Jon Fitch says he is “too good anywhere” for most welterweights in MMA. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
After dropping his World Series of Fighting debut against Josh Burkman at WSOF 3, Jon Fitch has climbed back into title contention with two consecutive victories.
At WSOF 16 on Saturday, Fitch looks to claim welterweight gold when he takes on fellow UFC veteran Rousimar Palhares.
In “Toquinho,” Fitch will compete against a fighter who is renowned -- as well as maligned -- for his leglocks. Of Palhares’ 16 wins, 13 have come by way of submission, and nine via heel hook. This statistic did lead Fitch to focus portions of his training camp on the maneuver, but not to the point where he was psyching himself out about being submitted.
“I had to make sure I was comfortable with leg defense and the avoidance of leglocks, as well as escaping them. But I didn’t want to spend too much time solely on getting out of leg submissions. The best policy on submissions is just avoiding them altogether,” Fitch told Sherdog.com this week. “I focused a ton on strength training, speed, cardio, a lot of everything. I am better than I’ve ever been at this point in my career, and I’ve had a great training camp. I think I’m going to surprise people with my abilities in this fight.”
Palhares has a well-documented history of not releasing a submission hold immediately after an opponent taps. The best example of this would be UFC Fight Night “Maia vs. Shields,” an event that saw Palhares fail to release a heel hook on Mike Pierce. As a result, Palhares was cut from the UFC and Pierce was left with a severe ligament tear. Still, Fitch refuses to classify his upcoming opponent as a dirty fighter.
“I don’t think [Palhares] is a bad person. I just think maybe he doesn’t understand the danger he’s putting another fighter’s career in by not respecting the referee’s commands,” Fitch said. “It could be that it’s lost in translation or maybe he doesn’t understand the English the ref is speaking to him. I don’t know, maybe it’s something in his training that’s wrong and he’s hurting a lot of his training partners, too. Something is a little off with him hanging onto the submission so long. I’m not really worried about that because I’m not going to let myself get in that position.”
If Fitch leaves McClellan Conference Center in Sacramento, Calif., as a WSOF champion, he will represent a mixed martial arts promotion of which he is happy to be part. Fitch chalks up any issues former fighters have with the Las Vegas-based promotion simply as growing pains.
“Fighters are generally prima donnas who want people to cater to us and want everything done our way. We are pretty selfish people when it comes down to it,” Fitch said. “But you have to take any mistakes [WSOF] make with a grain of salt because they are so new. They just don’t have as much experience doing what they are doing. I’m being patient with that and they have treated me well, but it’s just going to take some time.”
One of the common grievances fighters have made regarding WSOF is a lack of fights. Fitch sympathizes with such comments, making it clear that he, too, wishes to compete more frequently. But looking at the MMA landscape, the American Kickboxing Academy product knows it’s hard to hold events because of the way Ultimate Fighting Championship currently conducts business.
“I’d love to fight more often also, but it’s just not in the cards right now. They have trouble sometimes finding matchups and finding fighters,” Fitch explained. “It’s difficult to just be in the MMA market as a promotion nowadays with the UFC monopolizing everything.”
The 36-year-old believes there are solutions to the problem. Fitch feels as though fighters should be able to fight where there’s work, thus preventing lulls if there are no upcoming matchups available in WSOF.
“I think a major change to the entire MMA landscape needs to happen, quite honestly,” Fitch said. “I think these long-term contracts have to go away. We are independent contractors, and independent contractors should not be forced to work for only one company. That’s not the definition of independent contractor. You’re either an employee or you’re not. I would like to see some changes there because I think it prevents fighters from competitively asking for what they are worth.”
But for now Fitch’s sights are set on Saturday and his main event clash with Palhares. If you have followed the career arc of Fitch, expect more of the same at WSOF 16. With 16 career victories coming by way of grinding decision, the Fort Wayne, Ind., native could add to that total if the game plan he spoke of comes to fruition.
“I’m going to do what I always do. I’m going to fight him everywhere, smother him, wear him out, drag him into deep water and drown him. I don’t think people can keep my pace,” Fitch said. “I’m too good anywhere for most of these guys. I think I’m the best welterweight in the world, regardless of what anyone thinks or says. I match up with everyone at any age or time period in this sports history. I’m still fighting to prove I’m the best ever.”
If there were to be a finish in the main event, just how sweet would it be for Fitch to finish Palhares via leglock? Fitch chuckled, but offered this in response.
“It would be ironic. I’m not really a leg lock type of person. I prefer to beat the crap out of someone over the course of 15 minutes instead of knocking someone out in the first round.”