Jeff Chlu (AP)
Can Jon Fitch claim his third major world championship this weekend at Bellator 220?
Last week, I was afforded the opportunity to chat with Bellator 220 welterweight championship challenger Jon Fitch ahead of this weeks clash with fellow former UFC contender Rory MacDonald. The former PFL best and grappling phenom makes his second walk to the Bellator cage this Saturday at the SAP Centre in San Jose, California, fresh from a dominant victory over the highly dangerous Paul Daley.
Indiana native Fitch who held the highest honors in the now-defunct World Series Of Fighting and then the Professional Fighters League looks to achieve champion status in a third promotion this Saturday night. An impressive professional record also makes it’s way onto Fitch’s curriculum vitae, with victories over the likes of Jake Shields, Yushin Okami, Thiago Alves (2x) and Diego Sanchez to name a few. The wrestling orientated mixed martial artist has received some unwarranted criticism due to his style of fighting in the past, despite his grappling base proving hugely efficient and proficient. Throughout his victory over the heavy hitting Paul ‘Semtex’ Daley, 41-year-old Fitch exacted a wrestling-heavy approach on his way to a one-sided unanimous decision triumph. “I didn’t hear any criticism other than people criticizing Daley for stalling and not trying to fight. It was a good first fight for the promotion and it was great to fight in San Jose.“
Saturday’s opponent MacDonald is attempting to score his first defense of the 170 pounds title in the opening round of the welterweight tournament, after claiming the throne from Brazil’s Douglas Lima last January. Canadian born MacDonald was unsuccessful in his quest to relieve Gegard Mousasi of the middleweight championship in September, appearing massively undersized against the Dutchman. Betting underdog Fitch is well aware of the challenge ‘The Red King’ presents. “Rory is a tough fighter and well rounded. I’m thankful for the chance to win the belt in the first round of the tournament. It will be nice to get to fight multiple times in one year again.“
On June 14th. Bellator MMA returns to Madison Square Garden, with Brazilian grappling ace Neiman Gracie facing the victor of MacDonald vs. Fitch in the next round of the stacked tournament. Gracie who looks to maintain his undefeated record, advanced via a rear-naked choke over Ed Ruth last time out, and offers a stiff challenge for whoever emerges victorious come Saturday. The possibility of facing Renzo Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy product Neiman hasn’t crossed the mind of Fitch, who remains focused on the task in hand this weekend. “A title win would be great and would only add to my accomplishments. My legacy is already great with or without this fight. I haven’t given any thought (to Gracie). I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.“
Jon spoke openly of his much-publicized relationship with UFC president Dana White, or lack thereof with me, telling how unfruitful his time was with the company. Fitch was controversially ‘cut’ by the promotion after a single loss to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner Demian Maia, drawing many in the community to question the organization’s code of conduct. The Indiana star was similarly released by the promotion in more questionable circumstances in 2008. Reluctant to sign a lifetime contract to allow his likeness to be used an upcoming UFC video game, Fitch had his contract terminated, before he was resigned shortly after. Along with three other fighters, Fitch is currently suing the Ultimate Fighting Championship, with claims the promotion hindered the careers of those involved “I’ve never had a relationship with Dana White, we barely ever spoke. The class action lawsuit I’m involved in is doing well. There will be evidentiary hearings in August.“
During his overall successful time with both WSOF and PFL, Fitch claimed both welterweight titles, but received some criticism due to his use of performance-enhancing drugs in the lead-up to his clash with submission specialist Rousimar Palhares. Test results displayed elevated levels of testosterone, something Tristar head coach Firas Zahabi believes is responsible for his career resurgence. “It sounds like that guy has a crush on me. If people would like to hear all about my testosterone experience they can watch/listen to my past Shake Break live streams on my YouTube channel, OfficialJonFitch. I talk about it in depth many times.“ Jon tells how he himself is still skeptical regarding the actual benefits to be found with testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) and simply put, advocated his PED use against Palhares as he believed the often criticized leg-lock specialist was also a “cheater“.
The well-traveled wrestler has been competing since 2002 amassing 31 wins, a feat not to be scoffed at. His messy departure from the UFC is obviously a huge point in his career, forcing the change of scenery to Ray Sefo’s PFL. “The people doing the groundwork for the WSOF/PFL worked hard and put on great shows. They were just getting started though and could have promoted the fights and fighters a little better. It was a good experience but I’m glad to be with Bellator now.“
Speaking on the sudden shift to trash talking promotion in the last couple of years, and in particular, the nasty Twitter spat between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor, Fitch outlined his distaste and the possible crowd it brings to the once humble sport. “Things will probably only get worse. I don’t care for it. It attracts the wrong kind of fans to the sport.“