Hard work a staple of former title challenger
The life of a professional fighter is filled with uncertainty. Their successes and failures play out in the public eye for all to see. When the cage door closes and the battle of wills begin, it becomes a matter of opportunity. One walks away victorious, the other defeated – the outcome sometimes determined by only the slightest of margins. What happens under the bright lights is what the fans are left to debate, but rarely are they given a glimpse into what it takes to make the walk to the cage in the first place. This is what the climb looks like – told in the fighter's words. This is “The Fighting Life.
Several miles outside of Fort Wayne, Ind., the view from the interstate tells the story. The late spring sun draws a glaring reflection from the downtown skyline while multiple shades of rust become highlighted on the city’s more dated structures. The buildings are fingerprints that remain from a time when industry was the city’s life force. While time brought about challenges and changes, the edifices stand like blue-collar monuments and are sources of pride to the hard-working population.
Just beyond the city limits, industry gives way to agriculture, and the hustle and bustle of 256,000 people submits to the lush green expanse of the country. The proximity of farmland and urban expansion creates a unique paradox. While the differences are many, the common tie that binds the population is an unstoppable work ethic that allows people to persevere despite circumstance.
Much like his hometown, UFC welterweight and Fort Wayne native Jon Fitch embraces the struggle. The former Purdue University wrestler has crafted one of the most impressive records in UFC history en route to becoming one of the top 170-pound fighters on the planet. But despite his success inside the Octagon, Fitch has oftentimes found himself on the outside looking in as title opportunities have been elusive.
No matter the circumstance or opposition, Fitch carries on with pride and purpose. He credits the unwavering values of his home town and understands hard work is the foundation for his personal success as well as the growth of the sport in general.
“It seems as if I can’t have anything come to me easily,” Fitch said. “It always takes a lot of extra hard work. Throughout my entire life, things have always been that way. I’ve always had to work two or three times harder than everybody else just to be half as good. It’s just one of those things that have shaped the attitude I have. I just keep pushing forward. I think I coined that term 'grinding.' I started using it to describe my style, and it’s something I know is mine.
“I’m such a motivated person; I don’t need incentive from other people. I always know that for every name you know, there are 100 you don’t who are working just as hard to get to the top. It comes from when I was younger and competing. I’m always expecting new guys to be evolving and getting better, so I know that I have to keep pushing to stay in front of them.
“When I first started, we were going out there and fighting for a few hundred dollars on an unsanctioned card – no insurance or a medical staff around for the people fighting. Things are definitely much better for the fighters nowadays.”
After honing his craft in smaller promotions all over the world, Fitch eventually worked his way onto the sport’s biggest stage. Once in the UFC, the Indiana native capitalized on the opportunity and claimed eight consecutive victories – which at the time tied a record set by the original Ultimate Fighter, Royce Gracie. The streak earned Fitch the opportunity to face champion Georges St-Pierre at UFC 87.
With the biggest fight of his career looming, Fitch decided to capture the entire journey in a documentary, “Such Great Heights.” The film’s goal was to provide an intimate look at the preparation and training Fitch underwent to prepare for his shot at UFC gold and what could undoubtedly be the biggest moment in his fighting career. He would ultimately come up short against St-Pierre, and then faced further struggle in his effort to complete the film and release it to the public.
Never one to allow an obstacle to break his will, Fitch stayed the course. Nearly four years since his fight with GSP, “Such Great Heights” will finally become available to the public this summer.
“On June 12, it is going to be available in all digital markets,” Fitch said. “It will be available On Demand, at Netflix and you can purchase it on iTunes. I’m pretty excited about it. We are going to do a little premiere of our own here in San Jose (Calif.) the week before at the San Jose Improv. We are hoping to have a good crowd there.
“Shooting the film itself was pretty painless because the things were so good about it. I made it pretty clear early on this was going to be a documentary and the film crew needed to be flies on the wall. Don’t ask me to do anything extra. Don’t ask me to stage any kind of meetings or talks. Don’t ask me retie my gloves or reapply my shin guards just because you didn’t get the shot you wanted the first time.
“I really wanted to make sure they were just going to be observing what was going on in our gym during that time period. They did an amazing job of that. It wasn’t stressful on us in any way. To be honest, it takes more out of us to do some of the media stuff we do for fights because you kind of have to put on a little act so they can get their shots. It takes a lot of effort sometimes when you are filming the promotional spots. They need you to redo something or hold a position longer, and I wasn’t going to have any of that in this movie. To do those things on a regular basis for six weeks while I’m training for the biggest fight of my life just wasn’t going to happen.
“That process really comes across in the movie and I think people are going to get a kick out of it whether they are a fan of mine or not. If they love the sport, they are going to love this movie. There are a lot of characters at (American Kickboxing Academy) and in this movie."