Jon Fitch has won just two of his last six bouts. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
The notoriously unpredictable, bumpy road that is the fight game can sometimes cause a man to want to simplify. Consider, if you will, the past year and a half in the life of Jon Fitch.
After the onetime Ultimate Fighting Championship title contender was unceremoniously dumped from the promotion after losing a unanimous decision to Demian Maia at UFC 156 in February 2013, he was picked up by the World Series of Fighting and promptly lost by guillotine choke 41 seconds into his WSOF 3 rematch against Josh Burkman. Following a split decision win against Marcelo Alfaya in October, Fitch was set to take on welterweight champion Rousimar Palhares for the WSOF belt. However, Palhares withdrew from the fight to care for his ailing mother, denying Fitch his shot at WSOF gold. He was replaced by former Shooto, Strikeforce and EliteXC champion Jake Shields, who was later forced to exit with an injury. A rubber match with Burkman was then made, but “The People’s Warrior” was also taken out by injury.
That is how Fitch arrived at his meeting with Dennis Hallman at WSOF 11 on Saturday at the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach, Fla. One might think such tumult would get frustrating at some point.
“It used to, but I’ve been doing it so long I just laugh it off now,” Fitch told Sherdog.com. “What’s next? Whatever. Give me a date; I’ll be there and I’ll be ready, and hopefully my opponent will show up.”
What is his secret for keeping it all in perspective?
“Practice,” Fitch said. “This has been happening since I started. It’s just the way the game is. It’s the fight game. It is what it is.”
Fitch knows he has to be prepared for Hallman, a savvy veteran of various promotions who, with a 53-14 record, has won more fights than most people have attended.
“He’s a seasoned vet,” Fitch said. “He’s dangerous. He’s got heavy hands, decent standup, good wrestling, and if he gets your back, it’s big trouble. I’ve got to be really tight with my game the whole fight.”
That brings us back to the idea of simplicity. Fitch is no rookie himself, and having lost three of his last five fights seems to have prompted in him a desire to rework the theory of his approach.
“Basically, it’s the idea of simplicity,” he said. “You need to simplify things. If you get to a position and you’re thinking about what technique to do next, and you’ve got 15 to 20 choices and they’re all good, you’re going to be slower because you’re going to have a hard time picking that technique. If you only give yourself two choices every time, left or right, you’re going to be faster. You’re going to react much faster, and you’re going to be quicker in putting things together.”
Along with gaining strength by adding meat back into his diet -- Fitch had been a vegan since early 2011 -- and hitting the weight room hard for the first time since his days as an amateur, this theory of simplicity has provided the mold for a new phase in Fitch’s career.
“I’m simplifying the choices,” he said. “I want to have a left switch and a right switch with every scenario. That way, it’s easy. My only choice is, ‘Do I go left, or do I go right?’ I don’t have to go too deep into which technique I’m trying to get to, and everything should build to a finishing point.”
This simplification helps build a distinct system -- a specialized game -- that will allow a fighter to play to his or her strengths. It is an art and a strategy Fitch feels many younger fighters are missing.
“I think that’s the biggest thing that a lot of younger fighters are missing out on who don’t come from one discipline but have been studying MMA their whole lives,” he said. “They haven’t done a good job of developing a distinct game, and I think that’s a hindrance because then you’re kind of a jack of all trades, master of none. You’re good everywhere but you’re not great anywhere, and I think that’s a mistake.”
He believes it is a losing scenario for fight fans, as well.
“It’s not as appealing to watch, also, because then you have a lot of guys who fight the exact same way,” Fitch said. “It’s kind of boring. Why are you watching this one specific fighter if there’s 20 other guys who fight just like him? What you get a lot of times is that it’s just about athleticism at that point. You have great athletes who have a so-so game set.”
Fitch is not one of those younger fighters. He feels he has put in the years learning the skills and techniques, and now he is focusing on honing that simple game plan and executing it with strength and speed. The 36-year-old American Kickboxing Academy rep also tries to live in the now, concentrating on one fight at a time while knowing he will have plenty of time to reminisce about the glory days once his fighting days are done. Even so, Fitch admits he would like to give himself certain trappings of success upon which to reflect when the end does come.
“At the end of the day, it’s really about being happy and living the life I choose to live, and I’m able to do that and that’s what really matters,” he said, “but with MMA, it’s nice to have the hardware. You want to be able to have that hardware and look back at it and be a champ and know that all the work you put into it culminated in that success.”
While a chance at Palhares and the World Series of Fighting welterweight championship will have to wait, Fitch has a positive feel about where he is at in his career.
“I’ve got everything settled in my mind right now,” he said. “I’ve got my body back. I’ve got my size and strength back, and I think that I’ve got a good amount of years left to do some damage and really put an exclamation point at the end of my career.”