UFC welterweight star Jon Fitch is closing in on a decade in the sport of mixed martial arts. Inside the cage, he's got it all figured out. Working with great trainers like Javier Mendes and Dave Camarillo, Fitch has added strong striking and jiu jitsu to his collegiate wrestling base. Most consider Fitch the second best fighter in the welterweight division. Fighting and winning has never been the problem - it's outside the cage where the wheels have fallen off for the American Kickboxing fighter.
There isn't a fighter of Fitch's status in the sport with a lower profile, a smaller fanbase, or less respect from his employer. It looks like that's starting to change. After a talk with Rashad Evans, one of the smartest and most business savvy fighters in the game, Fitch told MMA Weekly he has a brand new outlook on his career. Gone are the days of taking a fight against a rising prospect like Rick Story simply because the UFC requested it. Jon Fitch is looking out for Jon Fitch:
"I'm at a point in my career where I need to be fighting main events and main event fighters. And if you don't have a belt, currently, or you haven't owned a belt in the UFC, I'm not really interested. I've gone out of my way throughout my career to just fight everybody they put in front of me and it's cost me dearly. When you fight somebody who no one knows and don't recognize their name, it doesn't matter how bad you beat them."
Fitch is targeting big game - a rematch with B.J. Penn, followed by a rematch with champion Georges St. Pierre. He says he's willing to sit out a year waiting for his shot if he has to. But under no circumstances does he want to look down the ladder for his next opponent.
For Fitch, this makes perfect sense. And as we seen the sport grow, as the money gets bigger, with more on the line than ever, we'll continue to see fighters picking and choosing opponents. Fighting Rick Story is a no win proposition for a fighter like Jon Fitch. Story has a style built to make opponents look bad. Worse, his "Q" value is so low that beating him is of no benefit. We have a ton of workmen in the building today. If one of them was secretly Rick Story, I'm not sure I'd pick him out of the crowd.
Who is Rick Story? I couldn't tell you one thing about him. Neither could most UFC fans. Yet here he is, a virtual unknown right in the proverbial "mix" for the welterweight title, fresh off a win over Thiago Alves, another former contender who learned a serious lesson about fighting guys with no stature. There is a generation of guys coming up just like Rick Story. Fighters who are virtual non entities, yet will be thrust into the limelight with no build up.
The UFC could be doing more to build up a new generation of stars. Instead of strategically matching fighters to create compelling battles, they throw together opponents without prioritizing long-term star building, or the aesthetic value of the fight. They appear to be assuming it will take care of itself. The answer then, may just be what Fitch proposes. If the promotion can't make sure fighters are building their careers towards a pinnacle of fame, money, and success, it's time for the athletes to take their futures into their own hands.