There is a movement gaining steam in mixed martial arts and Jon Fitch is their poster boy.
Over the past six months, there has been a groundswell of frustration with all things wrestling-related in MMA, and we’re not talking WWE. Fans, critics and industry insiders alike have talked about the excitement being sucked out of the sport by repeated takedowns from wrestling standouts like Muhammed Lawal and Joe Warren, with Fitch drawing the most ire of anyone.
The American Kickboxing Academy product has become a favorite target of fans that have an adverse reaction the instant a fight goes to the ground. Grinding out five straight decision victories will do that for you. Boring has become the adjective most frequently used to describe the former Purdue wrestling captain, and as he prepares to finally rematch Thiago Alves at UFC 117, Fitch has something to say to the anti-wrestling set.
“Either you’re a fan of the sport or you’re not. If you’re not a fan of the sport, go the [expletive] away,” offered the fighter who has amassed twelve wins in thirteen trips inside the Octagon. “Pardon my French, but go away. We don’t want you here, we don’t need you here, because there are plenty of people who love the sport the way it is. Go away. We’re not going to keep changing the rules just to appease the people who only want to see guys boxing with small gloves. Go away. Watch something else.
“I don’t watch soccer and then bitch and moan or go online and write articles about them not using their hands,” Fitch added. As hard as it may be for some to admit and accept, wrestling is an integral part of the foundation of this sport, and instead of seeking to strip the likes of Fitch and his fellow wrestlers of their fundamental plan of attack, shouldn’t the focus be on imploring fighters to learn to stop a takedown?
Lost in the attack on his style and the quality of his performances is the fact that over the last eight years and his entire career as a welterweight, the only loss on Fitch’s record is his defeat at the hands of Georges St-Pierre, arguably the top pound-for-pound fighter on the planet.
With the sport trying to garner more consistent mainstream media attention, how successful you are is no longer enough to earn the attention of the fans and marquee opportunities inside the Octagon. The ability to sell a fight and the willingness of a fighter to do just that has become an equal, if not greater factor in determining your position in the pecking order, something that doesn’t make sense to the second-best welterweight in the world.
“The sport needs to be about the fights themselves and not about promotion,” theorized Fitch. “If we’re really going to be taken seriously as a sport and allowed into places like New York City, we need to be seen as a legitimate sport and not pro wrestling without scripted outcomes. It’s a dangerous line to play, that promotional line.”
After twice having this rematch rescheduled, Fitch will finally get the chance to once again face Alves, whom he beat back when the two were emerging welterweight prospects. The perception heading into the battle is that while Alves has evolved since their first meeting four years ago, Fitch is essentially the same fighter.
“Everything,” Fitch answered with a laugh when asked what elements of his game have advanced from that initial encounter with Alves in June 2006. “My stand-up is greatly improved. My wrestling is improved. My jiu jitsu is greatly improved; I was a blue belt back when I fought Thiago.” Fitch has subsequently received his black belt in Guerilla jiu jitsu under long-time coach Dave Camarillo.
“I’m a better athlete now than I was back in my twenties,” continued the 32-year-old. “I’m just a whole other monster. If I was doing the stuff I’m doing now back in my twenties, who knows what kind of freak I would be?”
Another factor that has attributed to Fitch’s continued progress of a fighter is the addition of two-time Olympic wrestling team member Daniel Cormier to the AKA family. While Cormier brings impressive credentials and wrestling fundamentals to practice each day, it is the budding heavyweight fighter’s confidence that has impacted Fitch most.
“We were just talking one day,” began Fitch. “He just said off-hand `there is nobody going to take me down here,’ which is a bold statement at our gym because we’ve got some really great wrestlers here, but there wasn’t even a second-thought for him. That confidence is an important part of competition that you need.
“It wasn’t a cocky statement either. It is an essence of confidence that [Cormier] has,” Fitch offered before further clarifying the comment. “You know that Dave Chappelle thing where Eddie Murphy’s brother is talking about when he met Rick James? He could see this aura, this glow around him. In that moment, I could see that confidence, that aura around Daniel Cormier.”
Fitch has adopted that Charlie Murphy True Hollywood Story-esque aura of confidence himself as he continues forward in his journey to the top of the welterweight division, starting with Alves on Saturday.
“He’s the last really big name I need to beat to solidify my place in the weight class,” Fitch suggested. “It’s a very important fight, not only because we’ve been waiting forever for this fight for each other. Every other fight after this is either GSP or me playing gatekeeper to someone younger.”
While Fitch has lobbied for a second shot at St-Pierre for quite some time, his once singular focus on the welterweight champion has shifted, somewhat.
“I’m just trying to fight all the best guys out there,” Fitch responded about what the future may hold after UFC 117. “I’m in this sport to fight the best guys, and as long as I’m fighting the best guys out there, I’m happy. But that belt is out there, and that loss on my record to St-Pierre is out there, so those are both priorities.”
No matter what happens on Saturday night, there are going to be those who continue to take aim at the welterweight contender. They will continue to label him boring and using him as the example of everything they feel is wrong with wrestling as it pertains to mixed martial arts. Just know that Fitch could care less.
“I have work to do. I have a job to do. I’m much more worried about the training I have in front of me and the fights I have in front of me. There is no reason to focus on outside stuff. It doesn’t matter.”
People can put Fitch on their posters for everything bad and boring about this sport all they want. He is who is and always will be - a blue-collared, wrestling terror that puts his opponents on their back and keeps them there, piling up wins in the process.
That doesn’t make him the enemy of entertainment; it makes him one of the best fighters in the world, and that should be what every fighter is after.
Jon Fitch wants to be the best.
Whether you like him or not doesn`t really matter.