LAS VEGAS -- Such good friends, Simon Brown and Maurice Blocker, two boxing champions entwined by bonds of friendship and sharing the same ambition -- to be the best welterweight in the world.
They are neighbors in Germantown, Md., they socialize regularly with their wives and children, even baby-sitting at times. Brown was Blocker's best man at his wedding.
"I cursed Simon when I wasn't his best man, but he had a real small affair," Blocker said. "We're like brothers, maybe closer. If I drop by in the afternoon to say hello to Simon, I'll usually wind up staying until 3 in the morning, just talking about good times and carrying on like a couple of kids."
When they were both being groomed as amateur boxers by Pepe Correa in a basement gym of a Washington church, they staged memorable wars until Correa refused to let them spar together.
"There's an old saying about having two Rolls-Royces," said Correa. "so why have them banging heads?"
Blocker, a native of Washington, and Brown, a soft-spoken Jamaican who came to the United States as a youngster, shared dreams of turning professional and ultimately fighting for a title.
"When either of us were down, the other one would serve as a support system, picking up his spirit," said Blocker, a rangy, 6-foot-1 welterweight with excellent boxing skills. "At times, we felt it was a long, black tunnel. We both lost in our first title attempts. But the setbacks only drew us closer together."
As both developed into title contenders, Correa was confronted with a critical decision. What would happen, he was asked five years ago, if both became champions -- would they ever fight each other?
"If it ever came to that, I'd step out of the way," Correa said. "I couldn't be part of it. There are enough titles to go around. Why be greedy?"
It has come to that. Monday night at the Mirage, best friends Brown and Blocker will be trying to knock one another's block off to grab a bigger piece of the championship pie. Brown (33-1) reigns as the International Boxing Federation champion, and Blocker lays claim to the World Boxing Council title.
Correa, as promised, is no longer in the picture with either champion, but not by his own design. Brown, a champion since 1988, has been trained the past two years by former welterweight and middleweight king Emile Griffith and formed an alliance with promoter Don King.
Blocker (32-1), who won his crown by out-pointing Marlon Starling last August, also experienced early managerial problems. He is now aligned with promoter Butch Lewis and being trained by veteran Eddie Futch.
They sit together at a news conference in the Mirage, four days short of the bout, but there is no phony buildup or threatening gestures. The friendship runs too deep for such theatrics.
"We don't need that to psych ourselves," said Blocker. "There is no hate buried below the surface. In eight years, I don't think we ever had a cross word between us.
"Honestly, we never thought this could really happen. When we started out, we didn't think we'd wind up fighting in the same division, let alone fight each other as champions."
Said Brown, cast as a 4-1 favorite, "I never had a closer friend than Maurice. If we only had a penny, we'd share it. I have two brothers, and he's like a third. That is why I will try to knock him out quick. Get in and get out. And then we will embrace again."
While the notion of pitting two friends against each other repelled Correa, Lewis, ever the promoter, concluded that is what friends are for.
"They're both going to earn at least $1 million," said Lewis, who has re-aligned himself with King. "What better way for friends to help each other than to make money together? The bottom line is that there was no other fight for either one that could have
earned as much as this one.
"They're the two best welters in the world. It's a natural. Their competitive juices will come into play. It's all about who's best. After, they'll still love each other."
In boxing's storied past, friends have gone out of the way to duck each other in the ring. Bosom New York buddies Jake LaMotta and Rocky Graziano were scheduled for a middleweight showdown in the early '50s, but Graziano suffered a mysterious illness in training and the bout was canceled.
"Part of that was friendship," LaMotta would say. "The other was that Rocky knew he could never lick me."
Futch, a one-time stablemate of former heavyweight champion Joe Louis in Detroit, remembered how Louis helped close friend John Henry Johnson.
"Johnson was a classy light-heavy, but couldn't make any money in that division. So Joe gave him a heavyweight title shot, John Henry's biggest payday," said Futch. "Joe did him a favor knocking him out in one. He said, 'I didn't want John Henry to take a lot of punishment.' "
Brown, a favorite based on his superior punching power, takes a similar attitude toward Monday's match on the under card of the Mike Tyson-Razor Ruddock heavyweight bout.
"The public views us as enemies, and they'll be betting like crazy and cheering wildly when the bell rings," he said. "But there ain't going to be a winner in this fight. I love Mo too much."
Who: Simon Brown (33-1, 25 KOs) of Germantown vs. Maurice Blocker (32-1, 18 KOs) of Germantown
What: Scheduled 12-round welterweight championship fight with Brown's IBF title and Blocker's WBC crown at stake
When: Monday night on under card of Mike Tyson-Donovan "Razor" Ruddock heavyweight bout, 9 p.m.
Where: The Mirage, Las Vegas
Purses: Both fighters reportedly are earning $1 million
Promoters: Don King and Steve Wynn
TV: KingVision and pay-per-view