The epitome of a top contender, Jon Fitch once again finds himself on the brink of a title shot. Dana White said as much during Thursday's UFC 117 press conference.
How fitting is it that to reach the familiar status of title challenger he'll have to defeat his most familiar opponent?
Having already beaten Thiago Alves four long years ago, Fitch has spent the better part of a year focusing on a rematch with the "Pitbull" as their bout was delayed several times to due Alves' medical scare.
All that is history now.
The future awaits. And though it looks eerily similar to the past, going 2-0 against Thiago while earning a chance to claim the top spot in the UFC's 170-pound division and ultimately capture gold will take an effort that even he has yet to produce.
Before he steps inside the Octagon to face the Brazilian on Saturday night, August 7, Jon Fitch was kind enough to talk with MMAmania.com about his teammates at American Kickboxing Academy (AKA), the chances of him moving up to middleweight, dealing with the delay of the Alves fight and more.
Have a read:
James Kimball (MMAmania.com): Before we talk about you and your fight with Thiago Alves, I want to get your take on some of your teammates at American Kickboxing Academy (AKA). First up is Cain Velasquez. He is of course set to fight for the UFC heavyweight title against Brock Lesnar in October at UFC 121. Talk about that match up.
Jon Fitch: Brock is a tremendous athlete, he's a monster. But Cain is a more complete fighter and he's gonna be able to use his well rounded-ness to win that fight. I think it will be back and forth for the first couple of rounds, but I see Cain pulling away later on in the fight. I think the fight will probably take place everywhere. But Cain has a lot more avenues to win this fight than Brock does.
James Kimball (MMAmania.com): The most recognizable member of AKA to the general public, Herschel Walker, is rumored to return to the Strikeforce cage sometime this fall. Has he been back in the gym training with you guys and what is that like?
Jon Fitch: Yeah, he's been back several times since his last fight. I'm nothing but impressed with his attitude and work ethic. There have been times in practice when we're working on cardio and I look up and see this 47-year old man pulling away from me. It's amazing. Of course he's not gonna be fighting for any titles soon. He's here because he loves the sport and the competition. He's a great ambassador for the sport. He brings a lot of attention to MMA. He's so well respected too, there's nothing but positives with Herschel.
James Kimball (MMAmania.com): Alright, moving on to your division and the upcoming title bout between Josh Koscheck and Georges St. Pierre. You're obviously very familiar with both men, talk about how you see that fight playing out.
Jon Fitch: It all depends. It could turn into a stand up fight since both guys have such great wrestling. My fight with Georges was kind of a stand up fight because I was able to stop some if his takedowns and I think Josh will be able to do the same. He's actually working on his wrestling now as opposed to when they first fought. I see most of the fight taking place on the feet.
James Kimball (MMAmania.com): I know you've talked about this plenty in the past, but are you dead set on moving up to middleweight should Koscheck beat St. Pierre?
Jon Fitch: If Josh wins and defends, I'll move up. We're talking about another whole year for that to all happen. It'd be time to move on by then anyway. I'd love to fight Georges in a non-title fight just because I want to get that loss off my record. I think Jake Shields is definitely now a player in the division as well. And I think Georges would probably get an immediate rematch for the title just because he's been so dominant. It'll take a long time for all that to play out.
James Kimball (MMAmania.com): You don't view the move to middleweight as a detriment to your career? You've been a top-3 guy in the welterweight division for years. To move up to 185, you'd likely have to win a couple fights against some of the big dogs to gain that same status. You're ready to take on that challenge?
Jon Fitch: Honestly, I haven't put hardly any thought into that. It's just a plan that I have should things go the way we've talked about. Really, it's just an answer to the question of fighting my teammates that I'm tired of being asked. Nothing is official, but that's my plan for right now.
James Kimball (MMAmania.com): Ok, fair enough. I want to ask you about the perceived lack of recognition and praise you receive in the sport. You're 12-1 in the UFC and won an amazing eight straight fights a couple years back. Crazy stats. Do you feel as though you get the credit you deserve for what you've accomplished, or do you not worry about things like that?
Jon Fitch: I shrug it off. You can't let the little things bother you. It's more important to focus on improving your game, focus on your training, and of course taking every opponent very seriously. It's easy to get caught up in all the talk outside of actual fighting. But in 10 or 15 years when the dust settles, people will know who I am and what I've done in this sport. That's all that matters.
James Kimball (MMAmania.com): Here's another question you're probably tired of answering. You've recently come under some criticism for not being able to finish your opponents as well as your wresting style, which doesn't always lead to the most exciting fight. But I recently watched an interview where you equated it to a baseball player going to bat and looking for the homerun every time only to later strike out. I thought it was a great analogy, talk more about that.
Jon Fitch: Yeah, that's exactly what it's like if you ask me. It's been a big focus of mine to finish fights to get another title shot. I was looking to finish impressively every time. That's all that was on my mind, where as before when I was more consistently finishing people it was just about control the position and inflict damage. The finishes were easier then, but when you try to force things it just doesn't work. I've realized that now.
James Kimball (MMAmania.com): Let's talk about your opponent at UFC 117, Thiago Alves. The fight was first supposed to happen at UFC 107, then UFC 111, then UFC 115, now it's finally here. We all know the fight had to be delayed several times because of Alves' medical issue, but how did that affect you? It's certainly not an ideal situation to deal with.
Jon Fitch: It was a slight irritation, I'll be honest. It was a bother for a while, but now that it's finally here, I'm ready for it. The biggest problem I had with it was that they kept on pushing us back, and I'm getting married in September. I was worried that they were gonna have the fight on my wedding day, and of course that would be an issue. But it has given me more time to prepare. I've been focused on him for months now. Working on my game plan and strategy for this fight for that long has really kind of worked out to my advantage.
But I was concerned for a while because we weren't hearing anything from anybody. It took him a while to get his medical clearance and during that time we kept asking the UFC what was going on, and we just weren't hearing anything. We asked them if we could have a backup fight ready or at least just guarantee that I was on the Oakland card. Then we finally got the guarantee from Joe Silva that I would be fighting on this card. That was a big relief. It's a struggle as a fighter not knowing when your next fight is because you can't travel and do other things like appearances to make money when you don't event know when your camp is gonna be.
James Kimball (MMAmania.com): What's it gonna be like fighting in Oakland, so close to wear you live in San Jose? Are you looking at that as a positive or negative?
Jon Fitch: It's definitely a big advantage for me. Mainly because about a year ago I switched my diet up to where 90% of what I eat is organic. It's difficult to travel and maintain that diet. Like traveling to Memphis, which is the capital of barbecue, and Newark where it's easy to get a good slice, but that's about it. It's just tough. But having easy access to my type of food is going to beneficial. And of course all the fan support will be huge. I think I'm the only Bay Area guy fighting on the card. I'm definitely looking forward to that.
James Kimball (MMAmania.com): I gotta get your take on a strange but cool coincidence, I think, that took form on this fight card. The entire main card is match ups of U.S.A vs. Brazil. Obviously it's something us Internet folk get excited for, but is it something that fighters talk about or even notice?
Jon Fitch: Oh yeah, we noticed it a bit ago looking over the match ups. I don't know if they did that on purpose or what. It's actually kind of fun. I know it's not official, but why not make it official? U.S.A vs. Brazil. I'm always down for a friendly rivalry. What kind of patriotic American would I be if I didn't say America is taking this one home? [Laughs]
James Kimball (MMAmania.com): I think I already know the answer to this, but let me ask it anyway. Is there anything you're taking from your first fight with Alves four years ago into the rematch?
Jon Fitch: Not really because we've both grown so much from that first fight. I think it'd be a big mistake to focus on the past. I tend not to look back but look forward.
James Kimball (MMAmania.com): Figured that. Is there anything you can take from Alves' last fight against Georges St. Pierre where he was outwrestled for five rounds? Georges probably employed the same type of game plan that you're focusing on, no?
Jon Fitch: Well, I can't give too much away here. But yeah, I will say there are definitely fights in his past that I've watched that show me a fairly clear path to victory and I plan on implementing those aspects into my game plan.
James Kimball (MMAmania.com): Ok, let's wrap this up with a friendly prediction on how the fight is going to play out. Hype it up a bit.
Jon Fitch: This is a fight between the number two and three welterweights in the world. He's been wanting revenge for four years and I want to once again establish myself as the number one contender in this weight class. This is as a good as it gets. It's gonna be an incredible fight.
James Kimball (MMAmania.com): Thanks so much for time Jon and good luck on August 7. How can fans get in touch with you?
Jon Fitch: Thank you. I have a new website up and running, jonfitch.net. My YouTube channel is OfficialJonFitch. My Twitter account is also @FitchFighter. And thanks to all the fans for their support.