WSOF 6’s Jon Fitch: ‘I have a lot of unfinished business’ (Exclusive interview)

Jon FitchJon Fitch was always a fighter no one wanted to face. The talented American Kickboxing Academy welterweight was ranked number two in the world less than two years ago, beating up everyone Ultimate Fighting Championship put in front of him with his dominant top control-based style. It was effective, it was nearly unstoppable, but it was also very underappreciated due to the lack of finishes. But in the world of mixed martial arts, everything can change with one punch. After a string of rough performances, he was let go by UFC earlier this year and was quickly scooped up by the upstart promotion World Series of Fighting and thrown into a main event slot against Josh Burkman. The outcome, however, was a surprising first round stoppage loss for Fitch after getting clipped on the feet and then submitted for the first time in his lengthy career. Now, not only is Fitch fighting to get back on track, he’s got a big target on his back. Many opponents who wouldn’t dare breathe his name a couple years ago are calling him out, hoping to make their name off of his brand. Fitch’s first step back into relevancy begins this Saturday night (Oct. 26, 2013) when he battles Marcelo Alfaya on the World Series of Fighting 6 main card in Coral Gables, Florida. He spoke to about the flexibility of his contract, identifying past mistakes and making positive changes for his life and career in this exclusive interview. Check it out: Brian Hemminger: It was announced recently that you’d be competing in the World Jiu-Jitsu Expo against Paulo Miyao. What went into the decision to participate in the jiu-jitsu match especially so close to your fight? Jon Fitch: Yeah, they contacted me out of the blue and I’d put it out there in the press that I had some room in my contract to take some grappling matches. I love that aspect of it, competition in different forms of areas. They contacted to see if I was interested and I was like, “I’ll grapple anybody, anywhere, any day.” It’s fun. You’re not losing brain cells over it. You might tear a few joints but you can always tap out and it’s a great test to go against someone who’s devoting their entire life to just grappling. Real specialists. From what I hear, Paulo Miyao is a very outstanding grappler. Brian Hemminger: Yeah, from what I hear, you impressed Renzo Gracie because you took the match with no questions asked considering Miyao is such a talented grappler. Jon Fitch: Yeah, it’s also 20 minutes, no points, submission only. Cool. That’s the way it should be. I really wanted to put a lot of eyes on the sports of jiu-jitsu and grappling and bring a lot more respect to grappling. I used to love back in the day when you had Matt Hughes, Tito Ortiz at ADCCs, you’d see Matt Lindland vs Werdum. It was just crazy match-ups in different weight classes. They were impressive to watch and they were a lot of fun to watch. With UFC signing more guys and not allowing them to compete outside, we lost a bit of that. If I can keep that forefront of grappling in people’s eyes and people’s minds because there’s guys that work incredibly hard and they’re amazing athletes and I want to go out there and put on a great grappling display, a great show and get people involved in grappling more. Brian Hemminger: Is this an example of you being able to take advantage of the flexibility of your World Series of Fighting contract that maybe you wouldn’t have been able to do before? Jon Fitch: Yeah, exactly. This is the kind of thing that I wouldn’t have been able to do before. It’s a great opportunity to get out there and test myself. I have a lot of respect for the guys out there that compete and dedicate their lives to something like this. If you can go out there and compete head to head with them, that’s pretty cool. Brian Hemminger: In a recent interview, you mentioned that you thought you had about 5-10 years left in your MMA career. That’s something I’m not sure everyone would have believed after such a rough 2011 where you had the shoulder injury. Was that statement a sign that you’re feeling that much better physically right now? Jon Fitch: Yeah, I feel good. I kicked the injury bug a little bit and as long as my body is holding up and I’m competitive and I feel good, I want to keep competing. I still have a lot of unfinished business. I still want that world title. I still want to be champ and it’s gonna be hard to stop before accomplishing that goal. Brian Hemminger: Another big change for you is that you recently moved out to Syracuse, New York to work at this gigantic gym Pacific Health Club. I know you’re still doing your fight preparation at American Kickboxing Academy in California, but did you just feel you needed a change of scenery? Jon Fitch: Yeah, our deal is that we’re trying to start up a team with them over in Syracuse. I’m still flying back to train my camps at AKA. We just don’t have the bodies yet for me to do my camps in Syracuse. You can’t replicate the type of animals we have at AKA anywhere else in the world. I think it’s important for me to be able to come back and get at least 4-6 weeks of training with these guys before a fight. I think I get antsy when I sit still too long. I lived in Indiana for a long time, then moved from my hometown to go to school and that was a good release from that antsyness. Once I got out of school, I knew I needed to get out of that state so I went as far away as possible in California. I was out in California for 10-11 years almost and I started getting antsy again, felt I needed a change, was stuck in a rut a bit. I wanted to mix things up and I think the opportunity in Syracuse is a change to do just that. Brian Hemminger: Hopefully it works out. Now you’ve got a bout coming up at World Series of Fighting 6 against Marcelo Alfaya. I know you view every fight as “must win” but does this bout have even higher stakes than usual considering your rough patch of recent performances? Jon Fitch: This fight is definitely “must win.” I’m coming off two losses. I’m trying to get into that title picture and obviously the rematch with Burkman. This is a must-win, must-perform, must-smash situation. I’ve always done pretty well with my back against the wall so I think you’re going to see a really good fight out of me on Saturday night. Brian Hemminger: Marcelo Alfaya is a pretty tough guy, trains out of a good gym and has faced some high level competition throughout his career, but I think when the fight was announced, the first reaction from most people was, “Who’s that guy?” Now would you have preferred to face someone with a bigger name value to put yourself back in the mix more firmly or did you just want to go out there and take care of business first? Jon Fitch: The environment and climate of today’s MMA world is just so tough. Even though people don’t know this guy doesn’t mean he’s not a world beater. He’s got skills, power in his hands. In his last fight I think he had a 13 second knockout or something like that. He’s a tough guy. I don’t think it matters how well he’s known from everybody else, I’ve got to treat him just like anyone else. I think I’ve fought a lot of guys that maybe people didn’t quite know who they were, but I’ve always fought tough guys. I never took a break and have easy fights and that’s how I like it. I always want to be pushed and want to be challenged. Brian Hemminger: Going back to your last fight, you’ve always had a reputation as a guy who’s one of the toughest to put away. You mentioned this partially on twitter, but do you regret going for that slam against Burkman rather than fighting the choke like you normally do? Jon Fitch: Yeah, it was a stupid decision. Especially early in a fight when you’re dry, submissions are easier to hit when you’re like that. That’s the way I teach everybody, first thing is defend the choke. That’s the number one issue. If you get caught in a submission, the first thing you do is defend it then you move on to something else. I didn’t even try to defend the hands or whatever and he did a great job of snaking that thing in tight and I think by the time I got up to my feet, my legs were already starting to go out and as soon as my head hit the mat, I was already out. Brian Hemminger: I had an interview with your grappling coach Dave Camarillo a while back and one of the things he mentioned was that you had been choked so many times in practice, it almost got to the point where your neck was unchokeable. Was there almost a bit of overconfidence there that he wouldn’t be able to get it while you went for the slam? Jon Fitch: Yeah, I’ve been very hard to choke for a long time, but one of the things that has changed is the technique in the game. Guys have found better ways to choke more efficiently and they’re getting more proficient with it. You don’t have as much time now to sit in a choke as you used to because guys are better at it now. A lot of the secret tricks that the Brazilians were hiding for such a long time have surfaced and now everybody knows them. It puts that even more in perspective that you have to defend that choke first. The second get threatened somewhere, you have to defend that threat first and foremost. Brian Hemminger: I also wanted to run something by you. Did going for that slam, was that almost like you wanting to respond to the critics by providing a move exciting way to get out it rather than a by-the-book move? Jon Fitch: You know, I think it was a combination of multiple different things. There was overconfidence in the choke, underestimating Burkman’s ability to finish the choke and then wanting to put on a show too rather than just coming and getting a win after a loss. Brian Hemminger: Having been clipped a few times in recent fights, do you feel like you just got caught, or did it creep into the back of your mind, perhaps your worst fears being realized that you could be on the decline? Jon Fitch: Well I don’t like the term “got caught” because I made mistakes and the other guys did what they needed to do to capitalize on the mistakes. It’s not like I tripped and fell down. I walked into something and that’s a punch they’ve been training for a long time. It’s more about a mental slip. I made a mistake and I don’t think it was a decline physically or anything. It was something mental. I wasn’t in the right place mentally and if you’re not in the right place mentally fight night, you stand a great chance towards losing. Brian Hemminger: Have you done anything to help yourself get back on track mentally? Jon Fitch: I’ve refocused myself. Sometimes you just have things pop up on certain days. When they do, watch out (laughs). You have bad days and things happen. I’ve had a few bad days in the last couple years and they’ve cost me. Brian Hemminger: Where do you feel you stand right now in World Series of Fighting? Jon Fitch: I think if I have a really good showing in this fight, I don’t see why I couldn’t get a rematch against Burkman if he wins this fight. I’ll check with Ali after this fight to see if we can get a rematch or whether I have to have one more fight before that fight. Brian Hemminger: When you’re visualizing success, how do you picture it on Saturday night? Jon Fitch: It’s not just visualizing success, you have to try to imagine every aspect of the fight, even the bad stuff. You have to imagine yourself getting out of the bad stuff. You have to imagine you got dropped in the first exchange and you’re on your back and dizzy and you’ve got to wake up and act. You have to put yourself in every scenario when you’re fighting. You can’t just put yourself in one thing every time.  If something else happens, it could throw you off the fight. Jon would like to thank AKA, Pacific Health Club, Darin Carroll his new boxing coach, Gary Owens, Dave Camarillo, Leandro and Leo Vierra, Zinkin Entertainment and everyone else for supporting him. You can follow him on Twitter @JonFitchdotnet.

Written by Brian Hemminger

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