Jon Fitch talks Bellator Debut agianst Paul Daley and future title fight

Former WSOF, and PFL Welterweight Champion Jon Fitch has been signed by Bellator MMA. On May 12 he faces off against the ever-dangerous Paul Daley. The bout will serve as the co-main event for Bellator 199, Bader vs King Mo, at the SAP Center, in San Jose, CA. We got a chance to speak with Jon ahead of his fight. Here’s our conversation.

Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. It’s truly an honor to speak with you.

Cool, thanks. No problem.

Let me start by congratulating you on the new Bellator contract, and the scheduled fight with Paul Daley.

Thank you very much. I’m excited about it. It feels good to be promoted again, and to be talked about. I feel like I’ve been a ghost for the past several years.

It’s good to have you back, facing the kind of competition you’re going to find in Bellator.

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Daley is 3 – 2 over the last 2 years, losing only to Douglas Lima and Rory McDonald, the two most recent Bellator fighters to wear the Welterweight crown. So, I can see the narrative they are trying to create. Daley being the amuse-bouche of sorts, laying the track work for your route to the title shot. What do you think of Daley as a fighter?

He’s very dangerous. Very explosive. A tough fighter; a fighter’s fighter. He comes to win. I respect that. I just think I have him out classed in a lot of areas. It’s a good matchup for me. It’s going to be a great fight. I think it’s going to be an exciting fight. He’s the kind of guy that I need to bring the best out of me.

Much like Foster

Yes! Somebody who’s coming to win. People don’t understand, there’s a lot of guys that fight not to be finished. Just to say, Oh I didn’t get finished. But that’s the not the kind of fight that’s going to make me shine. They guys who are coming to knock my block off, the guys who want to submit me, those are the guys that make me rise to the occasion.

That makes a lot of sense. Now, I honestly assumed that the fight to make would’ve been champion vs champion; You vs Rory. But maybe Douglas Lima would have been a good choice as well. Aside from Paul Daley, were there any other fighters they offered as your first Bellator fight?

No, I kind of wanted a three-round fight, first because I haven’t fought since June. I didn’t want to get thrown in to a five-round fight, right away, against Rory. If I drop that, then it’s going to be a long road to get back there. So, I wanted something to work my way up to the title shot. I wanted to make sure I earn it. To make sure people see me, know that I’m with Bellator, and know that I’m still at a championship caliber level. People are writing me off because I’m a little bit ancient. There’s a lot of guys that would have been a good first fight, but I think this is a perfect situation.

He was asking for names. He wanted bigger fights, instead of lesser known, or no-name guys, so we’re both getting what we want.

So it sounds like you have heard about the contentious relationship Daley has with Bellator at the moment. Some are saying that management is punishing Daley for his behavior. Here’s what Daley had to say about it.

“If they gave me the fitch fight as punishment they made a big mistake. I’m telling you now, I will KO Fitch within two rounds. He’s not the Fitch of old, he is old, and he’s no Rory McDonald.”

Would you care to respond?

Haha, it’s great. I love it. I’m not the Fitch of old. I’m improved. I’m aging like a fine wine. I’ve said it before, mean doesn’t age. I’m just meaner than most guys. As far as punishment, whatever. Fighters are there to fight. You’re not going to punish a fighter by giving him a tough fight. That’s what we’re here for. That’s what we thrive on. I’m sure he thrives on the challenges too. We get bored of fights that aren’t challenging. If it’s not a big name, or not in front of the lights, or a lot of people, it’s hard to get up for that fight. So, you want something that resonates, and we’re getting that.

With a win over Daley, Clearly, your next step will be to call out Rory? Is that something you’ve thought about doing in the cage?

It depends. I’m perfectly ok with taking it one fight at a time. I’m ok fighting this time, fighting again this summer, and then fighting Rory around New Year’s. But, if I come out there, feel great and look great, the sooner the title shot, the better. I don’t know. I’m just going to take it one fight at a time. We’ll see how it goes.

So, when did training camp start for this fight? How has training been going?

I started picking things up last week, a little bit. I’m starting two-a-days this week. I know how to fight. I don’t need to hard spar every single day, like a lot of these young guys do. Part of hard sparring is to develop grit and I’m the grittiest mother grabber out there. I don’t need any more grit.

When you’re younger, you do need it a little bit, because you’ve got to go through the fire to be immune to the heat. We don’t have a developed amateur system in the U.S. There’s no fire to get people prepped to go professional. We don’t have a national, across the board system like USA Boxing or USA wrestling.

One of the reasons that the Russian fighters are doing so well in the sport right now, is because they have Combat Sambo. That’s a very well developed amateur MMA system. Its pretty much MMA in an open wrestling mat area, with shin pads, a gi top, head gear, and I think nine-ounce gloves. It’s and easy transition for them. They can get that experience at a younger age, and for longer. It’s a uniform system across the country. They have a definite advantage in that.

So, what is it like training at AKA, arguably in the top 3 camps in the world? Do you get to train with the likes of DC or Khabib, or Cain, or is everyone on their own schedules?

No, I train with those guys. I’ve been giving rounds to Khabib on the ground, because most guys can’t deal with his top pressure. He needs me to push him in that way. He needs someone who can be underneath him and make him work. His weight’s coming down, so it’s a little easier. Well no, it’s not easier, but its getting better than it was two or three weeks ago. Instead of only having five pounds on him I’ve got about thirteen or fourteen pounds on him now. A little extra weight advantage is helping, and I’m getting in a little better shape. He’s such a monster on top. I think Khabib could beat GSP in his prime. He’s got an incredible chin, and he hits hard. He’s not a powder puff. He’s going to make you respect his power as he works his way into the clinch, or the takedown. And if he gets you tired, he’s going to hurt you, on the feet. Man, he’s a heck of a guy to deal with.

Your grappling prowess is legendary. Congrats on the submission win in your last fight against Brian Foster. I mean I can’t remember the last time we saw you dance in celebration. What did that feel like?

Oh, it felt great, man. I had a big turnaround, not sports wise, but in life. I got my crap together a little bit. I was kind of in a depressed state that last few years, especially when I was in Las Vegas. I turned a big corner in my life, and it culminated in me performing the way I did, even under crazy circumstances.

That fight started two hours early. It was raining. It was outdoors. It was humid. The canvas was the wrong type of canvas to have. Fighters were falling all over the cage. Everything was set up to be a disaster.

I even gave a pep talk to everyone in my locker room. We just got to the locker room, and we’re told, alright, first fight is in fifteen minutes. Guys hadn’t even put their cups on yet. They were trying to hurry up and wrap hands, because we’re going live in fifteen minutes. Ray Sefo had to stall them and get us an extra ten minutes to get those undercard guys ready. Guys were freaking out, and I just said “You know what? We’re professionals. We know how to fight. We can do this. We’re alright. Just be calm, get yourself wrapped. It’s already warm, so you’re not going to be cold out there.”

It turned out to be a great show and a great night of fights. Even the crowd was a little bit hostile, because they were there to watch racing. People were drinking. And then the race got cancelled! You had a surly group of people watching the fights. You had a crazy set of circumstances with the guys being forced out there ahead of time, not really warmed up or prepared. But everybody came out and put on a great show. It was a great night.

A lot of reasons to dance.

I was lucky enough to be cage side, shooting photos for two of your fights in WSOF, against Yushin Okami, and Jake Shields. Your fight with Shields was amazing. What a war. What a display of high level grappling. It must have felt especially great to beat a guy who got one on you in a grappling match, by out grappling him.

Well, we’re actually one and one, in grappling. If you go to my Youtube page, Official Jon Fitch, I have a playlist of some grappling competitions. I did a tournament, the Pain Inc tournament in 2004. It was a pro open-weight tournament. I had three matches. Jake was my second match. I beat him on points. Then I went against Gil Melendez. I arm-barred Gilbert. If you haven’t see that go watch that. It’s fun to watch. It’s a throwback from back in the day.

Jake did get the submission win on me, so it was nice to get the fight win over him.

A while back you went to Thailand to train in Muay-Thai. Do you go back often?

Not as much as I’d like to. I’ve been back once. Mike Swick has a gym out there, AKA Thailand. He’s in Phuket. I’d like to go back out there, as soon as I can. Mike has set up an outstanding gym. What he has done out there is amazing. I’m really jealous. I’m pretty jelly, of his style out there.

I love Thailand. The people there are just amazing. They’re tough people and they’re super nice, and super kind.

A lot of fighters, these days, are approaching disciplines outside of fighting to complement their fight training, like gymnastics, or enlisting movement coaches. Have you added anything new to your training? Any new disciplines or new training techniques you’re using specific to this camp, or to this opponent?

No, I’ve just refined the stuff I’ve been doing over the years. I think its good that a lot of people are doing other stuff outside of just MMA training. But at the same time, you don’t want to waste your energy and your time, doing stuff that’s not going to push you forward as a fighter.

I think there’s a lot of movement and strength training that can be done, that is fight specific. I think its important to remember to be fight specific. A lot of these trainers and strength coaches have never fought, or never trained in MMA before. And most of them don’t know what’s necessary in a fight camp, to be prepared for that fifteen or twenty-five minute fight. A lot of them are coming from basketball or football, or other types of training like Cross-Fit. It’s a little bit different and you have to be careful that you’re not training to be great at Cross-Fit. You want to make sure you are doing things that are focused on making you a better fighter.

You want to know that they’re going to benefit our technique. If you’re doing things specifically doing things to make yourself more explosive, more balanced, or if you’re doing things specifically for joint strength, I think that’s great. Any of those body weight movements are great. Just make sure you try and mimic MMA movements.

In 2015, it was reported that you were the first fighter to get paid completely in Bitcoin. In recent months, the rest of the country, and the world has started to take an immense interest in bitcoin, with prices reaching unprecedented, and perhaps unfathomable heights. What has this meant for you?

I’m kicking myself for not putting more money in, when it was at $200. I don’t know if I was the first fighter to be paid completely in Bitcoin, but I accepted sponsorships that paid me in Bitcoin, or Altcoin, a different type of crypto-currency.

What I take pride in, is I was probably one of the first fighters to push other people into buying crypto-currencies as an investment, so that they could make money off of my fight. With Nautilus coin, and Hyper coin, we crowd sourced people in the community to put up the money for the sponsorship. The night of the fight, the price surged. A lot of people were able to sell off and make a profit. Any of my fans who were following along and took advice had an opportunity to make money off my fight.

Wow. That’s so interesting; the little avenues one can find to exploit established money-making streams and create new ones.

I’m in talks with somebody now, and I can’t go into too much detail, but we’re going to work on something that is MMA related, that will also have crypto-currency involved. But that’s way down the road, so that’s about as much as I can say about it. I’m excited about the project. I think it’s going to be cool.

Do you have a time frame on when you are looking to announce?

No, we’re just starting. It’s at the very beginning.

Well, I hope when you are ready, you’ll let us know so we can write about it.

Yeah absolutely.

Let me end by asking if there are any new sponsors you are working with that you would like to give a plug for?

Oak Grove Technologies has been my ride and die sponsor for a long time. They’re great and have been helping out a long time. If there are any ex-military people, or military people who are looking to leave the military and are looking for work, reach out to Oak Grove. They employ all kinds of veterans in all kinds of ways.

Check out my YouTube page, Official Jon Fitch. I do a daily shake break at 10’ o clock, and answer a lot of questions. I’m trying to build that up, and sometime in the future, turn it into a podcast.

I have my Instagram, Fitch_Smash.

My Facebook fan page, Fitch Smash.

And I also have a blog series that I started a couple of weeks ago, on,, called Failing Upward / Death by Ego. Basically, I have, like, seventeen or eighteen years of journals. I’m going through those journals and sharing them with people. I’m writing reflections on those things. I’m kind of letting people peek in to see what got me here, and what led to some of the crazy things, and what kind of madness goes into training the way we train. I want people to see that.

The journal started off in college as a workout journal before my junior year. I took a break unil 2003, and I started again, when I was getting ready to move to California. People will be able to kind of see what I was experiencing and writing down about my travels to California, going to AKA, and what I was going through in those fight camps.

Wow, that’s incredible. That we can peek in to what you were thinking before and after some of these incredible fights. That’s a fascinating prospect.

Yeah, and towards the end of the book, or at the end of my first book, because I have, like, four of them right now, I share the whole TUF experience. You know, I was almost on The Ultimate Fighter. It was interesting for me to read back, my thoughts about that situation. I think people will find it very interesting. Some of it is very embarrassing. It’s personal. It’s me being butt hurt about stupid things. I look at it now, and I’m shaking my head. I felt like the best way to cover these things is to just let it all out; to let people see and give myself a chance to grow from that experience. And maybe other people can pick something out of that too.

It’s a fascinating thing, Journaling. It keeps you honest.

Exactly. Exactly. And I write about that in it. Journaling is one of the best ways to keep yourself accountable. Because at the end of the day, you’ve got to write down what you did. You’ve got to write down what you ate.

You can do a food journal if you’re trying to be healthy. You can do a fitness journal. You can do different types of journals. It keeps you honest. You can lie to other people, and you can push things off, but when you go to write that in the book, it’s staring you in the face. Like, are you going to lie into the book? Now every time you go back and read that book, you know you were lying when you wrote that.

And, I feel like when you go back and read some of those things that you wrote, you think to yourself, “Wait a second. I didn’t feel about that situation, the way I had convinced myself that I did about that situation.”

Exactly. One of the big reasons I was doing it was because of the fight camps. I was able to look back at the different fight camps and see how I felt when I was going through them. And sometimes I’ll think, “Man, I was going through this exact same thing, at around the same time during my last fight camp.

There’s always a point in your fight camp where you kind of break down and your body is feeling like, fuck this. And if you don’t remember, you don’t have it written down that you went through this the last time, you can get really hard on yourself, spiral in to a bad situation. So, you can reflect and look back and think, “Okay so this is normal. I just need to take a day off and rest, and then I can come back, and I’ll be recharged. I’ve done that multiple times look back at my journals.

Well, Jon, thank you for the great conversation, and for your time. I look forward to speaking with you again. Good luck in your next fight. I can’t wait to see it.

Awesome. Thank you.

Interview/Photographs By: Mozz Manzoor

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