Bellator 199: “Bader vs. King Mo” takes place at SAP Arena in San Jose, Calif., on May 12, 2018. Ryan Bader (24-5) takes on Muhammed Lawal (21-6, 1 NC) in the final first round fight of the promotion’s Heavyweight Grand Prix tournament in the main event at the vaunted “Shark Tank.”
Earlier in the night, a critical bout in the Welterweight division offers a promotional newcomer a chance to instantly jump to the top of the ladder. Jon Fitch (30-7-1, 1 NC) was the World Series of Fighting (WSOF) and Professional Fighters League (PFL) Welterweight champion before leaving both behind to sign with Bellator in March. There are no shortage of guys in line to face “Red King” Rory MacDonald, but Fitch’s name and reputation could shortcut him to the top with a very impressive win.
Paul Daley (40-15-2) has something to say about that. Every time “Semtex” fights there’s a strong possibility of a knockout. He’s got some of the heaviest hands this division has ever seen and even though both men had a past in UFC they’ve never crossed paths until right now.
MMAmania.com recently spoke with Fitch about leaving his last promotion to start over again in Bellator, what he thinks of “Semtex” as an opponent, and the reason he bailed out on “Sugar” Ray Sefo’s organization this year.
“I was dissatisfied with them not sticking to the contract. I was supposed to have guarantees in my contract about numbers of fights in a year, and time in between fights, and that was unsatisfactory for me to be waiting around. I also felt that I had beaten everybody of significance in the organization and (that) there was just greener pastures in Bellator.”
There’s little question it’s been too long for the now 40-year-old Fitch to wait. His last bout was in June 2017 so that’s nearly a full year of inactivity for an elite-level fighter.
“I asked them to either pay me the money owed for the fights that I didn’t get or to release me, and they chose to release me. You know it was a bit of a risk, but I figured that I’d find a place in Bellator and I did so everything worked out.”
In the process, Fitch vacated his WSOF/PFL title, not that he seems too broken up about it, especially given the prospect of a Daley fight looming just around the corner in San Jose.
“I feel great about the match up! You know Paul Daley comes to fight hard, he brings it, and I do best when guys bring the fight to me.”
Once place “Semtex” never brought it to him was UFC. Even though both men were in the organization between 2009 and 2010, for whatever reason that match never came to fruition.
“There were a lot of fights I think I should have had or could have had in UFC but they never put them together — I don’t know why. You know some of it could have been that Joe Silva always said I was one of the hardest guys to match up. No one ever wanted to fight me. People were always hurt or they wanted (to fight) somebody else.”
In 18 UFC fights Fitch went 14-3-1, with his only losses coming against Georges St-Pierre, Johny Hendricks and Demian Maia. Fitch admits though that some folks may be sleeping on the “old man.”
“I think I’ve been around long enough to have built a name up for myself. I think a lot of guys see me as old, so uhh, they think I’m a little bit softer target now — which is a big mistake.”
That would be a mistake given that Fitch has won six of his last seven and four straight in a row. Even at 40 years old Fitch, just may be coming into the prime years of a long and storied career.
“It’s not so much the age, it’s the number of years put in I think. You know not too many guys fight 16 years. Josh Thomson’s got me beat, he’s got 20 years in so, I know I’m still not that old.”
Daley may be five years younger than Fitch but he’s been in the fighting game just as long, racking up an astounding 57 MMA fights in that span plus 24 more in kickboxing. He’s also lost 15 MMA fights though so Fitch sees chinks in his armor.
“Yeah you’ve got two guys who definitely know how to fight and I think it’s going to turn into a great night. Man he’s definitely got power, he’s got long arms, but he doesn’t have a lot of other threats. His grappling defense isn’t great, and he doesn’t have a granite chin any more either. If you can sneak in some clean shots on him you can hurt him.”
In addition with Fitch’s 19 wins by decision he knows he can take tough opponents to the judges with his Purdue wrestling and AKA cardio.
“You know he comes to fight and I respect what he does, but I think I’ve got him outclassed as a fighter. I mean that’s generally what I do with everybody (in a fight), that’s what I try to do — see if they can sink or swim. Yeah I think it’s a good strategy to get in his face and put some Big Ten wrestling on him.”
While Fitch can’t afford to look past Daley and his prodigious punching power, he’s still got his eyes on the prize in the Welterweight division.
“I think if I have a really good performance it does (make me a contender). You know I’m coming off a little bit of a layoff, and I want to make sure that I’m ready for that too. Jumping from a three round fight to a five round fight, the training’s different, and I want to make sure that I’m ready to make a step up. My performance Saturday will be a big indicator of that for me.”
Tune in to Bellator 199 on May 12, 2018 to see if Jon Fitch can knock off Paul Daley and take that next step toward facing Rory MacDonald.
Complete audio of our interview is embedded above, and complete coverage of “Bader vs. King Mo” resides here at MMAmania.com all week long.
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