss Manners: Fighting Friends Etiquette

Dana White’s hand puppet has never met an argument from his master that he wouldn’t regurgitate and repeat. You can find more independence of spirit in an S&M dungeon. His latest is to call Rashad Evans a sniveling wimp and whiner—strong words from such a bottom. His columns might be useful if Dana were shy about his opinions and the UFC needed a press secretary to express the administration’s positions. But Master White, hallowed be his name, has never met a media outlet—be they blogs, v-blogs, cable sports shows, men’s magazines, or books—he wasn’t willing to inject his inner invectives into. Iole’s only function, therefore, is to serve as an echo chamber. It is an embarrassment that Yahoo keeps him on staff and pretends he is an independent journalist and not a corporate shill.

If a freakishly talented young up-and-comer in your weight class wants to be your teammate and training partner, be wary of overtures of friendship. Young wolves are submissive to the pack leader up until the point they are ready to challenge the old wolf for his job. If you wanted a more touchy-feely workplace environment, you should have tried charitable work instead of cage fighting… Actually, that business is cut throat as well. In fact, every industry is. So don’t expect too much fan pity, because we’ve all had a colleague stab us in the back.

Stalin tried that with Hitler, and it didn’t work out so well. As the Republicans’ sainted Ronald Reagan said, “Trust, but verify.” Then again Reagan nearly gave away all of America’s nuclear weapons at Rejkjavik, so skip the “trust” part and stick to “verify.” If you are engaged in a bloody activity where the winner takes if not all than at least most of the spoils of war, assume the bonds of human kindness will be weak. Currently, the sport of MMA is a single monopoly with five (plus three) championship belts. That’s not a lot of wiggle room for you to get yours and me to get mine.

As Dana White has repeatedly said, “MMA is not a team sport.” This is a point Ben Fowlkes brings up, and it’s something he’d know about since he started with the IFL. While MMA fighters perform alone, they need teammates and sparring partners to improve their game. With only one major league and six or so top-flight gyms, teammates will eventually have to face each other. The choice is to find an obscure gym and pack it with non-competitors (see: Brock Lesnar) or give up the one-for-all-all-for-one fantasy. MMA ain’t The Three Musketeers anymore; it’s Highlander.

As the Evans vs. Jones family feud broke out after UFC 128, the very pained Greg Jackson told Ariel Helwani he “loves Rashad like a brother” and said he plans to stay “neutral”—as if he were Switzerland hiding Nazi gold. Martial arts studios are not families, but they do have 1,500 years of hard-earned etiquette. And one of the rules is: when a conflict between students arises, the senior is given preference, not the better prospect. That is the price of loyalty.

  1. When Matt Serra faced GSP for their rematch (UFC 83), their mutual BJJ coach, John Danaher, chose to train Serra, despite having more fond feelings for GSP, because Serra was Renzo Gracie Academy’s senior student.
  1. As Fowlkes reported in his excellent article: when Evan Dunham and Tyson Griffon, both Xtreme Couture teammates, faced each other, Dunham graciously found another gym because Griffon was senior.
  1. Greg Jackson should have asked Jones to leave and Evans to stay and aggressively agreed to train, coach, and corner Rashad for the match. That he didn’t says a great deal more about where his heart lies than any protestations of brotherly love.

(Matthew Polly is the author of American Shaolin. He heartily loves his brothers at, unless a championship belt is on the line – or a bottle of Jack Daniel’s – in which case he will totally betray them.)

  • shillyer

    Seniority rules? Rediculous. There is no etiquette when it comes to any of this. Just be prepared to accept the consequences. If Jackson is ok with Rashad being pissed off at him, why would/should anyone else care? 

  • matthewpolly

    a) There’s an etiquette to most things. That’s why people get pissed off when the rules are ignored. b) clearly Jackson is not okay with it. he seems quite hurt by it.

  • frickshun

    This is a tough situation for everyone. I like the idea of the senior student getting the nod.

    Also Shil, don’t call someone ridiculous unless you spell it ryt.

    Polly–>what happened?? I thought we’d hook up (sexually) @ UFC 128……I was all alone @ that stupid Ice Bar or whatever its called.

  • CAP

    MAYBE they can be friends after. It does put guys in a tough spot. But Rashart saying he would take his career in a whole different direction with Jones winning by moving weight classes seems crazy and a step in the wrong direction for a pro athlete. I guess you could say Rashad is very loyal in that regard if he was serious. All the top guys will have to cross paths at some point in the UFC.

  • shillyer


    I think I sound too agressive when I type sometimes. I agree that there is etiquette in a lot of things, but etiquette is important when there is nothing on the line. For example, eating whatever way you culture would like you to is polite; you are following the regional etiquette. But there is very little downside to eating one way or another. This is also true of old martial arts schools. There is no downside to choosing to side with one fighter or another, it the two of them have issues. But, that is not true today. Jackson’s livelyhood is contingent upon the fighters he chooses to train. Picking Rashad over Jones could cause him and his fight staff to loose a lot of money. In situations like these there is no room for etiquette.


    I ocne herad taht poelpe colud raed wrdos as lnog as the frsit and lsat lteter were in the rghit sopt. this had the effect of causing me to care less about spelling. If there are no meaning/understanding errors, who cares?  

  • Jim

    Seniority rules is a pretty dumb rule.

  • frickshun

    Shil–>I bet that took a few minutes to type. But I cteranily rdea it wiht esae.

  • matthewpolly

    Shil, no worries, I understood what you meant. And you make a strong point, but I’d argue that “etiquette” (a polite word for moral conduct) is most crucial when their is money on the line. Coaches want their students to be loyal to them. They don’t want to spend time and effort building up a champion only for him to jump ship to another cooler coach as soon as soon as he’s making the big bucks. In the same way, an athlete doesn’t want his coach to throw him overboard for a younger prospect with greater financial upside. That is why the etiquette “seniority rules” is so important, because it establishes a baseline of trust and loyalty regardless of financial interest.

    Jackson’s camp agreed to never fight each other, which was clearly not in their economic interest. UFC pressure and Jones’s focus on his career broke that bond. The question is how Jackson should have responded. And my argument is that he should have sided with his more senior student against economic interests. In the short term, it is advantageous, but in the long term no fighter will feel any sense of loyalty to him if he hasn’t displayed it in the past. And we have all seen elite camps dissolve into irrelevancy when the bonds of trust are broken.

    If this was a one-time deal, I wouldn’t have said anything, but we saw something very similar with Diego Sanchez and GSP. If you are running a business strictly intent on maximizing profits, fine, but don’t claim that it is a family and you have brotherly feelings. If you are willing to throw senior students aside for the latest, greatest thing then don’t be surprised when your stars toss you aside.

  • CRM_Stephen

    I heard that after Rogan ended the interview in the cage, as soon as Jones and Rashad could both see Greg Jackson, Jones yelled, “Shotgun!”

  • matthewpolly

    Jim, Why? Is crass materialism better? “I’ll be your coach until I find someone with more talent.” “I’ll be your student until I find a better coach.” A fighter’s development takes a long time and requires a great deal of trust. Without loyalty, there’s no trust. Without trust, there is little development.

    CAP, yes all the top guys will cross each other paths. And I think they should. I don’t buy this whole: we’re friends and training partners so we can beat each other up in practice but we won’t do it in front of an audience for money. They are professionals, not school girls. But when two members of the same camp have to face each other there should be a generally agreed upon protocol for how the inevitable tension is managed. I saw it happen several times at Xtreme Couture and the rule was the senior students stays and the junior takes his fight camp elsewhere. It’s not a perfect rule but it is much simpler than “the fighter with the greater talent and future economic earning potential stays and the one with less takes a hike.” It’s much harder to prove a hypothetical.

  • matthewpolly

    CRM, Ha! Perhaps a better way to solve the problem.

  • greenseed

    i enjoy your work matt polly

  • matthewpolly

    thank you.

  • shillyer

    So if your point is that jackson was caught looking a bit two faced given what he preaches about his gym and the way that he eventually acted, then I totally agree with you. But that is a different point then gyms should side with there senior member. One point is about being consistent the other is a claim about morality (as you put it, I disagree that etiquette has anything to do with morals).

  • CAP

    yes good stuff matt polly.

    These guys are “professionals” and should be able to figure it out for one fight camp.

  • SprawlnStall

    5 plus 3 belts? Don’t you mean 7 UFC + 5 Strikforce belts?

  • matthewpolly

    Sprawl, No, actually I meant the five classic weight classes: 155, 170, 185, 205, 265 (light, welter, middle, lightheavy, and heavy) plus the three new lighter versions: 125, 135, 145 (fly, bantam, feather). The UFC doesn’t use the fly category, so in practice there are only seven. And of course there is superheavy weight which no one uses. I should have made that line clearer. Strikeforce belts are basically irrelevant given that it is owned by Zuffa. And Bellator is still minor leagues.

  • matthewpolly

    shill, you caught me. I did cheat and conflate consistency with morality. I’d argue that rules of etiquette arise out of moral assumptions. In this case, the moral is: loyalty as tested over time should count for more than economic self-interest. And so the rule of proper behavior, which can be derived from that, is the senior student, rather than the superior earner, should be given preferential treatment.

    Example: I’ve been dating girlfriend X for years and been a loyal boyfriend. But she meets dude Y, who has way more money and is really into her. Should X leave me for Y because it is in her economic interest or stick with me because I’ve been loyal? It’s pretty clear in which case X would be considered something of a whore. That’s a moral assumption.

  • glassjawsh


  • shillyer

    the problem with your example is that, out of convention, we tend to look down on people who make relationship decisions based money. I think that this might be why one would think of her as a whore. If however you had been loyal to her for 10 years and she just decides that she likes dude Y better, regardless of money, then she did nothing wrong–unless by ditching you she is breaking so kind of commitment she made to you.

    The only thing wrong with the whole rashad jones thing is that it seems like these guys made promises (implicit or otherwise) to eachother and then went back on them. I think that going back on a promise is the moral equivilent of lying (lieing? that looks wierd). But I have to say that there doesn’t seem to be anything morally wrong with jackson choosing to go with Jones besides the promise breaking (or whatever it was). 

  • iamphoenix

    no pictures of funny dicks. i am leaving.

  • Letibleu

  • iamphoenix

    you always know what i need leti. *furious masturbation

  • G Funk

    HA! awesome turn!

  • Billytk

    Great job Matthew, I think this is the best article I’ve seen on this site since, well ever. Hope to see more of you posting here in the future!!

  • matthewpolly

    thank you. But special props to Leti for his awesome funny dicks joke.

  • Oontyex

    Seniority rules , yeh, but as in champ over challenger

  • subo

    It’s a lot cooler with your spelling, but it’s Tyson Griffin.


    Also, if you think Yahoo having Iole on staff is bad, you must HATE the sites that allow me to write for them.

  • matthewpolly

    shoot, subo, i was hoping no one caught that. i corrected it on a later Word version but emailed the earlier “Griffon version” to Ryan. Lazy ass editor.

    I like your stuff, Subo. It’s from the heart. Iole’s is from the wallet, which is what pisses me off. Also, I’m not a huge fan of Rashad, but for Iole of all people to call him a wimp just set me off. He had his title shot taken from him, he had his sparring partner step over him, and he had his long-time coach pretend like he wasn’t taking sides. He’s got a right to be furious.

  • Reverend Clint

    Jackson seems like he rolls with what ever is hot at the moment and just wants to promote himself. $$$$$ was what Rashtard brought him in the early days but now that Jon Jones is the ‘N sync of the moment he ditched him.

    Has Jackson ever competed? Or is he another Marc Laimon?

  • frickshun

    ^^WTF are you talking about???

  • iamphoenix

    clint has a cat. that explains quite a few things.

  • Reverend Clint

    i think i had a stroke… all over your wife


  • Predator8u

    Love the assesment of the handpuppet IOLE.

    Someone’s read The Swiss, The Gold and the Dead.

    All we need to Do is “Trust” our Government to bomb Libya. Just please dont “verify” if it was Justified or necessary. We need Future ” terrorists” so we can have Perpetual war in oil bearing countrys. So I can drive my huge car in ignorance. Innocents must Die. CUT the WAR Budget. 

    I fell Seniority Rules is some thing that we all HOPE for But really you know is Bullshit. $$$ RULES! Everyone has got their price. You showed that with…

      Greg Jackson should have asked Jones to leave and Evans to stay and aggressively agreed to train, coach, and corner Rashad for the match. That he didn’t says a great deal more about where his heart lies than any protestations of brotherly love