Fitch seeks UFC 127 victory over Penn by any means necessary
Jon Fitch is fighting at UFC 127 (Saturday, 10 p.m. ET, PPV) opposite BJ Penn
Fitch's last eight fights have been decisions; it hasn't exactly inspired the fans
Whether Fitch can stay in the title mix without more exciting results is unclear
Brown socks. Your spouse's high school reunion. Smooth jazz ... or anything, really, that purports to be art but calls itself smooth. Fantasy football. Reality TV.
Those are boring things.
Jon Fitch is not boring.
Some mixed martial arts fans think he is, though, because of this: decision, decision, decision, decision, decision, decision, decision and decision.
Those are the results of Fitch's last eight fights, all victories except for his unsuccessful challenge for Georges St-Pierre's UFC welterweight championship back in 2008. Other than that, Fitch hasn't lost a clash since Joe Strummer was alive. (That'd be 2002.) But Fitch nonetheless takes some heat from MMA fans because his last seven wins have been decided by judges, and fans -- at least the ones who make the most noise in online forums -- are not interested in hearing Bruce Buffer read scorecards. They're dissatisfied with anything less ferocious than seeing a referee pull a raging bull off his helpless victim before raising the victor's hand. Fans favor fighters who finish.
Fine, but Fitch still isn't boring. You'll see that if you watch his fight with BJ Penn in the main event of UFC 127 in Sydney, Australia, on Saturday night (PPV at 10 p.m. ET, prelims on the UFC's Facebook fan page at 8 and Ion TV at 9). The guy brings the fury right from the moment he sets out for the Octagon, a walk typically accompanied by Johnny Cash's ominous cover of the Soundgarden song Rusty Cage. That's entertainment.
Fitch is a truly fascinating dude. He has his own YouTube channel, OfficialJonFitch, with recent entries including a video about his newly readjusted daily diet (mostly vegetarian) and another about his English bulldog Bricks' diet (hates lemons). There's also one in which he disarms a knife-wielding attacker in a training session, and one in which he beats the crap out of GSP. That last clip is actually just of Fitch playing the UFC Undisputed video game ... and enjoying himself as much as if it were the real thing.
Elsewhere online, Fitch has an interesting take on social media, posting some entertaining dispatches on Twitter while choosing to "follow" practically no one so as not to clutter his mind with nonsense. "I clicked on the Dalai Lama's Twitter page once, and he's not following anyone either," Fitch told Ariel Helwani of MMAFighting.com in a recent interview. "And I thought, If His Holiness doesn't need to follow anyone, neither do I." So Fitch likes to compare himself to the Buddhist leader? "No, no," he said with a big grin, "but we should all strive to reach that inner peace that he has." Right on, Jon. (And hold on a sec, dear reader, while I go press "unfollow" a couple hundred times.)
What does any of this have to do with fighting? It's all tangential, I'll admit, but I think it aligns with the Jon Fitch we see in the cage. He's a man of depth and detail who breaks down his opponents strategically in training, then breaks them down physically and psychologically in the bout. He's relentless and overbearing, his NCAA Division I wrestling pedigree combined with a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt rendering tough, skilled guys like Thiago Alves, Diego Sanchez and Paulo Thiago utterly ineffective. Fitch's 13-1 UFC record (23-3, 1 NC, overall) makes him one of the most dominant fighters the organization has ever seen, certainly more so than anyone who's not worn a championship belt.
Shouldn't that be enough to earn Fitch some love? Shouldn't domination be impressive enough? That's the way it works in other sports. No one booed the Green Bay Packers in the Super Bowl because they didn't run flea flickers, end arounds and other entertaining gadget plays. In the NFL, with a mentality imbued by Vince Lombardi ("Winning is the only thing") and Al Davis ("Just win, baby"), success is the bottom line, and all the goofy end zone dances in the world can't change that. So why should style points matter in MMA?
"The No. 1 rule everyone needs to remember is that everyone loves a winner," Fitch said at Tuesday's UFC 127 news conference in Sydney. "It doesn't matter what kind of style you have. If you lose, you're out."
But if you win, that doesn't mean you're in. Not in the UFC title mix, anyway. When Fitch beat Alves for the second time last August, he expected it would earn him another shot at St-Pierre. Why? Because Dana White had said before the fight that that was what was up for grabs. But then the boss man turned around and gave the title fight to Jake Shields, the former Strikeforce champion who rode a 14-fight winning streak into his UFC debut, in which he struggled with Martin Kampmann and won not so impressively. Apparently, even a lackluster Shields win was good enough for the powers that be to skip over Fitch, with White simply saying, "Jon Fitch has had a shot." Translation: If you're not finishing fights, pal, step to the back of the line. (Not that Shields is a finisher, but at least he's new blood.)
"I'm giving 100 percent in every fight," Fitch insisted. "I'm doing everything I can to finish fights."
Lately, Fitch has been working on doing even more. In training, he said, he's practiced relinquishing a controlling position when doing so will put him closer to a finish. Will he bring that new risk-taking mindset into the cage on Saturday night? That would be mighty, um, risky. Against Penn, Fitch would be smart to stick to his guns and fight the fight he always has. He's bigger and stronger than Penn, and should be able to control the fight by smothering and bullying. Why open things up and bring Penn's prodigious skill set into the game?
Fitch understands this. He knows all about the greatness of BJ Penn. And he hopes the fans understand, too. He wants them to love him -- he's human -- but that love is going to have to be cultivated on his terms. Which means that the fans must accept the fact that what's most important to Fitch is that he beats Penn. By whatever means possible. Period.
"If I can destroy the legend, then I'm going to take all his wins and put them in my back pocket," Fitch said. "I take that legacy and start building my own."
Questions? Comments? To reach Jeff Wagenheim or contribute to the SI.com MMA mailbag, click on the e-mail link at the top of the page.
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