Jon Fitch has lost only once in the last nine years. | Photo:Dave Mandel
Welterweights Jon Fitch (23-3-1, 13-1-1 UFC) vs. Johny Hendricks (11-1, 6-1 UFC)
The Matchup: Fitch returns to action for the first time since battling to a draw with B.J. Penn at UFC 127 10 months ago. The American Kickboxing Academy representative had surgery to repair a partially torn rotator cuff in his shoulder. A perennial contender at welterweight, Fitch is always a good measuring stick for an up-and-comer in the division. With his last nine bouts going to the judges, the former Purdue Boilermaker has not established himself as a must-see attraction. No matter how effective he might be, it is always going to be an uphill battle when it comes to earning another title shot in the UFC.
As a four-time All-American and two-time NCAA national champion wrestler at Oklahoma State University, Hendricks has credentials that surpass Fitch. With three technical knockout wins in his Octagon career, the 28-year-old has also demonstrated a dynamic element to his game. What Hendricks and Fitch have in common is hard-fought triumphs over fellow wrestler Mike Pierce. Fitch employed his usual strategy for two rounds against Pierce before receiving a scare in the final frame, while Hendricks credits his clinch work for a highly contentious split decision win against him at UFC 133. With two determined wrestlers going head-to-head here, this fight could be as close as their respective meetings with Pierce.
There is no secret as to what Fitch wants to do. The Fort Wayne, Ind., native attempts to impose his will by forcing clinches, pressing his foe into the cage and working for takedowns. Fitch’s approach is not backed by superior speed or athleticism, however. Instead, he relies on a dogged determination, often digging in on takedown attempts until he can force the fight to the floor. Once there, he is an expert at working enough to maintain the position for extended periods of time. He constantly tries to pass guard, and when his opponent attempts to escape from the bottom, Fitch is adept at countering with ground-and-pound.
Despite his decorated wrestling background, Hendricks is going to want to keep the fight standing. While Fitch has improved his striking, his lack of quickness can sometimes leave him vulnerable to counter shots. He has gotten better at setting up takedowns with punches, but Hendricks can drain Fitch’s gas tank if he is able to sprawl and defend. If Hendricks can remain upright into the third round, he has a chance at catching Fitch on the feet.
The Pick: Hendricks is still improving his all-round skills, but he is not quite ready for the relentless effort of Fitch. He will have his moments, but Fitch will assert himself enough to hold on for a decision win.
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