With his signature grappling style honed through years of high level wrestling at Purdue University, and on the mats as a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt under Dave Camarillo, Jon Fitch ran through the entire welterweight division as a top UFC contender in the late 2000s, ultimately falling short in his title shot against Georges St. Pierre in 2008.
Fitch’s relentless style, imposing physique and businesslike approach in the Octagon made him an unstoppable force and an immovable object at the same time during his UFC career, which began with an eight-fight win streak and ended with a decision loss to Demian Maia.
Dominating his opponents with a distinct combination of underrated athleticism, technique, grit and strength, the former Boilermakers standout possessed the ability to win big time fights by grappling alone.
He continued to improve his athleticism and striking as the years went on, finally reaching the mountaintop in 2016, winning the Professional Fighters League (formerly known as the World Series of Fighting) welterweight title in 2016 with a unanimous decision win over fellow MMA legend Jake Shields.
Recently, Fitch discussed his favorite fights in his nearly 20-year pro MMA career, which modern day fighters most resemble his style (including his one surprising similarity with Khabib Nurmagomedov), what made his style so dominant, and much more:
FSH: You fought for 18 years and became one of the most successful and dominant MMA fighters of your generation. Did you ever imagine you would have this type of success when you first started?
JF: I’ve always been a big believer in outworking your competition. So I knew I could find success if I worked harder than everyone else.
FSH: You’ve had a lot of memorable fights in your career. What was the most exciting night for you personally in all of your years of fighting?
JF: It’s a tie between the GSP fight and the Eric Silva fight. They were both great fights and the circumstances around the fights were memorable too.
FSH: Talk a little bit about your style and what makes it unique.
JF: People still haven’t figured out what I’m doing in there. My style puts constant pressure on you and that pressure takes you out of your game. At least that’s the simple explanation. If you want more detail you can come to a seminar or learn something from my courses on Gumroad.
FSH: What was it about your wrestling and grappling in particular that allowed you to control your opponents so effectively?
JF: My folkstyle wrestling background gave me a great understanding of controlling someone trying to get away. That added with my black belt in BJJ gave me an ability to manipulate people the way I wanted.
FSH: Also, have there been any fighters in recent years that have reminded you of your style (Khabib maybe)?
JF: Khabib for sure. He is the advanced version of me. He started striking training at an earlier age and we both had the same BJJ instructor, Leandro Viera. We both learned the same tactics for the new top control. He was at the beginning of his career and I was in the middle/end of mine.
FSH: How did you get into fighting and wrestling as a youngster prior to your wrestling career at Purdue?
JF: I started wrestling in the 4th grade. I had a second cousin, Bret, who was in my class and would tell stories about his older brother wrestling for the high school. I was into WWF at the time and it sounded amazing. I spent a couple of weeks begging my mom to let me go to practice. She finally took me so she could talk to the coach.
Luckily I had another second cousin that was an assistant coach, he told her how positive of an impact wrestling would have on my life. My mom listened and he was right.
FSH: Were you a fan of any particular fighters, boxers, wrestlers or even legendary athletes growing up?
JF: I always wanted to play football, so my heroes were football players. I was a fan of middle linebackers and that became my main position on the field. Dick Butkus, Ray Nitschke, and any other tuff linebackers that were still playing were the guys I looked up to.
FSH: If you had name three athletes or entertainers who inspired you as a kid, who would they be and why?
JF: Any of the action movie heroes of my youth really. Anyone who was an underdog and didn’t give up.
FSH: How has retirement been going so far and what are some of your new projects you’d like to share with the FSH audience?
JF: Retirement has been good. It’s nice not having to put your life on hold because you are waiting for your next fight contract. I will be traveling and teaching my Fitch SMASH fighting systems and I’m starting a branding company that will help fighters monetize their positions outside of the cage. Building their notoriety along with their worth.
FSH: Can you ever see yourself coming out of retirement for one last fight with another legend perhaps?
JF: I may be open to doing some grappling competitions but I don’t think anyone is going to be willing to pay what I’m worth for a fight.