At the top level of MMA, many of the best and most popular athletes find themselves training out of large gyms with access to some of the best coaches available.
Given the drive to be the best and the necessity to train with partners of the same size and skill level it is not uncommon for training partners to eventually find themselves standing across the octagon from one another at some stage of their careers.
These two top-ranking Welterweights were training partners as recently as 2019, however, with Burns putting together a string of high-profile wins in 2020 and Usman continuing to defend his title, a clash between the two was bound to occur.
In this situation, the champion opted to take leave from his regular home of Sanford MMA and seek training under the guidance of the highly respected coach Trevor Whittman.
While the two of these fighters have remained mostly respectful of one another, and a shift in camp has made the process simpler, this has not always been the case for other fighters.
Here are five times that training partners have met inside the UFC octagon.
Jones vs Evans
In 2011 Jackson Wink MMA was home to two of the top Light-heavyweights in the world in the form of Rashad Evans and Jon Jones. With both these athletes piecing together multiple winning streaks against other well-known opposition title implications were in the works for both fighters, and first, it seemed as though Evans would take a shot at regaining the title he once held. These plans were cut short, however, as injury would strike leaving Evans sidelined and making way for Jones to take a shot at the title against the champion Shogun Rua.
Jones went on to claim the title with a stunning third-round TKO over the champion after dominating the action for the duration of the fight. After claiming the title Jones was adamant at first that he would not fight with his teammate Evans, however, as time went on and after defending his title Jones became open to the idea much to the disappointment of Evans.
Evans chose to leave his longtime home at Jackson Wink MMA vowing never to train with coach Greg Jackson again claiming that he had bought on the situation by allowing Jones to come onboard to their team against his wishes. After leaving, Evans would continue to help found the Blackzilians, a team in Florida that would produce some of the top talents in the organization.
The two faced off in the main event of UFC 145 and Jones was able to dominate Evans receiving a unanimous decision victory to defend his title.
Lawler vs Woodley
American Top Team in Florida has been at the pinnacle of MMA for the longest time producing many champions and top tier fighters for the UFC. In 2016 the gym was home to the Welterweight champion Robbie Lawler who had just defended his title twice in bouts against Rory McDonald and Carlos Condit. After taking out this opposition a new challenger emerged, this time in the form of his training partner Tyron Woodley.
At this point in his career, Woodley had bounced back from a loss to McDonald with back-to-back wins over Dong Hyun Kim and Kelvin Gastelum to cement himself as the number one contender.
Given the situation with the pair being at the same gym and choosing to remain at the same gym, the coaching staff were split in half and both fighters continued to train under the American Top Team banner for their fight.
When it came to fight night, Woodley was able to claim the welterweight title with a stunning knockout victory over his former training partner in the first round.
Following this loss, Lawler would make the move away from American Top Team to train at Hard Knocks 365 under Henri Hoof, the gym that would eventually become Sanford MMA.
Woodley vs Covington
Another pair of teammates from American Top Team, Tyron Woodley and Colby Covington would not only produce one of the best examples of former teammates facing off, but the two would also produce one of the most heated rivalries in the sport. Once Woodley claimed the title by defeating Robbie Lawler, Covington was still an up and comer working his way towards title implications. This did not take long, however, as by the end of 2017 Covington had his sites set on Woodley and an interim title fight in the wings.
In 2018 Covington would go on to claim the interim title by defeating Rafael Dos Anjos at UFC 225, however, after the UFC was unable to schedule a bout between the two former training partners, Covington would be stripped of his title without having the chance to challenge Woodley.
In the meantime, while the rivalry heated up Woodley would have mixed results boasting multiple successful title defenses against the likes of Stephen Thompson, Demian Maia, and Darren Till, before being bested by Kamaru Usman.
Covington, however, would return to face Lawler and dominate him setting himself up for that long-awaited title shot against the now champion Kamaru Usman.
While it may have been much later than most expected, following losses for both fighters, Covington to Usman in his title shot, and Woodley to up and coming title contender Gilbert Burns, Woodley and Covington would finally meet in the octagon.
In this fight, Covington did what many had expected and dominated the former champion managing to get a TKO in the fifth round after Woodley suffered a rib injury.
Garbrandt vs Dillashaw
Team Alpha Male has produced some of the best Bantamweight fighters that the UFC has ever seen and been home to multiple champions including both TJ Dillashaw and Cody Garbrandt.
After losing his title to Dominick Cruz in 2016, TJ Dillashaw had opened an opportunity for his former training partner Cody Garbrandt who at the time was undefeated and a top contender in the division to challenge Cruz for the title. In this matchup, Garbrandt showed incredible striking skill and managed to defeat Cruz by unanimous decision to claim the title.
Following this TJ put together back-to-back victories within 2016 to set himself up for a title shot once again and now it would be to face his former teammate in a heated grudge match that had been in the works since Dillashaw’s departure from the gym.
After six years at Team Alpha Male, Dillawshaw would make the move to Colorado to train with former Alpha Male coach Duane Ludwig as well as training at Team Elevation. This move wasn’t taken lightly by Garbrandt or gym owner Uriah Faber who predicted that with this move a matchup between top prospects would be on the horizon.
The fight did come to fruition in 2017 when the pair faced off as the co-main event of UFC 217. This was a short fight, however, it was action-packed so despite being finished in the second round, the UFC chose to give Garbrandt a rematch to try and claim back the title he had just lost to Dillashaw.
In the rematch, however, the result was the same but the duration was shorter with Dillashaw finding the knockout shot in the first round to defend his title and close out the rivalry between the two former teammates.
Ortiz vs Liddell
Arguably the most iconic rivalry in the sport, before Title Ortiz and Chuck Liddell met inside the octagon the pair were avid training partners. Being one of the earliest Light-heavyweight champions in the UFC Tito Ortiz was known for his impressive grappling ability that had allowed him to reach the pinnacle of the sport at the time. Ortiz was however training his striking to be on par with the rest of his skills and part of that training was done with up and coming UFC fighter Chuck Liddell.
These two athletes would corner each other in the ring, train together, and ultimately wind up in a fierce rivalry with the UFC title on the line.
After Ortiz had lost the belt to Randy Couture, Liddell had the perfect opportunity to fight for the title and in doing so he claimed the gold and set in motion a grudge match between himself and his former training partner.
In this meeting Liddell emerged victorious winning via KO in the second round, however, the rivalry didn’t end there and the two wound up fighting once again two years later in 2006.
The second matchup went similar to the first with Liddell winning by TKO in round three. While it looked like the rivalry was over this was far from the truth and 12 years later the pair would face off for the third and final time.
In 2018 Golden Boy MMA held the event Liddell vs. Ortiz: War’s End which would see the two veterans fight one another years after their prime. This would be the only time Ortiz would taste victory against Liddell winning by KO in the first round.
This trilogy match would be Liddell’s final MMA fight and Ortiz’s second last, however, Ortiz has not officially hung up the gloves as of yet.