Friends Devonte Smith, Khama Worthy wrap brains around fighting each other at UFC 241

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Fighting a friend is always tricky business.

Some mixed martial artists will never do this, under any circumstances. The best-known example is UFC 241’s headliner, Daniel Cormier, who went down to light heavyweight rather than challenge Cain Velasquez for the heavyweight title. Karma repaid Cormier for the move with a couple of 205-pound title reigns, followed by the heavyweight belt once Velasquez was out of the picture.

Others set championship opportunities as the line. Nearly everyone gets into the sport to become best in the world, and for many fighters the opportunity to prove it justifies putting a friendship aside.

Rarely, though, have we seen a scenario play out like the one which will see good friends Devonte Smith and Khama Worthy square off in a lightweight prelim bout Saturday night at Honda Center. 

Smith (10-1 MMA, 2-0 UFC) had first been scheduled to fight John Makdessi, then Clay Collard. The latter pulled out just a week before the bout.

For Smith, who is still working his way up the ranks, the lack of a fight would have meant he went through the time and expense of a full training camp without a payday to show for his efforts.

“I can’t get all the way here and not fight,” Smith told MMA Junkie at Thursday’s UFC 241 media day. “That’s just not how it is.”

For Worthy (14-6 MMA, 0-0 UFC), Smith’s friend and former training partner in Pennsylvania, this was an opportunity for which he has labored for years, through 20 professional fights. If he said no to his chance at making the big leagues, who knew if the call would ever come again? 

“My manager literally woke me out of bed with a call at 6 in the morning on Sunday,” Worthy said. “He said, ‘Can you take the fight next Sunday?’ And I was so excited to take the fight. It didn’t register with me for a minute who the fight was with.”

Then the realization of the task ahead set in.

“I’ll be real, I tripped a little bit at first,” Smith said. “That’s my boy. If this was something on a full training camp, and they asked me to take that fight, I would have asked them to give me someone else. Because at the end of the day, I’m going to have to hurt him in order to beat him.”

Worthy, for his part, did his best to compartmentalize things. These guys have spent countless hours sparring, and that didn’t ruin their bond.

“You have to remind yourself that this is a sport,” Worthy said. “This is not a street fight. You can have a fight against someone you don’t like, but you’re not doing this out of anger. You’re doing this because this is competition.”

And it’s also a chance for both to make each other a little more money. Who knows? Given their familiarity with one another, perhaps the style matchup could lead to a “Fight of the Night,” which would put an extra $50,000 in both men’s pockets.

Perhaps that’s why they had about the friendliest staredown you’ll ever see at Thursday’s media day, complete with bro hugs before and after the pose.

“We both know what’s going on,” Worthy said. “We’re cool now. We’ll fight, then we’ll be cool again and go get drinks after.” 

UFC 241’s main card airs on pay-per-view following prelims on ESPN and UFC Fight Pass/ESPN+.

Source: USA Today – MMA Junkie

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