In just under two weeks UFC welterweight title contender Jon Fitch will return to the Octagon at UFC 82 in Columbus, Ohio on Saturday, March 1. Fitch, a former standout wrestler at Purdue University, had been scheduled to take on former PRIDE fighter Akihiro Gono. However, Gono was forced to pull out of the match after he was injured in training. In place of Gono, the UFC went out and signed IFL and BodogFIGHT veteran Chris Wilson to a contract.
While casual fans may not be familiar with Wilson, he poses a stiff challenge. The Team Quest product has a formidable ground game but is also an underrated striker. Prior to his signing, Wilson was without question one of the best 170 pound fighters not competing in the UFC.
Fitch is well aware of Wilson’s status in the MMA world and is not taking him lightly. FiveOuncesOfPain.com (www.FiveOuncesOfPain.com) was able to catch up with Fitch for an exclusive interview to not only get his thoughts on Wilson, but also his thoughts on how far he feels he’s away from a title shot, his feelings about Karo Parisyan, and more. He even breaks some news about a teammate from the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose that will possibly be making his UFC debut at UFC 83 in April.
Sam Caplan: It might have been more than a year ago, but at one point you expressed some displeasure with how the UFC was marketing you, especially considering that some of your fights weren’t being televised. Your profile has increased a lot recently. Do you feel you are finally being marketed properly?
Jon Fitch: Yeah, they are actually making a push to put me on commercials and let people know about me more. I’m (also) doing more interviews to let people know about me and stuff like that. So yeah, they are marketing me much better but I put them in a position where they had to. How are you not going to market someone who is 7-0 in your organization?
Sam Caplan: There was some talk that maybe you would be involved with the seventh season of “The Ultimate Fighter” as a coach. Obviously, Forrest Griffin and Quinton Jackson got the coaching slots. But was that ever something that was discussed with you?
Jon Fitch: No, that was never offer and no one ever approached me with anything.
Sam Caplan: Would it be something you’d be interested in for the future?
Jon Fitch: I don’t know, it depends. The terms would have to be right. You know, I’m more concerned with my own training than being on TV or being famous and all that other crap. So, if it interfered in my training in any way (then) I wouldn’t do it.
Sam Caplan: Chris Wilson is your opponent for UFC 82 on March 1. He was tapped as a replacement for Akihiro Gono. What’s your feeling about the change, and who do you consider to be the tougher of the two?
Jon Fitch: It’s hard to compare because their styles are so different. Gono is for sure more tested; he’s been around a lot longer and he has fought a lot more top level people but at the same time there’s more video and more resources to find out about him and his style. Wilson is a bit of a mystery; I have some video and stuff on him but up and comers are hard to deal with because they can be just as tough as the best guys in the world and you just don’t know anything about them. That’s the main problem with the public; they tend to have to be spoonfed as far as who is good and who is the best through the media and a lot of the time the media just doesn’t get that job done as far as explaining just how good (certain) fighters are.
Sam Caplan: Along those lines, let’s stick on that point. Who do you feel are some fighters that you feel aren’t getting the promotion they deserve? Guys that you feel are really underrated or under-appreciated?
Jon Fitch: One of the biggest ones I’ve got I would think has to be Jake Shields. I think that’s pretty obvious. On the underground level people know a lot about who he is but he’s one of the best welterweights out there but your typical average UFC fan has no idea who he is. I think that’s a sign that says our sport really isn’t where it needs to be yet.
Sam Caplan: Jake Shields is based out of Cesar Gracie’s camp but has indicated that he’s occasionally got some sparring in at AKA…
Jon Fitch: Yeah, he came in and worked out with us on Monday and Gilbert (Melendez) was in today. He comes down and we work out sometimes with him. We benefit from him and he benefits from us so I think that’s a good business relationship. He’s a good guy too, we’re friends.
Sam Caplan: You’ve sparred with Shields in the past so I’d be curious to know how you think he’d stack up in the UFC’s welterweight division?
Jon Fitch: He would do just fine. I wouldn’t have made that statement before if I didn’t believe he couldn’t fight the top guys in the UFC’s welterweight division.
Sam Caplan: There’s a lot of speculation now that if you beat Wilson that you are next in line for a welterweight title shot. Has the UFC given you such an indication?
Jon Fitch: No, not at all. Speculation is just that: speculation. I feel like I’d deserve it after eight wins in the UFC but at the end of the day what I want means nothing. I’m not the one making the decisions so I just kind of have to shut up and fight and hopefully I get what I want at the end of the night.
Sam Caplan: The welterweight title is due to be defended by Matt Serra at UFC 83 in Montreal on April 19. Do you think there’s any chance that lightning strikes twice and Serra upsets Georges St. Pierre again?
Jon Fitch: You never know. When you fight at this level, anything is possible. Serra is a great fighter (but) I do think St. Perre will be more prepared. I’ll even step out on the ledge and say that St. Pierre is probably going to win a decision against Serra.
Sam Caplan: At one point there was a lot of speculation that you and Karo Parisyan were on a collision course. After your win over Diego Sanchez at UFC 76 and Karo’s win over Ryo Chonan at UFC 78, that seemed like the next logical matchup in the UFC’s welterweight division. But Karo indicated that he was promised a title shot and in order to retain it, he can’t lose if he fights before it. He said on HDNet’s “Inside MMA” that he believes he can beat you and that he’s not afraid to fight you, but he wanted a “more guaranteed” win. What are your thoughts on that?
Jon Fitch: I don’t know, I’m not on the inside. I’m not listening to what the UFC is telling him and I have no idea what he’s telling the UFC so I don’t know if what he says is the truth or if he’s just saying whatever to cover his own butt? I don’t know? I don’t really care. I have a lot of respect for him, he’s a great fighter. I’ve just been asking for us to try and fight each other because it just makes sense. The next title shot is going to be between him and me, I feel, so I don’t see why that fight didn’t happen. I thought it would. I’ve been asking for it for over a year. My management has been asking for it. Whether or not he was even offered it, I don’t know? But whatever, I’m just here to fight and I don’t really care about all that drama (and) all that “he said, she said” stuff.
Sam Caplan: There are some fighters that are pretty vocal about their unhappiness with the UFC’s current pay structure, namely Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz. Where do you weigh-in in regards to fighter pay and are you happy with where you are at?
Jon Fitch: Yeah, they’re paying me pretty well. I can’t complain. The only thing I have a problem with is with some guys who come in for their first fight — you know, the Brock Lesnar thing, the biggest thing I have a problem with is that the guy has never fought in the UFC and he hasn’t put in the time (and) he hasn’t paid his dues and he makes more money than any other guy has in the UFC before. I think all the fighters get hurt by that. They all look at it like, “What am I fighting for? Why am I working so hard if some guy that’s just going to sell tickets can come in and make way more money than me.” At the end of the day it makes you think maybe I should just stop training so hard and do a bunch of steroids and just be a freak show, you know?
That’s not what I want out of the sport. I want an honorable sport and to find out who the toughest guys are in each weight class. I don’t want freak shows. I don’t really care about selling a lot of pay-per-views and all that stuff. I guess it comes from the wrestling background and wrestling in front of nobody, basically my whole career. In wrestling I did it for the passion of the competition not to be famous (and) not to have people screaming my name in the crowd. That stuff is nice but at the end of the day that stuff is not what’s important to true fighters.
Sam Caplan: Do you feel like Lesnar is a freak show?
Jon Fitch: No, I think he has a lot of potential and a lot of possibility. I do think that was a stupid fight for him to take. He shouldn’t have come into the UFC for his first fight and fought a former champion. I think that was a bad matchup and his manager shouldn’t have taken it. I’m surprised the Nevada State Athletic Commission allowed it. I think he just should have picked a smarter fight than Mir.
He’s not so much a freak show even though he did the WWF thing. But he’s also a great college wrestler. He was at Minnesota while I was at Purdue University and I got to watch him a number of times. He’s a tremendous athlete and I didn’t mean to implicate anything with the steroid comment, that was directed towards the WWF. What if “Stone Cold” Steve Austin decides, “Hey, I want to come and do MMA.” I mean, is he just going to walk in and fight at heavyweight even though he’s never fought MMA just because he might sell a buttload of pay-per-views?
It’s not fair to us who are grinding away and have put in the hard work over the years. I actually equate it to what if they wanted to put Brad Pitt at quarterback for the Dolphins to sell more tickets? Yeah, they’d probably sell a lot more tickets because people are going to watch that game and watch him get his ass smashed but how is that good for football? How is that a good football game? You have to draw the line; do you want it to be sport, or do you want it to be entertainment? I don’t think you can have it be sports entertainment.
Sam Caplan: How do you feel about Kimbo Slice?
Jon Fitch: I think he’s really tough and I think he’s got a lot of potential. I think he’s taking a smarter career path than Lesnar did. He’s building his career slowly. He hasn’t fought a top flight heavyweight yet but then again, he’s only had three MMA fights. So good, that’s the way you should be doing it. You should be building up. When he gets around to the tenth fight then he should start cracking into the top ten and top fifthteen. After his tenth fight he should be fighting the top guys and fighting for the title after that.
Sam Caplan: You train at an amazing camp at the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose. One of your teammates and training partners is Mike Swick, who made his welterweight debut in January. What were your thoughts on his performance vs. Josh Burkman at UFC Fight Night 12?
Jon Fitch: I kind of expected it a little bit because he didn’t ever want to have a repeat occurence of what happened with (Yushin) Okami. He was afraid of getting taken down and held down and losing a fight just from getting held down again. So he focused more on not getting taken down and forgot about letting his hands go a little bit. But he did a good job. He had solid takedown defense and he got a few good combinations off and let his hands go a little bit. It was a good fight and all but you can expect a lot more out of him in the future.
Sam Caplan: Another fighter who trains out of AKA is a middleweight by the name of Matt Major. He was featured on the Versus reality TV show TapouT this past summer and caused quite a stir with his appearance. Do you interact with him at all, and if so, what are your feelings about him?
Jon Fitch: Matt is a funny guy (laughs). His upbringing was pretty rough. He has that personality, he has that abrasive outer personality, which you need to survive in the kind of atmosphere he grew up in. Now he’s jumping back into normal life with normal people so he’s slowly learning to lose that outward toughness he had to carry in order to keep himself protected. All in all, Matt’s a good guy. He’s just hot tempered a little bit sometimes. He’s 1-0 and he’s got a lot of potential for the future in the sport.
Sam Caplan: I wanted to ask you about his potential. How far do you think he can go in the sport?
Jon Fitch: I’ve been working with him quite a bit. His physical abilities are endless. But we have to get him in the (proper) mental aspect and get his mental game there. We need to get him a lot of competition experience that a lot of us have. I think we’re going to be able to help him and teach him and get him used to the big crowds, travel, and all of that stuff. Physically he’s able to fight all the top guys. I think he’ll be there and in about another year he’ll make some noise.
Sam Caplan: I’m sure there are a ton of other big-time prospects at AKA. Can you tell us about some guys we should be on the lookout for?
Jon Fitch: There are two guys that stick out the most. One is another Purdue wrestler that just graduated named Nathan Moore. He’s been training with me out here and he was also a team captain at Purdue. He fights at 185 (pounds). Tremendous ability. He’s more of an athlete than I am and a better wrestler than I am. He’s picking up the striking and jiu-jitsu very quickly so he’s a name to watch out for in the next couple of years.
And then the biggest one is Cain Velasquez. I like to call him “Sugar Cain.” He’s a heavyweight and he’s the biggest and baddest heavyweight you guys have ever seen. He’s going to turn the heavyweight world upside down in another year or two. Nobody is going to be talking about Kimbo. Nobody is going to be talking about Fedor or Randy. Everybody is going to be talking about Cain.
Sam Caplan: Has Cain fought pro yet?
Jon Fitch: Yeah, he’s fought a couple of fights for Bodog. The problem is that we can’t find fights for him because won’t just take fights against him. I think what’s going to happen is that he’s going to fight at UFC 83. I think he’s got a fight and they’ve got him on that card. So he’ll be making his debut, I think, at UFC 83. I’m not 100 percent sure on that but he’s been training for that and I think that’s going to happen. He’s tough. He was an All-American at Arizona State. He’s just a tremendous athlete.
Sam Caplan: Can I inquire about how many fights you have left on your current contract?
Jon Fitch: This one is actually the last one and then we’ve already re-negotiated for three more. So I technically have four (fights) on my contract.