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Jon Fitch gets bigger opportunity against B.J. Penn at UFC 127

November 23, 2010 |  7:48 am

Fitch3 Jon Fitch missed the fights Saturday at UFC 123 in Auburn Hills, Mich., though had he known what a profound effect one of them would have on his future, he likely would have tuned in.

Minutes after B.J. Penn flattened fellow former champion Matt Hughes with a 21-second counter-punch, UFC officials were on the phone trying to hunt down Fitch to offer him a co-headlining bout with the Hawaiian at a yet-to-be-announced UFC 127 event in Sydney, Australia, in late February.

“I didn’t have my phone on me, so my manager Bob Cook was calling my wife like crazy to see if I’d take the fight with B.J.,” said Fitch, who was out of town training at instructor Dave Camarillo’s Guerrilla Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Pleasanton, Calif.

Once he was located, it didn’t take Fitch long to come back with his answer. The former Purdue University wrestling captain had campaigned for just such a high-profile affair that would keep him relevant in the promotion’s welterweight-title picture after getting skipped over for a No. 1 contender’s bout in October.    

Fitch (23-3, 1 NC), who is ranked No. 2 behind UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre in the L.A. Times November MMA rankings, previously had been assigned to face an unranked Jake Ellenberger at UFC 126 on Feb. 5 in Las Vegas. UFC President Dana White told the press Saturday that Ellenberger would get a new opponent.

The 32-year-old Indiana native said the new assignment was “a perfect fit” for him as he tried to reposition himself in the UFC and the fans’ eyes.

“They needed a bigger fight, and they saw a window of opportunity with the way B.J. won on Saturday,” he said. “Maybe they’re giving me an opportunity to prove [contendership], and I also think it doesn’t do them any good to put on fights where there isn’t a lot of buzz. People weren’t that excited about me and Ellenberger.”

Fitch said the fan response he’s gotten for the Penn bout since White announced it Saturday had been far more positive. A victory over Penn (16-7-1), who’s held UFC titles in both the 155- and 170-pound divisions and is considered among the sport’s most gifted athletes, would only bolster Fitch’s standings all around.

After rattling off five decision victories in a row only to watch others leapfrog ahead of him for a shot at St. Pierre, Fitch said he came to realize that winning wasn’t enough. 

“I’m not really trying to live up to anybody else’s expectations, but I have a few expectations for myself, and I think that’s going to result in more fights that end with finishes,” said Fitch, who lost a shut-out decision to the French Canadian champion at UFC 87 in August 2008. “The purpose of these fights is to finish your opponent, not just out-position them.”

Fitch, who plans to return to Indiana for Thanksgiving this week with his family, said “a lot of thought” would go into switching gears for Penn once he returned to the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose.

In the meantime, Fitch’s teammate, Josh Koscheck, will rematch St. Pierre at UFC 124 on Dec. 11 in Montreal. Fitch has been adamant that he’ll never face his stablemate if he wins but will instead push for a rematch with St. Pierre regardless of the bout’s result.

“I’m honored that I get a chance to carry a card in a new country like Australia, where the sport’s still growing,” said Fitch. “It’s great that B.J. Penn had a good night.”

-- Loretta Hunt

Photo: Jon Fitch. Credit: Ethan Miller / Getty Images