(Once again proving our theory that you could make a badass highlight reel based on *anybody.*)
Throughout his seven year career in the UFC, Jon Fitch has been one of the most consistent fighters in the sport. He rarely diverges from his grinding, top-control based gameplan. He usually goes the distance in his fights — including one stretch when he went to the judges in nine consecutive contests. And like him or not, the vast majority of his fights have ended with his hand raised.
But after a controversial draw against BJ Penn, a 12-second knockout loss to Johny Hendricks, and a series of injuries, Fitch is the most precarious position of his career, both financially and competitively. Temporarily bumped out of the welterweight title “mix,” Fitch has no idea when his next title shot will come — especially since fans aren’t exactly clamoring to see him get that chance. Here’s what he said about his situation recently, in a rant session with FCFighter.com:
“There’s no system for picking number one contenders. There’s no order, there’s no lineup, there’s no point system. It’s just whoever they feel they’re going to make the most money off of. That’s who gets the title shot. It kind of sucks, because in other sports there’s kind of a clear path; you do this, this and this, and you get this. That’s just not the way combat sports work I guess. It doesn’t work that way with boxing or the UFC. It comes down to showmanship. I have to be a better showman to get a title shot. I don’t have to be a better fighter I just have to be a better showman.”
Well duh, Jon, you’re just realizing this now? We can sympathize with the lack of fairness that Fitch is pointing out, but the reality of the UFC awarding title shots to exciting, popular fan-favorites isn’t anything new, and isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Setting up marketable title fights is a key element of how the UFC makes money — and there always seems to be at least one guy who fans would rather see fight for the title than Jon Fitch.
Is it unfortunate that a fighter has to be a “showman” in order to get noticed in this sport, and that just winning fights isn’t enough? Sure, I guess. But comparing MMA to “other sports” is always problematic. In MMA, for example, you can get away with holding down your opponent and doing the absolute bare minimum on offense, and still win most fights on points. (I’m not naming names, I’m just saying.) Look, MMA isn’t football. Fight fans usually have to pay to watch the big events, so you can’t blame them if they’d rather watch title fights involving guys who are more likely to put on an entertaining scrap.
Fitch had to win eight consecutive fights in the Octagon in order to get his first title shot, and while that may have not seemed fair at the time, he could have been in line for title shot #2 if he had only scored a decisive victory over BJ Penn. And to hear Fitch tell it, he shouldn’t have taken the fight with Hendricks at all:
“My head wasn’t even in the fight in the first place. I fought because I needed money. I should have pulled out of the fight because I had a second-degree MCL tear in my right knee. I wasn’t able to grapple or wrestle at all during the training camp…I don’t want to disrespect Johny Hendricks. He’s a hell of a fighter, but I didn’t even put myself in a position to win that fight. I was struggling a little bit with the mortgage and I couldn’t afford not to fight.”
By the way, in the time it took you to read that paragraph, Donald Cerrone just bought himself another pontoon boat. The bottom line is, Fitch chooses to fight a certain way that leaves him victorious most of the time, but hurts him in other ways. He won’t be collecting any performance bonus checks, for one thing. He won’t be landing any major sponsorships from corporate brands that want to align with him. And he’ll never reach the level of prominence where he’s getting a cut of the UFC’s pay-per-view revenue, because most fans just don’t care to watch him.
Again, is it unfair that a veteran fighter like Fitch has to struggle with his mortgage at this point in his MMA career? Yes, absolutely. But is that really the UFC’s fault?