UFC president Dana White has recently warned bantamweight fighter Merab Dvalishvili against avoiding a potential fight with his friend and fellow fighter Aljamain Sterling.
Dvalishvili recently competed in a one-sided five-round match versus Petr Yan. If it were a different fight, a display similar to what Dvalishvili had against Yan, earning by unanimous decision, would have the crowd screaming for him to have a championship shot, as UFC broadcast team Daniel Cormier noted. The issue is that Sterling and Dvalishvili mutually swore to never confront in the octagon.
White has voiced his concerns about Dvalishvili’s reluctance to fight Sterling, stating that it would be a "really bad idea" for Dvalishvili to avoid a fight with Sterling simply because of their friendship. The potential fight between the two friends has been a topic of discussion in the UFC community for a while now, with fans eager to see the two top-ranked bantamweights go head-to-head in the Octagon.
“I don’t remember who the hell I was talking to the other day about this and I was like, ‘We don’t have to deal with that bulls*** anymore,’” White said, speaking to the media at UFC APEX on Saturday night. “Back in the early days, the camps were so small you didn’t have a lot of different options, so we had a lot of these guys saying, ‘Oh, he’s my friend, he’s my friend.’ You can still be friends and want what your friend has.
“It would be a really bad idea for Merab to go down that path.”
Dvalishvili has recently expressed reservations in the post-fight interviews about fighting Sterling, citing their friendship, and training history as reasons for his reluctance. However, White has emphasized that in the world of professional fighting, such concerns should not be prioritized over the sport.
In the past, several well-known contenders have expressed a desire to avoid having to go against colleagues to compete for the championship, with Anderson Silva declining to face Lyoto Machida and Daniel Cormier stating that he would switch divisions instead of challenging Cain Velasquez.
Three welterweight contenders, Jon Fitch, Josh Koscheck, and Mike Swick, used to train at American Kickboxing Academy; all three regularly declared they would not battle one another, even though Fitch and Koscheck had previously taken on Georges St-Pierre for the UFC championship.
Although their friendship deteriorated, and they eventually fought for the light heavyweight championship at UFC 145, Rashad Evans and Jon Jones made history by famously refusing to fight one another after training.
As Sterling is scheduled to face the returning Henry Cejudo at UFC 288 on May 6, White won't pressure Dvalishvili into accepting a title opportunity against him if he chooses not to, but his emotions on Dvalishvili choosing friendship over the championship are apparent.
“Does Merab want a shot at the title, or would Merab rather have people under him jump over him and him have to take on all these different top guys when he’s not even getting the title shot when he’s next in line for it?” White asked. “That’s a personal decision that he needs to make. If that’s what he wants to do, I can tell you how that story ends. It’s not a good ending to that story. But he’s a big boy, he can figure that out on his own.”