Jon Fitch has new attitude about UFC title shot
According to Jon Fitch, he has no one to blame but himself for his current exclusion from the UFC’s welterweight title picture, and he wants to do something about it.
The former Purdue wrestler, who is ranked No. 2 behind UFC champion Georges St. Pierre in The L.A. Times' November MMA rankings, has won his last five bouts in a row since dropping a shutout unanimous-decision loss to the French Canadian champion at UFC 87 in 2008. Still, Fitch’s name wasn’t mentioned when UFC President Dana White spoke about the promotion’s future plans for the robust 170-pound division in October.
Fitch outscored Brazilian striker Thiago Alves in their rematch at UFC 117 in August, but said he was in the dark about his next assignment until he asked his manager Bob Cook to approach the promotion a few weeks ago.
The 32-year-old Indiana native requested bouts with former Strikeforce champion Jake Shields, a recent UFC acquisition, or St. Pierre – regardless if he bests Fitch’s teammate Josh Koscheck at UFC 124 on Dec. 11 in Montreal.
The UFC came back with Jake Ellenberger, a capable 24-year-old wrestler who has stopped his last two opponents in the Octagon, but isn’t currently ranked in the division. Fitch will meet Ellenberger at UFC 126 in February, while Shields – despite a sluggish split-decision victory over Martin Kampmann at UFC 121 last month – has been earmarked to face the winner of St. Pierre-Koscheck next.
“I’m not going to cry about it,” said Fitch. “If I’ve failed to convince the UFC, Dana White, and the fans that I’m overwhelmingly the No. 1 contender and that I absolutely should be fighting for the belt, then I take that as my own responsibility. It’s my own fault. If people are dissatisfied, then I’m going to correct that.”
Has Fitch been seemingly put on ice by the promotion because of his unwillingness to fight American Kickboxing Academy stablemate Koscheck? Both Fitch and Koscheck have publicly stated that they will not face off under any circumstances, which has become a bone of contention with White. (The UFC did not respond to an e-mail for comment on this story.)
“We’re professional athletes. We’re the ones that make that decision to put ourselves at risk and in the position of bodily harm. We should have the right to choose who we get to do that harm to,” said Fitch. “Motivation is a huge thing in fighting. If you’re not motivated to fight somebody, it’s going to be a bad fight.”
Fitch contended that hesitations over teammates facing one another is nothing new to the fight game and he doesn’t believe it’s the reason why he was passed over.
“It’s never been given or hinted as a reason,” said Fitch, who also squashed talk that a brief contract dispute with the promotion over merchandising rights in 2008 might be at the root as well. “I have no idea. I really don’t know what they’re thinking. My only thinking is that if I’m not overwhelmingly, in the fans’ opinion, the guy who deserves it, then I have to win them over.”
To achieve this, Fitch said he’s had to come to terms with how he’s been perceived as a fighter up to this point.
“It kind of was a little bit of a recent revelation [for me],” said Fitch, who’s gone the distance nine times during his 13-1 run in the promotion. “There wasn’t an overwhelming rush of support after the Alves fight. That was kind of eye-opening. I handily beat the No. 3 [fighter] in the world, and people are still not willing to thrust me into competition with GSP. Something’s missing.”
Fitch said he hasn’t thought of himself as a commodity in the past, though that’s quickly changing.
“It comes down to making money,” he said. “If they don’t think they can make money off you, then they’re not going to give you those fights.”
AKA’s resident jiu-jitsu coach, Dave Camarillo, said he understands Fitch and the UFC’s dilemma.
“Fitch is not rogue in his thinking. The coaches are all on board,” said Camarillo. “He won his last five fights, but they were all by decision. I don’t disagree with the UFC management, but I think Jon’s there. I just don’t want it to be a situation where the title shot drifts away from him.”
Camarillo, who describes Fitch as a “strategist” in the cage, said the fighter plans to visit his Guerrilla Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Pleasanton, Calif., for one-on-one sessions that focus on finishing opponents by submission.
At AKA, Camarillo said he’s seen a marked difference in Fitch already.
“I’ve noticed an improvement,” he said. “I think its more of a mentality switch. If your mentality is too conserve, you’ll be conservative. If you take more chances in practice, your submissions will get better.”
Fitch, who got married on Sept. 4, credited his wife, Michele, with encouraging his new attitude toward his career.
“She keeps me focused on the tangibles, the things I can change,” said Fitch. “Lately, I’ve been feeling on another level athletically, mentally physically, everything. My jiu-jitsu’s gone to another level. I’m finishing a lot more guys in practice right now. My striking is at a new level, my movement, my power – everything’s just much higher than it has been in the past five years.”
Camarillo said a St. Pierre-Fitch rematch would not resemble its predecessor.
“There’s no way he’ll have the same fight he did with GSP a next time,” said Camarillo. “But we have to see who wins on December 11.”
If Koscheck prevails, Fitch believes the UFC welterweight division could still provide him with challenges.
“Jake Shields, GSP, and Carlos Condit,” said Fitch. “I’d still want to fight those guys regardless of Koscheck winning the belt or not. If Koscheck holds onto the belt for a while, than I could look at moving up a weight class.”
-- Loretta Hunt
Photo: Jon Fitch said a 2008 merchandising dispute with Zuffa has nothing to do with him getting passed over for a title shot this year. Credit: Loretta Hunt.