The basic equation of competition dictates that winners will move closer to glory while losers either fall out of favor or circle back amongst the also-rans. For those who are fortunate and skilled enough to find victory at a high percentage often find themselves facing greater challenges every time the step into the cage. If the performance can be duplicated time and time again eventually there will come an opportunity to stand at the pinnacle of the sport. In mixed martial arts fans and critics alike would recognize this trajectory as the normal path a fighter travels to contention, but for AKA's Jon Fitch there is little normalcy to be found when you are the exception to the rule. In under seven days Fitch will arrive at another crossroads in his career and his performance against B.J. Penn at UFC 127 will determine whether or not Fitch will find the respect and redemption he has been in search of throughout his professional career.
After stumbling in his professional debut, the Fort Wayne Indiana native rolled out 16 consecutive wins as he carved out his place amongst the best welterweight fighters in the world. Over this time Fitch not only earned his ticket into the UFC but went on to tie legend Royce Gracie and current middleweight champion Anderson Silva for the best start in the storied organization's nearly 20 year history. When UFC 87 rolled around Fitch was prepared for a life time's worth of hard work to culminate in the greatest moment of his career when he faced welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre for UFC gold. Feeling confident in what he assumed to be the final step towards his destiny, Fitch even brought along a documentary crew to capture the crowning achievement of his athletic career. For Jon Fitch every minute of every fight had lead to that night and after flashing his trademarked snarl at the camera he was ready to go. The challenger met the champion in the middle of the ring and after receiving brief referee instructions, Fitch and St. Pierre touched gloves and it was time to for Jon Fitch to reach out and claim his prize.
Needless to say, welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre had plans of his own...
For five full rounds GSP battered and bashed the number one contender and in a completely lopsided affair, St. Pierre dominated Fitch from pillar to post as he defended the welterweight title in front of a sold out Minneapolis crowd. Dejected from his first loss in 17 fights, Fitch decided not to wallow in the shadows of loss and set about getting himself back on track but Fitch's low key profile was about to take a drastic turn.
In the months following the loss to St. Pierre, Fitch found himself locked into another high profile battle this time outside of the octagon rather than inside of it. Looking to expand their business the UFC was about to break into the electronic entertainment with the video game "UFC Undisputed". The game would feature the entire roster of UFC fighters and in order to get the game off of the ground, each featured fighter needed to sign a contract that turned over their image and likeness to Zuffa and the UFC. Rather than go with the flow Fitch resisted signing the contract and suddenly found himself as an ex-employee of Zuffa and the UFC. The story immediately grabbed headlines all over the sport and while a few months back Fitch was feature in a main event title bout, he was now on the outside looking in on the biggest organization in mixed martial arts.
The contract conflict didn't last long and less than 24hrs. later Jon Fitch was once again a UFC employee. He begrudgingly signed the necessary contracts and while it may have seemed the brief scuffle, when UFC President Dana White takes something personal, the aftermath can be worse that the incident itself. Regardless of the situation Fitch was hungry to return to action and when UFC 94 rolled around his wish was granted. Fitch drew Japanese standout Akihiro Gono at UFC 94 but rather than taking his normal position as one of the highlighted bouts on the event's pay per view card, Fitch schockingly saw his rebound crammed down into the blacked out preliminary portion of the event. The former Purdue wrestling standout would go on to claim victory over Gono and Fitch hoped things would be heading back to normal after he took his medicine and served his sentence.
When the ultra-mega UFC 100 rolled around Fitch received word that he would be facing Brazilian newcomer Paulo Thiago. This matchup allowed him to put his issues with the UFC aside because just months earlier, Thiago had shocked the MMA world with a knockout victory over top welterweight and Fitch's friend and teammate Josh Koscheck at UFC 95. Once again Fitch used his grinding style of wrestling and striking to outwork and outclass the Brazilian on his way to victory. The win over Thiago now made it back to back wins since the loss to St. Pierre and many MMA critics expected to see Fitch jump back into the contender's mix at 170lbs.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of the story that will run tomorrow on Bloody Elbow.