Friday, May 27, 2022

UFC 270: A history of friends-turned-foes fights ahead of Francis Ngannou vs. Ciryl Gane

A major storyline woven into the fabric of UFC 270 is the souring relationship between Francis Ngannou and his estranged team at MMA Factory. Since parting ways with his old coach Fernand Lopez, both camps have unearthed treasure. Ngannou finally captured the UFC heavyweight championship as part of Xtreme Couture while Lopez has led Ciryl Gane to the interim heavyweight crown.

Once regular training partners, Ngannou and Gane find themselves at odds both professionally and personally when they unify the UFC heavyweight title on Saturday, Jan. 22 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. This is not the first time, however, UFC glory has severed the personal bond of its athletes. CBS Sports has compiled four of the most prolific UFC main event clashes between friends-turned-foes, as well as one rivalry that has yet to be settled inside the Octagon.

Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz

  • Liddell def. Ortiz — UFC 47 (2004)
  • Liddell def. — UFC 66 (2006)
  • Ortiz def. Liddell — Golden Boy Promotions (2018) 

UFC owes a portion of its success to its original friends-turned-foes matchup. Liddell and Ortiz were allies managed by Dana White. After capturing the UFC light heavyweight title, Ortiz repeatedly declined to fight Liddell, arguing their friendship was more important than the championship. Liddell disagreed with Ortiz, suggesting that Ortiz used a fake pact to avoid the fight. Ortiz and Liddell finally met at UFC 47, a fight Liddell confidently won via second-round knockout. They met again two years later with Liddell entering as champion. “The Iceman” improved to 2-0 against his bitter rival courtesy of a third-round TKO. Season 11 of The Ultimate Fighter set the stage for a trilogy fight; however, Ortiz pulled out of their scheduled match-up due to injury. The rubber match never materialized in UFC, but the rivals were booked for a groan-inducing third fight to headline Oscar De La Hoya’s only MMA-promoted event in 2018. Golden Boy Promotions hosted Liddell’s post-retirement fight after an eight-year absence. Everyone’s worst fears were realized when a badly ill-equipped Liddell was flattened by the younger, far more active Ortiz.

Jon Jones vs. Rashad Evans

  • Jones def. Evans — UFC 145 (2012) 

The allure of UFC gold came between close friends Jon Jones and Rashad Evans. “Suga” had concerns about Jones, who competes in the same division as Evans, joining Greg Jackson. The two eventually became main sparring partners and close friends. Jones’ public admission that he was willing to fight Evans soured their relationship. Evans subsequently called out Jones after “Bones”  beat Mauricio Rua for the UFC light heavyweight title. The fallout sparked Evans’ departure from Jackson’s camp, online trash talk and even a verbal altercation at a nightclub. The former friends eventually met at UFC 145 with the young UFC champion outclassing the older former titleholder for a unanimous decision (49-46, 49-46, 50-45).

T.J. Dillashaw def. Cody Garbrandt

  • Dillashaw def. Garbrandt — UFC 217 (2017)
  • Dillashaw def. Garbrandt — UFC 227 (2018)

Urijah Faber’s Team Alpha Male was a tight-knit community of lighter fighters setting the world on fire. Its roster was championed by contenders like Dillashaw, Garbrandt, Chad Mendes and Joseph Benavidez. The combination of Faber’s grappling acumen and coach Duane Ludwig’s striking skills was lethal. Cracks emerged in the brotherhood, however, after Ludwig’s departure, followed shortly by Dillashaw’s. A deeply personal rivalry ensued with Dillashaw and Garbrandt’s teams taking cheap shots at one another. The bad blood boiled over at UFC 217 and UFC 227, both won by Dillashaw. For Garbrandt, it was a career crossroads that saw “No Love” transition from an undefeated 11-0 start to a paltry 1-5 run.

Anderson Silva def. Vitor Belfort 

  • Silva def. Belfort — UFC 126 (2011)

Brazil’s premier entry on this list is a clash of Brazilian MMA idols. Silva and Belfort trained for some time together at Team Nogueira. Belfort broke the camp’s longstanding tradition of not fighting teammates when he expressed a desire to challenge for Silva’s UFC middleweight title. Belfort labelled “The Spider” as “two-faced” in the fight’s build-up, leading to an iconic staredown where Silva sported a white mask. The feud was cemented in MMA history courtesy of a fight-ending, highlight-reel front kick by Silva in Round 1.

On deck: Colby Covington vs. Jorge Masvidal

UFC 272 on March 5: Covington and Masvidal had a close bond as teammates at American Top Team. The top welterweights were roommates and training partners for years prior to their respective rises. The development of Covington’s loudmouth persona tore at the seams of their friendship. Tensions between Covington and members of ATT, including Masvidal and Dustin Poirier, grew so intense that “Chaos” eventually ditched his longtime camp. Covington and Masvidal oppose each other in one of UFC’s rare pay-per-view non-title main events at UFC 272.

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