Jon Fitch firmly believes he’s better than the guy who will get the next shot at UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre, and he’s not afraid to say it.
“I think I’m better than Jake Shields. I think I should be fighting for the title,” Fitch said at a press conference in Australia on Monday. “But I’ve been given a huge opportunity here to fight B.J. Penn and that’s a big fight, belt or no belt.”
Fitch, who was emphatically defeated by St. Pierre in 2008, was told he’d get a title shot by beating Thiago Alves in August. He delivered the win, but did so in typical Fitch style – a sporting decision that failed to excite the crowd. More importantly, it failed to excite UFC President Dana White and matchmaker Joe Silva.
Sometimes a five-fight win streak isn’t enough to vault you into contention.
That’s why Shields – who is riding a 15-fight win streak dating back to 2004 and who defeated Martin Kampmann in his UFC debut – was given the shot originally promised to Fitch. Shields is one of the best grapplers in the world and was the Strikeforce middleweight champion, and Fitch believes that Shields was given the shot simply because he was a highly-valued free agent after leaving Strikeforce.
“We’re in a sport of selling fights right now, and the sport’s growing. We’re trying to get international, trying to get into every country, every household, and part of that is ticket sales with the idea that Jake Shields is coming over from Strikeforce with two belts,” Fitch said. “I understand that, and it’s a business decision.”
Instead of facing St. Pierre in the main event of a huge Toronto show in April, Fitch will instead step in the cage with future Hall of Famer Penn in the main event of Australia’s UFC 127 event. Fitch was offered the Penn fight just minutes after Penn dispatched Matt Hughes with a 21-second knockout last month. Joe Silva immediately walked to the back, called Bob Cook (Fitch’s manager) and said “I’m going to give you a chance to shine against B.J. Penn.” Fitch and Cook immediately accepted the fight.
Fitch knows that it’s a big fight, title or no, and says that a win over Penn will almost certainly give him a second crack at St. Pierre.
But Fitch finds himself in a curious situation. Since 2003, he has one loss on his record, and that blemish was to St. Pierre. He’s defeated a who’s who of welterweight talent: Diego Sanchez, Paulo Thiago, Thiago Alves (2 times) and more have all failed to neutralize Fitch’s smothering top game.
Despite the victories and stellar performances, Fitch can’t seem to buy a break. Rumors have circulated that a loss to Penn could equal the end of Fitch’s UFC career, at least for the moment.
Think about that for a second, if you will: the number-two welterweight in the world could be in danger of losing his job, all because his fights are considered boring. The idea harkens back to a refrain White often repeats: it’s not enough to win. To be successful, you need to have exciting fights.
To his credit, Fitch seems to understand the situation.
“I’m not going to cry about it,” Fitch recently told the L.A. Times. “If I’ve failed to convince the UFC, Dana White, and the fans that I’m overwhelmingly the No. 1 contender and that I absolutely should be fighting for the belt, then I take that as my own responsibility. It’s my own fault. If people are dissatisfied, then I’m going to correct that.”
Fitch firmly believes that a title shot will be waiting if he manages to defeat Penn, but he also realizes that he can’t bide his time and win another decision. He needs to take risks and go for the finish.
“I feel if I can put in a fantastic performance with B.J. there’s no denying a title shot,” Fitch said.