UFC welterweight Jon Fitch isn’t the most popular or well-known fighter in the company, but he’s one of the best. Sporting a 24-3-1 record, the former Purdue wrestling star rattled off eight wins in a row to tie Royce Gracie and Anderson Silva for most consecutive wins in the Octagon. That streak was shattered by Georges St. Pierre in Fitch’s only title shot (and has since been beaten by Silva’s 10 consecutive wins), but Fitch proved in the St. Pierre bout that he had the heart and the determination to hang with the champion for a full five rounds.
Fitch will face off against Mike Pierce at UFC 107. We recently sat down with Jon to discuss his start in mixed martial arts, his thoughts on Matt Hughes, The Ultimate Fighter and more.
Heavy.com: You’re obviously doing something you love. But can you tell me what your dream job would be if you couldn’t fight?
Jon Fitch: I don’t know. That’s a hard question to answer. Ideally, when I was growing up, I always thought I’d be playing professional football. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I realized that might not be possible. I think that’s one of the reasons I was able to find my way into fighting, because I was lost a little bit.
I was getting my degree and I was going to be a PE and history teacher, but I can’t say that it was my ultimate dream job. I think that was just a means to an end, I guess.
Heavy.com: What position did you play in football?
Jon Fitch: Middle linebacker.
Heavy.com: So you ended up at Purdue, where you wrestled under Tom Erickson. Can you tell me what it was like wrestling under Tom?
Jon Fitch: Yeah. Tom was a good coach. I loved having Tom in my corner coaching me at tournaments. There’s nothing like having a three-hundred pound guy in your corner, yelling at the referee and helping to turn calls your way a little bit.
Heavy.com: Did Tom ever push you towards mixed martial arts, or was it something you pursued on your own?
Jon Fitch: No, he didn’t push me into it. But I was introduced to it, and he invited me to work out with him, Gary Goodridge and Mark Coleman a few times. And working out with those guys and hearing their stories, it seemed like something that could be a possible future for me. The dream started growing from there.
Heavy.com: What do you think about Purdue’s recent win over Missouri?
Jon Fitch: It’s pretty awesome. Scott Hinkel was an assistant coach when I was there, and he took over the helm a couple of years ago. He was super pumped. I could tell just by the text messages I got from him. That’s a big win for those guys, and I’m really hoping that Hinkel has that program turned around and going the right direction.
Heavy.com: Sticking with grappling for a second here: can you explain the differences between traditional jiu-jitsu and Dave Camarillo’s Guerilla jiu-jitsu that you trained in?
Jon Fitch: Dave’s jiu-jitsu is a more aggressive style. It’s a finishing style and it’s a lot less defensive. I think traditional jiu-jitsu is a defensive art, and Dave’s style is more of an aggressive, offensive art.
Heavy.com: What made you choose American Kickboxing Academy as your home camp?
Jon Fitch: Well, in the beginning, coming from where I was at Purdue, I didn’t have any coaches or anybody to help me. I was just wrestling and hitting heavy bags. When I could, I would try to work with their judo club from time to time, you know? To work on some submission stuff. And when I got out to AKA, I saw that there was like ten different stand-up trainers I could work with. They had Crazy Bob Cook and Josh Thomson and a lot of guys who had good ground work. I thought that the limits were endless there for what I could learn.
And that was even before Dave Camarillo came. When Dave came, it looked like a complete picture to me. Everything has just gotten better and better as time has progressed.
Heavy.com: You mentioned all the trainers you had available at AKA. One of those trainers is Javier Mendes. What kind of trainer is Javier, and what have you learned from him?
Jon Fitch: Javier is a very good trainer. He’s always honest. He’ll tell you if you look like crap. If you look good, he’ll tell you what you need more of and what you need less of. He’s a very straight shooter in that sense. He’s also very, very technical. But I think the biggest thing you can get from Javier is power. He’s very good at drawing your power out and getting the most out of your punches. So when I need to get more out of my punches, or I need to be able to punch harder, he’s the guy I go to and the guy I work with.
Heavy.com: You were scheduled to be on the first season of the Ultimate Fighter. But you were pulled at the last second, while you were waiting for your flight to Vegas at the airport. Can you explain what happened in that situation?
Jon Fitch: I mean, I still don’t really know what happened. It was a last-minute producer’s decision. I think they felt that I wasn’t going to be good television. I got a call and they told me that they were cutting back on the numbers and I was no longer needed. So I was cut at the last minute, while I was sitting at the airport waiting to go.
That’s how those television people are, I guess. They care more about ratings and making money than they do about having good fighters on TV.
Heavy.com: Do you think the show is still operated that way?
Jon Fitch: It could be. The UFC’s part in picking the guys only goes to the first step. They give Spike a list of the fighters that they think are good enough to be on the show or to fight for a chance to be in the UFC. And then from that point, it’s all up to the producers, and they make the decisions on the final cuts. It has nothing to do with what the UFC brass thinks.
I think it still happens quite a bit. You’ll get somebody who is good for television getting a spot rather than a good fighter, just because the producers are trying to make money.
Heavy.com:You were scheduled to face Ricardo Almeida last month, but he was injured. Then you were scheduled to face Thiago Alves at UFC 107, but he was injured. Do you feel like you’re a little bit cursed?
Jon Fitch: No, man. That’s just the way the sport goes. People get hurt, promotions shut down and fight cards fall apart. It happens, and I’ve been in the business long enough not to let something like that get to me. I went through a nine-month period early in my career with no fights. Guys got hurt, they pulled out or I got cut. One entire promotion fell apart. Anything can happen. You just have to keep moving forward, keep your head down and keep working. It will all work out in the end.
Heavy.com: Now you’re facing Mike Pierce at UFC 107. Do you feel like going from Almeida and Alves, who are top contenders in the division, to a fighter like Pierce is a step down? Or do you think a win still counts as much as a win over the other guys would?
Jon Fitch: The fans don’t know who Mike Pierce is, so they probably don’t feel like it’s a good fight. But I don’t see things like that. I constantly try to push myself, to challenge myself and fight the best guys that I can regardless of whether or not they have name recognition. I think Pierce has only lost one fight and he’s 10-1. He beat Brock Larson. He’s a good fighter and a tough kid, and for me to test myself and find out how good I really am, I need to fight tough guys. So I welcome the opportunity to fight another tough guy, whether the fans know who he is or not.
Heavy.com: How close do you think you are to a rematch with Georges St. Pierre?
Jon Fitch: If they give me a call tomorrow and offer me that fight, I’ll say yes. I’m ready to go. But I don’t know what they are thinking. I don’t know if I’m one fight away or if I’m eight fights away. I don’t know what I need to do, in their eyes, to earn another title shot. I can’t speak for the UFC.
Heavy.com: Josh Koscheck has been very vocal about his feelings that Dan Hardy does not deserve a title shot at this point in his career. Do you share the same feeling?
Jon Fitch: Well, it’s not Dan Hardy’s fault that he’s getting a title shot. He’s a fighter, and if the opportunity to fight for a title comes along, you’re going to take it. Any fighter would do the same thing, so you can’t blame Dan Hardy one bit for that.
But the decision to give him a title shot? I can’t fully agree with that. I feel like there are other guys in the division who have put in more time and more work and deserve a title shot before he gets one. He’s a great fighter and a good guy. But at the same time, there are a lot of fighters who have been putting in years and years of work. They’ve fought a lot of top guys, and they aren’t getting that opportunity.
I’d just like to see the sport be treated like a sport, and not treated as entertainment. Because when we go down that road, we’re going to end up turning into pro wrestling. You don’t see the Cincinnati Bengals vs. the Miami Dolphins in the Super Bowl just because it might sell more tickets than the Colts vs. Patriots would. You know what I mean?
Jon Fitch: In a legitimate sport, you’re always seeing the best people and the best teams play against each other. I think we need that in MMA to fully be a legitimate sport.
Heavy.com: Do you think that The Ultimate Fighter, as a television series, has had something to do with that mentality?
Jon Fitch: I mean, I don’t have a problem with The Ultimate Fighter. Especially right now. People are becoming more and more educated, so they can tell the difference between a good fighter and a bad fighter. And there are so many good fighters in the UFC as it is, if you put somebody from The Ultimate Fighter out there who isn’t qualified to be in the UFC? They’re going to get beat and they’re going to look bad. Name recognition only gets you so far.
At the end of the day, we’re fighting. This is real. If you’re not legitimate, it’s going to be exposed very quickly, and that could be embarrassing if you’re not ready.
Heavy.com: The AKA fighters have kinda taken turns calling out Matt Hughes over the past few months. What is it about a Matt Hughes fight that intrigues all of you guys so much?
Jon Fitch: Well, we’re all ranked up in the top of the division. We’ve been asking for that fight for a very long time, and that fight is continually not made to happen or isn’t allowed to happen. And he’s publicly said that we’re not big enough names and that we’re not important enough for him to fight us. It kinda rubs us the wrong way. If you’re trying to be a contender and you’re trying to earn a title shot, then you need to fight the top guys. And Matt doesn’t want to fight us.
So I think that’s why Swick, Koscheck and myself have been vocal about asking for the fight. We want the people to know that we’ve been asking for that fight for a long time, and the reason it’s not happening is in no way coming from our end. And it has nothing to do with Matt in a personal way. It’s just a professional outlook. We want to fight the best guys in the division, so why can’t we get a fight with this guy?
Heavy.com: Do you think Hughes has reached a point in his career where he’s content to coast on his reputation? He’s in the twilight of his career, and it seems like he may just want easier fights from this point forward. Do you get the same vibe?
Jon Fitch: I don’t see a problem with it. I have no problem with him headlining cards with dream matchups against guys that people want to see him fight. If it’s not for high rankings or a title shot, I don’t see a problem with it. But he’s not admitting to that. He’s trying to say that he’s still one fight away from a title shot. He wants to fight for the title. But if he’s going to fight for the title, he has to put in the work. He has to fight the guys who are standing in line in front of him.
But if he wants to fight someone like Renzo Gracie? I think that’s a great fight. I’d love to see that fight. It’s cool, you know? But don’t make statements like you’re still number two in the world and your next fight should be for the title.
Heavy.com: On MythBusters, you delivered a three-inch punch with 1400 pounds of force. Have you ever considered using the three inch punch as part of your ground and pound attack?
Jon Fitch: (Laughs) I don’t want too many people to know about my secret techniques. But I already have the three-inch punch, so now I’m trying to perfect the three-inch elbow.
Jon Fitch would like to direct all readers to MMAInstructional.com (also called MMA Faestro), where subscribers can view video instructionals from Fitch, Dave Camarillo, Kenny Florian and others. You can also follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/fitchfighter.
Check out our MMA Interview Archive for tons more interviews.