UFC welterweight contender Jon Fitch has no problem answering his critics. | Photo: Dave Mandel
He has lost only once in the last nine years, but, despite his run of sustained excellence, he has been heavily criticized -- the word “boring” is thrown around a lot -- by a segment of UFC fans for not finishing more fights. While his last nine bouts, seven of them victories, have reached the judges, Jon Fitch finds the criticism a bit amusing.
“It’s a little bit silly because the ideology behind that would be that I’m not trying to finish fights,” he says. “So what does that mean: I’m so good that I can beat these guys so handedly that I don’t even really have to try? That’s kind of absurd and insulting to my opponents.”
Dave Camarillo, one of the 33-year-old’s trainers at the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif., points to his belief that Fitch is a five-round fighter, not a three-round fighter.
“Fitch would win probably every war of attrition,” Camarillo says. “If he took [UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre] 10 rounds, he’d beat him. Most of the guys that he fights three rounds that he’s not finishing, he would’ve finished them in the fourth or fifth.”
Fitch thinks his opponents play a role in his inability to close.
“I think it takes two guys to make a fight, and if you’re fighting somebody who’s relying on the referee to stand them up or who’s just holding on and not trying to finish you or trying to even win -- maybe they’re just trying to not be finished -- it changes the fight and makes it very difficult to put people away,” he says. “I think there’s some times when I’ve been in a fight and the guy’s clearly not trying to do anything except wait for the referee to stand us up and I’m trying to drop elbows and hammer fists and constantly be working. If a guy’s using that avenue to get stood back up to his feet, I think he’s not really trying to fight.”
Camarillo agrees with the analysis.
“I think his opponents feel out-gunned in many areas when they fight him, so they just shut down. They just try to survive,” he says. “We’ve had people put submissions on knowing they’re not going to finish it, and they just kind of hold it or hold certain positions; they just don’t put themselves out there, either, because he’s just going to shut them down right away. So I think it’s a culmination, not just of Fitch but the way his opponents react to being outclassed.”
Fitch, who has not finished an opponent since he submitted Roan Carneiro with a second-round rear-naked choke in June 2007, claims he does not lose much sleep worrying about viewer reactions to his decision victories.
“You’ve got to look at who the criticisms are coming from. Your average fan who’s just watching a few times per year, they’re not really an expert and they don’t really know what they’re seeing or what they’re talking about,” he says. “That would be like Stephen Hawking, the physicist, the guy who’s a genius in the wheelchair ... that’s like asking him if he gets upset or hurt that I don’t agree with his physics theories. Does he really care what I have to say about his theory on the space-time continuum? I’m just some guy who saw something on the History channel once. Does that really mean that my opinion on his philosophies on physics really matters? Not really; probably not. I don’t think he wakes up at night or tosses and turns thinking about that.”
Camarillo views many criticisms of Fitch’s fighting style as unfounded.
“Many fights don’t get finished,” he says, adding that fighters who go out there just to finish fights are sometimes needlessly reckless. “It’s very difficult to have a long career finishing fights all the time. Fitch just beats people.”
Camarillo has no trouble focusing on the positive aspects of Fitch as a world-class mixed martial artist. He believes Fitch can beat anyone in the welterweight division, despite the fact that he lacks some of the overwhelming physical tools of many of his peers.
“He’s one of the easiest guys I’ve ever coached in my life, if not the easiest. You tell him to do something, he does it,” he says. “The guy’s not a B.J. Penn. He’s not super athletic, like GSP. And, yet, he keeps winning, and that’s what people need to focus on. I’ll tell you right now, there’s very few fighters in the welterweight division who could stand next to him on a mental toughness level. They just aren’t there.”
The last time Fitch stepped into the Octagon was when he fought Penn to a draw at UFC 127 in Australia 10 months ago. The result still stings.
“It really sucked,” Fitch says. “I think I let a great opportunity slip from my hands. I wasn’t mentally there until halfway through the second period; I didn’t wake up and realize we were in a fight, and I paid for it with that stupid draw. Also, I kind of thought I was going to get the stoppage at any moment in that third period, so I kept doing what I was doing, where, if I would’ve kind of stopped and stepped back and went back to the speed and throwing bigger punches from there or tried to get a better position and a takedown from there, then I might’ve been able to finish it.”
A rematch was expected for UFC 132, but it was scrapped when Fitch had to withdraw due to a rotator cuff injury. To deal with the frustration, he put together a series of 10 YouTube videos detailing the surgery and his road to recovery.
Before facing Penn, the American Kickboxing Academy product was on a five-fight winning streak. His only loss in the Octagon has been to St. Pierre, and he has racked up 13 UFC wins, tying him with former middleweight champion Rich Franklin for ninth on the all-time list. Now, he prepares to fight two-time NCAA national wrestling champion Johnny Hendricks at UFC 141 on Friday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
“As I understand, Hendricks is looking to wrestle, because he moved his camp to Oklahoma,” says Camarillo, who indicated that wrestling, conditioning for wrestling and footwork were large components of this Fitch fight camp. “Fitch has got to be in shape and sharp everywhere.”
Fitch respects the once-beaten Hendricks, who bounced back from his only career defeat -- a unanimous decision to Rick Story -- with consecutive victories over T.J. Waldburger and Mike Pierce.
“[Hendricks is] really tough and has made a name for himself,” Fitch says. “I think it’s a really good matchup for me. He’s heavy-handed, he’s got really good wrestling and he’s a tough guy.”
Despite Hendricks not being on the short list of potential title contenders at 170 pounds, Camarillo does not see this bout as a tune-up fight by any means.
“This is a tough fight,” he says. “Hendricks is tough. His credentials in wrestling are better than Fitch’s. He’s physically more impressive than Fitch. He’s got more power. Hendricks lost to Story, and he had a tough fight with Pierce, so he just hasn’t broken out yet, but I think it’s only a matter of time until he does.”
Camarillo expects Fitch to do what he does best: win.
“I don’t think it’ll be easy, but I think he’s going to get a really good start and build some damage, and it’s just going to keep getting worse and worse for Johny,” he says. “Johnny will bring it, but I think he’ll realize quickly that he’s getting outclassed.”
Although Carlos Condit and Nick Diaz will vie for the interim welterweight championship at UFC 143, with St. Pierre on the sidelines with a knee injury, Fitch does not believe they are the top fighters in the division.
“Honestly, I think there’s lots of guys that can beat them,” he says. “Guys that have good chins and strong wrestling pose a very strong threat to those guys. I think [Jake] Ellenberger can beat Diaz. I think Pierce can beat Diaz. I think [Josh] Koscheck beats both those guys. The big factor is wrestling. Good cardio, wrestling and a good chin beat those guys nine times out of 10.”
Although Fitch holds to the claim that he will never fight Koscheck, one of his AKA stablemates, he has a desire to test himself against any of the other elite welterweights.
“I’m a fighter. I’m here to fight. Line them up. I’ll fight every one of them,” he says. “Whatever order it happens in, it doesn’t really matter. That was always my reasoning and my goal for winning the belt, not to be champ of the world but because, when you’re that guy, you get to fight all the best guys; they line up and fight you. And that was always my reasoning.
“I got into this fight game because I’m a fighter,” Fitch adds. “I want to see how good I am and I want to fight all the best guys, whether they have a big name or don’t have a big name. A lot of guys are doing this because they want to make money or they want to be famous or they want to be rock stars or whatever, but that’s not me. I’m just here to fight. I’m a fighter.”