Jon Fitch – I am Ready to Take the Title and Start My Legacy
By Justin Bolduc
UFC Welterweight Challenger Jon Fitch recently took some time to talk with PDG about his title fight with Georges St-Pierre, training, AKA, The Ultimate Fighter and weekend warriors.
PDG: Obviously the big news now is that you are challenging Georges St. Pierre for the UFC welterweight title; how does that feel for you?
Jon: I’m excited – it’s a long time coming. I’ve had visions of this day for years. I honestly think I should have been fighting for a title a year about, but with all the mess and the reality shows it was impossible. I just bided my time and fought whoever they put in front of me, and I kept winning so I’m ready to do it now – I’m ready to take the title and start my legacy.
PDG: Did it bug you at all that the title was held up for so long with solely Georges and Matt Hughes?
Jon: No. They are great fighters. Matt is a great champion and has been around for a long time. It doesn’t bother me that those guys were in there – they put in the time and paid there dues. If they would have brought in somebody else who was undeserving just to sell tickets then yeah, I’d be pissed about that – but these guys are tough fighters and they deserve to be there.
PDG: What do you think of your match-up with Georges?
Jon: I think it is a great match-up. A lot of people don’t though, because they haven’t really thought about me as a fighter. They haven’t seen that much out of me as a fighter – which is good for me because Georges doesn’t really know what to expect. If people think I’m just a wrestler and I’m just going to take them down they have another thing coming because I can fight from anywhere. Just because I’ve fought most of my fights from top doesn’t mean I can’t fight from other positions. Those fights have gone the way they’ve gone because that is all that needed to happen for me to win.
PDG: As somebody that has a very strong wrestling pedigree, what are your thoughts on Georges’ wrestling ability – he has no background in it but at this point he appears to be “world class”?
Jon: The thing is, sticking feathers in your butt doesn’t make you a chicken. Everyone is going crazy calling him a great wrestler. Well yeah, in fighting he is – but just because someone is a great wrestler in the wrestling realm doesn’t mean they’ll do anything in fighting. He’s found a great way to utilize his physical abilities to make his wrestling phenomenal in the fight game.
PDG: You’ve fought a lot of really tough guys, but unfortunately they were guys nobody know…
Jon: And that’s nobody’s fault except the guys who refused to fight me. People don’t realize that I’ve been offered fights to every big name out there – but only Diego [Sanchez] took the fight. Everyone else said no because I’m too dangerous of a fight.
PDG: How frustrating is that – I mean guys like Chris Wilson and Kuniyoshi Hironaka are really tough guys and you put a lot on the line when you fight these “no name” guys?
Jon: Yeah – and I didn’t finish Chris which hurt me too in how the fans view me. They think [Chris] is a nobody for the first time in the UFC and if I don’t walk through him then I must suck. That’s just how the fans think.
PDG: You could see that at the UFC with Dong-hyun Kim and Yoshiyuki Yoshida – they are two of the best guys coming over here from Asia and the fans thought they were just nobodies.
Jon: Yeah. The thing is the sport is still in the infant stage, unfortunately. Most fans – I’d say 85% of fans only know what they are told. You go to the bar and talk about fighting – lets say I go there and they don’t recognize me, and we start to talk about fighting, they would start regurgitating everything that [Mike Goldberg] and Joe Rogan say.
PDG: [Laughs] That’s pretty funny you say that since Goldie doesn’t know anything.
Jon: [Laughs] Yeah, but that’s just the way it is. Until the sport grows you just kind of have to live with it I guess. It’s kind of like that scene from Goodwill Hunting where the smart guy keeps reciting stuff from that book he read, and Matt Damon’s character busts him out because he has no original thought whatsoever. It is similar to that. People don’t take time to read the book, they just regurgitate what the professor says.
PDG: Goldberg is on a whole other level though. I remember when he called Travis Lutter the Michael Jordan of jiu-jitsu – thankfully Joe told him “no he’s not.” But then Goldberg asked “Kobe [Bryant]?” and Joe said “no” [laughs.]
Jon: Yeah man, it’s funny. That just shows though that the sport is still in the infant stage and still growing. We still have a very, very long way to go.
PDG: There has been a lot going on with the reality show [The Ultimate Fighter], and they have been really pushing the guys on it. How do you feel about it all while you’re one of the top guys pretty much hidden?
Jon: Well the reality show kind of pissed me off at the beginning, but I’m seeing a trend now that is pretty cool – the people that watch those shows are actually starting to become more educated [about the sport]. They are starting to realize that some of these guys suck, some are good, and some have potential – there are positives now because they show a lot of the training, and then they see guys go out from past seasons into the UFC and fight and either succeed or lose. The fan education is actually going up because of the show.
PDG: Keith Jardine was OK with not getting a title shot because he was able to fight Wanderlei Silva, but at the same time he beat Forrest [Griffin] and look who is on the show, you know?
Jon: I think it was kind of messed up. I think Keith should have gotten the title shot first, or at least a rematch. It kind of sucks that that is how it played out. Forrest is much more appealing to watch on TV than Keith, so he gets the title shot. Not that Forrest hasn’t worked very hard or that he doesn’t have a chance, but when it comes down to it the bottom line is we control our own destinies. Keith lost this weekend, so he kind of shot himself in the foot.
PDG: Let’s talk about your team for a minute; what’s it like training with the other guys out at AKA?
Jon: It’s awesome. We have a great atmosphere and great attitude, and everyone works very hard. We are constantly getting tons of people coming into the gym to train or work out – like [Lyoto] Machida came out for a few weeks for his [fight against Tito Ortiz]. It’s a great environment that doesn’t get stale because we always have new people coming in. Dave Camarillo is an exceptional jiu-jitsu instructor. And everyone there really pushes each other and we really support each other – we’re doing really well right now. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
PDG: Is there any awkwardness that you, Mike Swick, and Josh Koscheck are all prominent in the same division – especially since you and Josh are pretty much in the same spot except for his loss to Georges?
Jon: We don’t even think about it. We focus on one fight at a time and worry about what happens in the future in the future. We will cross that bridge when we come to it. We use each other to get better and train. We are good friends and we are there for each other to make sure that we all are going to win.
PDG: What do you see for the team through the rest of 2008 and into 2009?
Jon: Some world champions. Josh Thomson is fighting Gilbert Melendez – he has a very solid shot at beating him. I see myself as world champion. Cain Velasquez is really developing himself and more people will pay attention to him, and Swick and Koscheck are going to continue to climb the ladder and put themselves in position to fight for a title.
PDG: You mention Josh’s match against Gilbert; what are your thoughts on that fight – it’s a pretty big match-up as far as the lightweight divisions goes?
Jon: I think it’s two of the best guys in the world. Everyone talks about how great the UFC lightweight division is, but there are some great lightweights out there and Gilbert and Josh are two of them. I’d love to see them get in the mix with [B.J. Penn, Kenny Florian, and Roger Huerta] – it’s a shame we probably won’t ever get to see it because those would be great fights.
PDG: At least we’ve been fortunate enough to see Gilbert go to Japan and fight guys like [Tatsuya] Kawajiri….
Jon: That was a great fight.
PDG: Oh yeah, that was pretty much my favorite fight of that year.
Jon: Yeah, after [Gilbert] took that right hand I was like ugh – but he ate it and just kept coming.
PDG: What do you think of Josh’s position – he’s getting his fight against Gilbert finally, but he doesn’t really seem to be chasing any of the top guys in the world?
Jon: He is as good as any of those guys though. He was blindsided by [Clay] Guida – that threw him off track because nobody knew what Guida was capable of. Guida was submitted in the previous fight – they almost called off the fight because he was submitted. The entire camp it wasn’t Josh’s – we underestimated [Clay]. We thought he was an average wrestler with a decent chin and that Josh would mop him up – but it didn’t go that way. That was a set-back for Josh – but if he won that fight then he’s in [Clay’s] position and talked about by everybody.
PDG: His only other loss is that knockout from Yves Edwards….
Jon: And he was winning that fight. He got lazy and dropped his hands, and Yves threw that kick and caught him. At the time that should have been for a title, but [the UFC] didn’t have one then. So Josh is right up there – he’s in the top five I think in the world, but people ignore him because he’s in a smaller organization and that fight with Clay dropped him off the map a little bit.
PDG: One name you mentioned, B.J. Penn, has stated interest in moving back up and reclaiming the welterweight title. Is a fight with B.J., who a lot of people hold up as the top pound-for-pound guy in the world, interesting to you?
Jon: Yeah, of course I would love to fight B.J. – I’d love to fight everybody, line them up! That’s why I’m in the sport. I’m not here to be famous and to make money. I want to get paid accordingly, don’t get me wrong, but I’m in this to test myself. You’re not going to accomplish that by fighting bums.
PDG: With that said, do you have any problem with the lack of marketing behind you or being the sleeper of the 170-pound division?
Jon: No, I have no problem with that. Part of the whole aspect of who I am and why people don’t know a lot about me is because I’ve made it like that – I haven’t done a lot of interviews and I don’t talk trash. I want this to be a sport. I don’t want it to be masturbated into WWE junior – I don’t want any of that. I want this to be like football and basketball – where the best play each other.
PDG: You’re used to fighting in front of the American crowds who tend to be rowdy and loud. On the flipside the fans in Japan are considerably different. What would you think about an opportunity to fight in front of that audience?
Jon: I’ve fought once in Japan in a smaller show called X1 that Brian Johnson put together a while ago. It was a great experience. We had about 3,000 people in the crowd. It was crazy – you know how everyone is quiet until something starts to happen. You start to pass guard and you hear gasps from the audience. It’s pretty cool. Japan is a great place and a great experience for fighting. I would love to fight over there if the UFC would take a show over there.
PDG: It is possible. They are pushing an expansion into Europe, and despite being competition with Japanese promotions, Japan is a hotbed for MMA. Could probably even pack in more people into the seats there than here.
Jon: Exactly, it’s huge over there. The last time I was in Japan I got to go out on the town and party with “Kid” Yamamoto – and that was crazy! It was seriously like going out with Kobe Bryant in [Los Angeles] after the NBA championships. Everybody knew who he was. People would stop in the street and get pictures, girls would scream and almost faint – I was like “what the hell is going on?” Sometimes I think I have a bigger fan base in Japan than over here sometimes [laughs]. I get recognized more over there than I do over here.
PDG: That has to be nice when you just want to go to the store or do your own thing.
Jon: Well the thing is, Japanese people are very polite and not in your face bothering you. It’s a lot different then people running up asking dumb questions in the U.S. [laughs].
PDG: Going into a fight what is training typically like for you during the final stretch?
Jon: The last month is intense. People don’t realize that we want to peak our training right at the time we are going to fight. If you train to early and you peak too early you are going to be flat for your fight and your cardio won’t really be there. The last few weeks or month is very important to find your peak, so sometimes if you find you are a little over-trained you have to take a step back and take a three-day weekend, or take a night off. It’s important you don’t peak too soon.
PDG: Do you have a usual routine or do you mix it up a lot?
Jon: I’m pretty standard. I do my rehab and chiropractic stuff in the morning if I need it. Noon-training is team training – we all come in noon until 2. Depending on the days – Monday, Wednesday, and Friday is mostly stand-up. After we finish our sparring we usually grappling three rounds – for this fight I’ll probably do five. Tuesdays and Thursdays are either circuits or more technically focused, and then maybe five rounds or maybe some drilling or technique work with Camarillo. At night time it depends – it is either cardio or jiu-jitsu. We switch it up depending on the fighter – each fighter generally does their own thing that they feel they need to to succeed.
PDG: What is it generally like when you guys don’t have a fight coming up?
Jon: If you want to be a champion [then you are always in the gym]. After my last fight I was back in the gym on Monday. That is just what you do. That is where the biggest gains are made. The biggest leaps and bounds in technique come in between fight camps – and people don’t realize that. It is when you can just focus on technique and you don’t have to worry about cardio, running, and strategy. You can just focus on your guard, your top game, footwork, or high kicks – you have time to focus on one little area and improve it.
PDG: Is there any particular aspect at all in combat sports that you especially like training?
Jon: I love all of it, it’s just fun. But striking is one of the most fun parts – but that is because it is like a new toy. I’ve been wrestling my entire life – and jiu-jitsu is just an off-shoot of that grappling, but striking is the new toy.
PDG: Can you walk us through what fight day is like for you from when you wake up all the way until you step into the ring?
Jon: I wake up early and try to eat a big meal, then go back to sleep. I wake back up at noon and eat some more food, then go back to sleep until we leave for the venue. In the back I usually sleep until about a half-hour or forty-five minutes before [the fight] and then I start to warm-up.
PDG: Wow, so you spend a lot of time sleeping huh [laughs]?
PDG: Is your warm-up a hard work-out or pretty easy?
Jon: Well you try to blow your lungs out a couple times before you get into the fight. I do some grappling and break a sweat. But it sucks though because no matter how much of a sweat you break or how warm you are you are always cold for a UFC fight. In the huge arena, I don’t care who you are, everyone is always cold. I’ve tried everything [to stay warm] and it’s just not possible, so what I’ve done is just tried sparring cold for my first round [in the gym]. Once in a while I’ll throw on my gear and just jump into sparring because that is what it might be like for a fight.
PDG: Yeah, I’ve noticed that. From my experience in sports you get warmed-up and then you go, but in MMA you guys come out and then they take forever to introduce you and then finally you get going.
Jon: Yeah, but they have to do that for the production and show.
PDG: I’m always curious what you guys do before fights though because sometimes I hear crazy stories about people putting in hard work-outs earlier in the day and then going out and fighting that night.
Jon: Yeah. I try to conserve as much energy as possible though, that is why I sleep so much. A crazy story though, I remember one time Sean Sherk came down to AKA [to prepare for] his fight against Matt Hughes. Before he even went out and fought Hughes it was almost like a full-on five-round fight with his mitts and wrestling. He did like five rounds of training like it was a fight, then he went out and fought Matt for five rounds and his pace stayed the same through it all.
PDG: MMA is starting to blow up right now, with reality television and even movies….
Jon: Yeah, really bad movies [laughs].
PDG: [Laughs] Very, very bad movies! But what do you say to people who want to get into the sport and think that that is the route that they want to go?
Jon: Be patient. Most of these guys at the top level have been studying at least once discipline for ten to fifteen years. That is the biggest thing – be patient. The second thing is mixed martial arts is not a fighting style. It is a sport. You need to learn each style that goes into mixed martial arts on it’s own in order to be successful using it in an MMA fight – and people just hate that idea. They don’t want to put on the gi, they don’t want to kickbox or box, they just want to do MMA. I’m sorry buddy; you aren’t going to get anywhere doing that.
PDG: Finally someone in the know says that – I’ve been waiting for someone to say that [laughs].
Jon: I’ve been saying it for years [laughs].
PDG: How do you guys deal with the posers that come in there [laughs]?
Jon: We have a very good class program out here – we don’t just let guys jump in. If someone we don’t know doesn’t have credentials and a history we tell them to take the jiu-jitsu classes, the kickboxing classes, and we have an MMA class. If they have potential there then we invite them to come train with us. But we have some really good 40-year old purple belts [in jiu-jitsu] – guys who are like accountants and painters… then these new guys come in and get their asses mopped by these older guys, so they handle a lot of posers and weed those guys out. We have a lot of girls who are blue belts that weed those guys out.
PDG: I remember one night at the gym this one girl about 100-pounds who is a blue belt was schooling this one fat guy that came in who thought he was a bad ass. She was tapping him out left and right and he left before the night was over [laughs].
Jon: And they never come back. They go tell all their friends “that gym isn’t for me, they’re not very tough.” “I don’t like the way they train,” – yeah, because we have girls kick your ass [laughs]. We have girl kickboxers that do that – we have guys come in that think they are tough. We send them in to spar with the girls and they get their ass kicked.
PDG: Did you guys have a flood of people come in following the horrible Never Back Down movie?
Jon: Nah, we haven’t had that. But, I haven’t been doing private lessons for a while because I don’t have the time; but one of our guys was teaching the MMA class and had a kid come in who was like “I need to learn some stuff really fast, I have a fight this weekend with a kid from my high school.” The instructor was like “what?” and the kid is like “yeah, like from that movie Never Back Down” [laughs].
PDG: [Laughs] What!?
Jon: [Laughs] He just shook his head and walked away from the kid.
PDG: Wow – that is really awesome.
Jon: There are people that stupid out there.
PDG: I don’t want to take up anymore of your time. I know it is quite a ways out from your fight, but if there are any sponsors you want to mention – or any finals words, the floor is yours?
Jon: Yeah, I would like everyone to go to www.MMAInstructional.com – they can get one-on-one instructional from David Camarillo, Dan Camarillo, Frankie Edgar, Spencer Fisher, and me. We are working on getting more guys in the future. My website www.FitchFighter.com. I would also like to thank Toe 2 Toe and Oak Grove Technology.
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