Welterweight contender Jon Fitch puts up with revolving door of opponents

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Josh Koscheck showed it in his win over Anthony (Rumble) Johnson at UFC 106 and Jon Fitch plans to do the same against Mike Pierce on Saturday night at UFC 107.
The boys at the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose are getting back to their roots with wrestling.
"I think we're as guilty as a lot of other people, sometimes you get complacent with the stuff that you're good at already," said Fitch. "It's like a little kid with new toys. The standup, the kickboxing, the Muay Thai and the jiu-jitsu - these are like new toys and we want to play with them all the time, and we forget about the bread and butter.
"You could tell in the Koscheck fight, his wrestling was just a lot crisper than it has been in previous fights," he added.
It's not like Fitch had forgotten his wrestling. He took Paulo Thiago down four times en route to a unanimous decision in a gritty UFC 100 bout that featured a lot of grappling.
Fitch, former captain of the Purdue wrestling team, also promises to be faster and more agile this time out, thanks to his work with Mike Potenza, strength and conditioning co-ordinator for the San Jose Sharks.
"It's making a huge difference. . . . Everybody in my training camp, my teammates, my coaches, everybody's commenting on how fast I've gotten, how explosive I've gotten," said the six-foot Fitch, who certainly looks trim and lean going into the bout.
Fitch's road to this fight has taken a few turns.
The 31-year-old welterweight contender was originally slated to face Ricardo Almeida at UFC 106. But the Big Dog was injured in training and Fitch found himself paired with Thiago Alves on the UFC 107 card. When Alves went down, Fitch was handed Mike Pierce (9-2) as an opponent.
The two meet Saturday at the FedExForum on the undercard of the lightweight title fight between champion B.J. (The Prodigy) Penn and Diego (Nightmare) Sanchez.
Fitch (23-3 with one no contest, including 10-1 in the UFC) said the changes in opponents didn't faze him too much because he had gone through similar switches earlier in his career. He scaled back his training for a bout a week and a half while his opponent was sorted out and then retooled his game plan.
"I do worry more about what I'm going to do than he (my opponent) does, but at the same time there is a stark contrast in training styles for someone like Thiago Alves versus Ricardo Almeida or Mike Pierce," he said.
"Almeida and Pierce are going to have similar strategies in the fact that they're going to want to get takedowns and be on top, so there is going to be more on wrestling defence in training than with Thiago, where I saw the focus more on Thai defence in terms of clinch defence, checking kicks, kick defence and my wrestling offence."
The compact five-foot-eight Pierce won his UFC debut in September via unanimous decision over Brock Larson. The former Portland State University wrestler and union carpenter already has Fitch's respect.
"He's tough, he seems like a challenge," he said. "He's got good wrestling, he's relentless with his wrestling. He's very strong, kind of like a little tank . . . and he's got some power in his hands. I don't know how good he is with his standup but he does have power. I've seem him knock guys out with one punch."
Fitch has been beaten just once in his last 20 fights and that came at the hands of UFC champion Georges St. Pierre at UFC 87 in August 2008. St. Pierre dominated the five-round fight but could not finish Fitch.
Fitch shed tears after that loss, believing erroneously he had let his friends and training partners down. Now he is looking to fight his way back to the front of the contenders' line.
He bounced back with comprehensive wins over Akihiro Gono and Thiago, both by decision. That meant his last five fights have all gone to decisions, a trend Fitch hopes to end.
"I feel like I need to not just win but win dominantly. I need to go out and make myself heard through my performances," he said.
"I mean it just happens that some guys are really tough and it's hard to look great against them. Gono's one of those guys, he's able to keep himself safe and stay out of trouble. Same thing with Paulo. He was kind of unknown, I didn't know that much about him and he was able to put up a good defence, and keep me from finishing.
"It comes to the fans' understanding too of knowing how good these guys are - and the fans aren't quite there yet."
There are no airs to Fitch, an Indiana native who is about as down to earth as it gets. He says what he thinks. And he doesn't much care what you or anyone else thinks about him as a fighter.
"I don't fight for other people's respect. I fight to challenge myself. I fight to prove to myself how good I am and that's what matters to me," he said. "The people around me, my coaches and trainers' respect, are probably the only people whose respect I really care about. When they tell me I did a great job in training or something's looking really good or something's phenomenal, then that's what means something to me.
"I don't judge my career based on what fans think," he added. "Because the truth of the matter is most fans are very undereducated about the sport. They don't really understand the sport. It's still a young sport and it's going to take it some time before people really start understanding what's going on in MMA. It's very popular right now but it still doesn't mean people truly understand what's going on."
Fitch also wonders about the sport itself at times. He wishes England's Dan (The Outlaw) Hardy luck in his coming fight with St. Pierre but believes there are fighters ahead of Hardy in the queue to fight for the title.
"That's one of the problems that we're having with our sport, I think - making the decision are we entertainment or are we a sport? If we're a sport then it needs to be about the No. 1s and the No. 2s and the No. 3s and No. 4s fighting each other. You don't see the Dolphins and the Raiders in the Super Bowl just because they have more fans and the Super Bowl would make more money if those two teams were playing in it."
Fitch's win over Thiago - which avenged Koscheck's knockout loss to the Brazilian - came in a bout that was bumped at the last moment from going on before the two main events to right after. It made for an awkward evening.
"As a professional I shouldn't let something like that bother me, but you know it's hard not to let it get to your body when you're warming up and then have to wait and they you warm up again and have to wait," Fitch said. "It can throw off your timing, it can throw you off a little bit."
It can also take the air out of the crowd.
"I noticed for the first time, between rounds, like people leaving," he said. "I'd never have that happen before. That was a little off-putting. You don't want to take it personal, but I guess it's better than them booing."
There was more than a win to remember that weekend. Fitch and his girlfriend Michele got engaged. The wedding is planned for September.
"I met her when I was driving my 1990 Buick Regal," he recalled. "She was working at the gym at AKA, (which) is where we met.
"She met me when I was dead broke. She loved me then so I knew she was a keeper."

Organizations: American Kickboxing Academy, San Jose Sharks, Portland State University Dolphins Raiders

Geographic location: San Jose, Indiana, MMA England

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