Fitch continues the grind at UFC 141
LAS VEGAS – Jon Fitch never wanted to use “Rusty Cage” as his walkout song. Sure, he liked the song, but it wasn’t his first choice. If Fitch had his way, another seminal Johnny Cash tune would’ve cranked through the arena speakers as he made his way to the cage six years ago.
As luck would have it, someone else was using the tune that night, so Fitch went to his second choice, and “Rusty Cage” became his anthem.
“My fans love it, I love it and it’s kind of my theme now,” Fitch says.
But I’m gonna break
I’m gonna break my
I’m gonna break my rusty cage and run
Rarely has a walkout song matched a fighter as well as “Rusty Cage” does Fitch. A single pass through the chorus, with Cash and his soul-searching voice, feels like a re-telling of the last few years of Fitch’s career. A consensus top three welterweight for the past few years, he’s seemingly been shut out of the title picture after losing on his first opportunity to dethrone Georges St-Pierre back at UFC 87. He’s won five fights in a row against tough competition.
Sure, they’ve all been decisions. And perhaps that’s part of the problem, but Fitch can’t seem to find the solution. Why can’t he get another title shot?
“I don’t know. I really don’t. No one has ever approached me or talked to me about anything I needed to do better, or do less of, or anything,” Fitch says. “It’s never been brought up to me. I’ve never been told to do anything specific in order to get the title shot. So I’m kind of clueless with that. I’ll just keep plugging away, keep fighting hard and keep winning fights.”
Fitch’s fortunes could change with a win over former Oklahoma State wrestler (and two-time national champion) Johny Hendricks at UFC 141 on Friday. UFC President Dana White said after the pre-fight press conference on Wednesday that Fitch is back in the mix for title contendership.
“Jon Fitch is back at the top of the 170-pound division,” White said. “We’ve got some fights to make for GSP. Fitch is in there.”
The holy grail awaits – perhaps in the form of an interim title fight with the winner of February’s bout between Carlos Condit and Nick Diaz – but Fitch will first have to get by Hendricks. It sure wasn’t the fight Fitch had in mind when, four months ago, he said he wanted to fight nothing but champions or guys who could help get him into championship fights. But when the UFC called and offered him a fight with Hendricks, Fitch accepted. He’s not the type to turn down fights.
“I’ve never really tried not to take a fight. I don’t know if that would go real well. I know they don’t really like it when you turn down fights, so I always try to remain in good standing with the UFC. If they offer me a fight, I figure it’s because they want me to fight that fight, so I don’t complain too much, as long as I’m staying active. That’s the biggest thing for me.
“We don’t really get options. I’ve never been given an option to take a fight or not take a fight. This was the fight that was offered, so this is the fight we’re fighting. It’s an exciting fight because I’m always up for fighting tough guys, whether they’re famous or not. I’ve fought a lot of tough guys in my career that not everybody knows of. I’m more in this for proving to myself that I’m one of the best fighters out there.”
In many ways, there’s a little Jon Fitch in Hendricks. They’re cut from the same mold: tough, durable wrestlers with the ability to absolutely smother opponents, to grind away their will to fight. Hendricks has heavy hands, and he loves to use them, but he also has the kind of wrestling background that can create nightmares for takedown-susceptible opponents.
“He’s tough. He’s got heavy hands and very good wrestling, being from Oklahoma State,” Fitch says. “Good cardio. It’s a tough fight, but I think I excel in most areas. I should be able to beat him through experience.”
And so Fitch goes about his business, a business that certainly doesn’t include changing his style to please the fans. He also won’t change his single-minded belief that mixed martial arts is wholly a sport and not entertainment in the form of pro wrestling or scripted television.
Fitch only cares about winning fights, and that’s something he’s gotten pretty good at over the years. If other people notice, great. If they don’t, he’s okay with that as well.
“I don’t really care about proving to many other people that I’m the best, because I know that sooner or later that time is going to come,” he says. “I keep stacking up wins, I keep doing well, I keep beating guys who have big names or tough guys without big names. People are eventually going to get the idea.”