(“Hey, sorry I’m late, the beer line was crazy, did I miss anyth-OH SHIT.” — Steve Mazzagatti / Photo via Sherdog)
By Andreas Hale
July 13, 2002.
What’s so significant about that date? It was the last time that Jon Fitch lost via submission. The last time, until his World Series of Fighting debut in the main event of WSOF 3 on Friday night, where Fitch was swiftly put to sleep via guillotine choke by Josh Burkman. Yup, that Josh Burkman. The Josh Burkman who was little more than average during his UFC stint, going 5-5 with one of those losses from being choked out by who? You guessed it, Jon Fitch.
Even though the World Series of Fighting announcer called the Fitch vs. Burkman rematch “years in the making,” nobody who has watched MMA believed that nonsense. It was supposed to be Jon Fitch snuffing out Burkman and then grabbing the microphone and telling the UFC to kiss his grits. You know, with Jacob Volkmann lurking over his shoulder mumbling some nonsense about a fighter’s union. But, as they always say, there’s a reason why they actually fight.
Burkman, meanwhile, continued his surprising run of upending former UFC fighters in the WSOF, as he is now 3-0 in all three World Series of Fighting events with victories over Gerald Harris, Aaron Simpson and now Jon Fitch. But who the hell expected him to beat Jon Fitch? I’ll tell you, nobody…except Josh Burkman. And of that nobody percent, who thought that Burkman would choke Fitch to sleep in 41 seconds? Nobody…not even Josh Burkman.
“Who thinks they are going to choke out Jon Fitch?,” Burkman said through a wide smile after the shocking main event that capped off a fairly ho-hum third outing for WSOF.
Prior to the jaw dropping main event, WSOF trudged along with a string of relatively boring fights that yielded very little excitement for those in attendance at The Joint inside of the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas. After the first few matches, most fans drowned themselves in spirits and had loud (mostly drunk) conversations that could be heard throughout the venue. The first five fights of the night are barely worth mentioning. Dan Lauzon beat up on a John Gunderson who looked lifeless in the cage. Carson Beebe earned a controversial unanimous decision despite being completely outclassed on the ground by Joe Murphy. The other disgruntled former UFC employee, Jacob Volkmann, put such a snoozer of a performance in a unanimous decision victory over Lyle Beerbohm that Ben Askren tweeted “That fight had less strikes than one of my fights!” So, you know, when Ben Askren pretty much calls your fight boring, you are in trouble.
Yup, it was not a memorable night for WSOF.
But things did perk up a little when the co-main event took place. Tyson “Man Of” Steele threw about a million kicks in the first sixty seconds of his fight against Steve Carl that left the former Bellator welterweight tournament fighter looking rather unimpressed. So Carl stuffed an ill-fated takedown attempt and rear-naked-choked Steele to earn the stoppage victory at the 1:32 mark. The crowd perked up for that.
By the time Fitch vs. Burkman took place, most of the writers in press row were either bored or increasingly annoyed by the spilled drinks landing on them courtesy of the drunken fans above us. We needed something fun to write about and this was it.
In the opening seconds of the fight, Burkman clipped Fitch with a right hand that sent the former UFC welterweight title contender stumbling forward in an attempt to secure a takedown. Burkman took the opportunity to snare Fitch’s neck and applied a standing guillotine. Perhaps aware that Fitch isn’t so easy to choke out (ask Erick Silva), Burkman went all WWE on Fitch and damn near DDT-ed him through the canvas. But Fitch was still awake and struggling. The Ultimate Fighter 2 contestant put all he had into the choke and Fitch eventually went limp and everyone, including referee Steve Mazzagatti, stared in shock. Unfortunately, refereeing and fighter safety is Mazzagatti’s job and if it wasn’t for Burkman letting Fitch go, the AKA fighter would have probably needed medical attention because he’d be nearing death. Great job Mazzagatti. But I digress…
As Fitch lay motionless on the canvas, the ghost of a snickering Dana White could be felt hovering over the venue. Maybe Dana knew that Fitch — who is now 1-3-1 in his last five fights — was damaged goods. Fitch, who seemed more embarrassed than distraught summed up his loss as “a mistake” and began talking about having a rubber match.
“I got a little overconfident with my choke defense,” Fitch said. “I was going to slam him but he locked it in too tight, a mistake on my part.”
You know who didn’t make a mistake? The UFC. With Fitch’s loss and Volkmann looking very Volkmann-like in his victory, Dana White and Co. won’t be losing any sleep after parting ways with the two fighters. Perhaps White was right, Fitch’s best years are behind him.
As for Burkmann, his resurgence as an MMA fighter will continue as he will now likely face Steve Carl for the first-ever WSOF welterweight title. Clearly, this victory was the most significant of Burkman’s career.
“I think it does validate my win streak,” he said. “I think it also comes full circle. My career kind of went up and down after I lost to Fitch. To get this one back is big for me, and big for my career.”
Ultimately, WSOF 3 lacked the excitement and finishes the first two installments had and it will be interesting to see if the fighting organization can snare away some attention from the UFC and Bellator.
WSOF 3 Results
Josh Burkman def. Jon Fitch via 1st round submission (0:41)
Steve Carl def. Tyson Steele via 1st round submission (1:32)
Jacob Volkmann def. Lyle Beerbohm via unanimous decision
Justin Gaethje def. Brian Cobb via 3rd round TKO (2:19)
Jerrod Sanders def. Jeff Smith via unanimous decision
Dan Lauzon def. John Gunderson via unanimous decision
Carson Beebe def. Joe Murphy via unanimous decision
Krasimir Mladenov def. Kendrick Miree via unanimous decision
Brenson Hansen def. Josh Montalvo via unanimous decision