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As his remarkable but polarizing career nears its conclusion inside the Bellator MMA organization, it can be argued that Jon Fitch accomplished as much with less as any high-level fighter in mixed martial arts history.
The former World Series of Fighting champion and longtime Ultimate Fighting Championship contender will return to the cage for the first time in more than a year when he confronts Neiman Gracie in the Bellator 246 co-main event on Saturday at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. Fitch, 42, finds himself on a six-fight unbeaten streak during which he has compiled a 5-0-1 record. A consummate grinder, he has gone the distance in 24 of his 41 professional appearances.
Ahead of Fitch’s battle with Gracie, a look at five of the moments that have come to define him:
1. Chin Kick
Still something of an unproven commodity when he met Thiago Alves at UFC Fight Night 5 on June 28, 2006, Fitch announced his arrival as a welterweight on the rise when he brought down the Brazilian muay Thai stylist with a second-round upkick and follow-up punches. Alves met his end 4:37 into Round 2 at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. After a rough start that included his being sat down by a left hook from the American Top Team rep inside the first 10 seconds, Fitch made his move. He assumed top position and grinded away on Alves with short punches, elbows and forearm strikes, opening a cut on his left eyebrow. Fitch stepped on the gas in the second round, where he executed a takedown, continued to punish the “Pitbull” with ground-and-pound and ultimately advanced to his back, at which point he began the hunt for a rear-naked choke. Alves later escaped to a standing position above the Purdue University wrestling team captain and wandered into a devastating upkick that left him in a semi-conscious state. Fitch then unleashed with punches until referee Mario Yamasaki called for the stoppage.
2. Squash Match
Fitch carried a 16-fight winning streak into his showdown with Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight titleholder Georges St. Pierre in the UFC 87 main event on Aug. 9, 2008 at the Target Center in Minneapolis. Turns out, all his momentum meant nothing against an all-time great. St. Pierre spent five rounds thoroughly outclassing the No. 1 contender, as he cruised to a unanimous decision and retained his 170-pound crown with breathtaking ease. All three judges scored it for the Tristar Gym superstar: 50-44, 50-44 and 50-43. Fitch failed to mount much in terms of measurable offense. St. Pierre outlanded him by a 203-96 margin, knocked down the Fort Wayne, Indiana, native three times and completed seven of his nine takedown attempts. It was a rout in every sense of the word. Fitch never again challenged for UFC gold, his road to the top interminably blocked.
3. Out Go the Lights
A beautiful left hook from Johny Hendricks laid waste to Fitch in the first round of their UFC 141 welterweight showcase on Dec. 30, 2011 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. It was over 12 seconds after it began. Fitch—who had not been finished in more than nine years and had lost only once in his previous 23 appearances—threw a straight right hand, backed away and ate the punch that ruined his night. The left hook found its mark, and Fitch collapsed backward. Hendricks moved in and fired off one more left hand for good measure before referee Steve Mazzagatti arrived on the scene to prevent further carnage. It was at the time the second-fastest finish in the history of the UFC’s welterweight division and marked the unofficial end of Fitch’s long run as a serious contender within the promotion, as a little more than a year later, he was off the roster.
4. A Champion at Last
Persistence paid when Fitch snatched the vacant World Series of Fighting welterweight championship with a five-round unanimous verdict over Joao Zeferino under the WSOF 30 banner on April 2, 2016 at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. All three cageside judges scored it 50-45 for Fitch, who reached the summit of a major MMA mountain at the age of 38. Zeferino enjoyed early success with his hands, as he operated behind a probing jab and fired off quick two- and three-punch combinations. However, he became less and less of a factor as time ticked away. Fitch ran him through a maze of frustrating clinches, dogged takedowns and annoying ground-and-pound, slowly sucking the life out of the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt. Zeferino fished at times for kimuras and leg locks from his back, his attempts proving unsuccessful. Fitch later retained his championship in subsequent meets with Jake Shields and Brian Foster, then vacated his throne to join the Bellator roster.
5. Seeing Red
Rory MacDonald’s hold on the 170-pound throne grew unexpectedly tenuous, as he retained his title and advanced out of the 2019 Bellator MMA Welterweight Grand Prix quarterfinals in a contentious majority draw—46-48, 47-47, 47-47—with Fitch in the Bellator 220 headliner on April 27, 2019 at the SAP Center in San Jose, California. Fitch overcame a difficult first 10 minutes and a number of overhand rights from the Canadian and started to chip away at his resolve. He stymied MacDonald for the entire third round, securing a takedown inside the first minute, controlling position and opening a cut above the champion’s right eye with a short but effective elbow strike. MacDonald wobbled the American Kickboxing Academy export with an elbow of his own in the fourth round but could not keep his challenger at bay. Fitch scrambled into top position midway through the period, pinned the “Red King” to the canvas and set out to suffocate him. MacDonald conceded another takedown roughly a minute into Round 5 and threatened with a triangle choke, only to see the 41-year-old challenger resume his assault from the top. Fitch denied his attempts to stand and scored with punches and elbows to the body and head. However, his inability to do serious damage or execute a finish proved costly when the scorecards were read.
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