When asked to describe Jon Fitch’s fighting style, one word keeps coming up – grinder. A guy that will wear you down with sheer will to get the upper hand and keep it. The skills are there, but almost overshadowed by the grit and determination that is more his calling card. The label also applies to a hockey player with similar grit, what the old-time hockey folks called “lunch bucket” players. The ones that weren’t concerned with the flashy plays, but went out there put out their best honest effort and won the battles in workmanlike fashion. “The guys in the trenches” as Don Cherry would say. Jon Fitch would have got on well with those guys.
Fitch is undefeated in his last six fights heading into his December 30th bout against Johny Hendricks, yet continues to be overlooked in the welterweight title picture. The fight itself is somewhat being slept on in some quarters while the attention is being focused on the hype and now controversy of the heavyweight match-up between Brock Lesnar and Alistair Overeem. But Fitch is focused on the positive:
“My fans are super-excited for it. They’re pumped, they’re very vocal and very excited to see me fight again. As long as my fans are there to support me, that’s all that matters.”
While it’s clear that Fitch sees himself as deserving of a title shot, he continues to remain philosophical on why the welterweight title talk focuses on Nick Diaz and Carlos Condit, rather than himself.
“I should be [in the title mix], but if I’m not then I don’t know what’s going on. The only explanation I have is that I’ve been injured. So until I come back from injury and show I can still fight, I’m not in the talk.”
One criticism that has dogged Fitch is the lack of finishes since his loss to GSP three years ago at UFC 87. He has five wins to his credit but all of them have gone to the judges scorecards. While he maintains that no one in the UFC front office has ever said anything to him about it, we’ve all heard Dana White tell fighters a thousand times not to leave fights in the hands of the judges. White respects all fighters, but prefers the ones who have flashy knockout or submissions he can put on highlight videos. Fitch is aware that may be an issue, but remains committed to winning and winning his way.
At the end of the day this is a professional sport and professional sports are about who’s the best and fighting is about who’s the best. Records don’t lie. [A win over Hendricks] leaves me at the top where I’ve been since 2008. I don’t think much has changed, I think I’m still at the top. I think I’m the best fighter in the world. If I haven’t convinced everybody of it yet, I’m going to.
One would assume a decisive, stoppage victory over Hendricks would put Fitch’s name back in title talks, where he could be a contender for the winner of the interim title fight between Diaz and Condit. Fitch sounds ready for either one, while recognizing that his larger goal is to avenge his only UFC loss to the the division’s kingpin.
It’d be nice to have the interim belt, but the interim belt isn’t the belt. I’m still waiting for a win over GSP regardless of whether it’s title, non-title or whatever. One of my ultimate goals is to get the rematch with GSP. I’ve always wanted to be able to fight Diaz and Condit, so either of those two is something I’m looking forward to. Whichever one comes first, it doesn’t really matter. I plan on fighting both of them at some point in my career.
There might even be some leftover frostiness from UFC brass about the refusal of Fitch and his AKA teammate and fellow top welterweight Josh Koscheck to fight each other. The bond is clearly strong between the AKA crew, and Fitch shows pride in their accomplishments.
I think we are the top of the game, top of the sport, top of the food chain. I think on all levels. Our younger guys that are getting their first few pro fights are winning. At the top we had a champion in Cain [Velasquez], we had other champions in our past and a lot of champions in our future so we’re definitely at the top of the food chain.
The loyalty between all the AKA members continues to be paramount for them, and to hear Fitch tell it it’s something that takes precedence at the gym, no matter how famous any of them become.
That’s one of the things we work hard on is making sure we stay close, we stay a team and that we treat our team kind of like a marriage. There’s no divorces in our language, in this type of marriage. We make sure that if we have problems that we work them out. We check our egos at the door, we’re all there to help each other, we’re all there to make each other better.
Where Fitch’s affability wanes is when the question of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs comes up. It’s clear just from his voice that his competitive desire is fierce, and he takes umbrage at anyone that would disrespect the sport and its athletes by cheating. He is not only prepared to condemn those that use steroids, he also offers up solutions to combat the problem.
I think it’s cowardly to use them. I don’t think it’s necessary, I think those that use them are weaker-minded. But I think [the UFC] should be doing more about it. I think they should pay a little greater expense to get better testing. I think blood tests would be much better rather than urine tests. They could do the blood test the week before when they do our blood medicals for HIV and Hep C.
Also, [there should be] stiffer fines. I think the athletic commission fining them a little bit, I don’t think it’s enough. I think UFC should make an example out of guys that get caught cheating. Take 50% reduction in their purses for the rest of their career if they get caught. Something that’s actually going to stay and stick. That takes away the excuse of ‘oh well, everyone else is doing it and I’m here to make money’. Well now if you get caught, you’re going to make 50% less money for the rest of your career. I think that would be a big [deterrent] for people that want to cheat.
Fitch is a warrior inside the cage, but a thinking man outside of it. He switched to a vegan diet after researching it carefully and determining its benefits. Researching politics led him to supporting Presidential candidate Ron Paul, who seems to be a favourite among UFC personalities, also drawing support from Joe Rogan (who went as far to endorse Paul on The Tonight Show) and Chris Lytle among others. Fitch is able to speak on the subject with a candor and forthrightness that puts the Tucker Carlsons and Sean Hannitys of the world to shame.
I started making money and having to pay the IRS and [other] taxes at the end of the year because of being an independent contractor so it’s a bigger dent in the bank account when I’m paying that debt at the end of the year then it is to the average person who makes the weekly cheque and a little bit is taken out every week. Big, huge chunks go out when I have to pay [taxes] at the end of the year. So I don’t like that.
I started researching and I see Ron Paul and he [talked about] the Federal Reserve. I started researching the Federal Reserve and realized that it’s an unconstitutional organization that the American people have no say in how they set their standards and their rules or anything. They’re just an independent, private company that takes our money and spends it however they please and prints more money and makes our money worth less. So I started supporting him because of that and I started looking into more of [Paul's] policies and I realized he’s been saying the same thing for 30 years. He’s probably the only honest politician I’ve ever seen. I’m a big supporter of his because he’s either the last honest politician or the first honest politician we’ll ever see.
A man with unyielding determination, a tireless work ethic and a respect for those who see the courage in honesty. In another era, the Indiana-raised Fitch may have been a hockey player for the WHA’s Indianapolis Racers. Part of the “lunch bucket” crew, no doubt.