Following his loss to GSP, Fitch immediately set about working his way back toward the top of the division. As he dominated the opposition fight after fight inside the cage, battles outside of the cage seemed to affect his ability to regain another opportunity to compete for the welterweight title. After notching four consecutive victories, a rematch was scheduled with fellow top contender Thiago Alves at UFC 117.
Prior to the fight UFC president Dana White said the winner would earn the next title shot, but the waters became murky when Alves failed to make the specified weight limit for the bout. Fitch would go on to work Alves for three rounds en route to a lopsided victory, but once the fight concluded, the talk of title contention faded.
“There is a little bit of frustration and motivation in a situation like that,” Fitch said. “It’s kind of like having the rug pulled out from under you. You are told you are getting one thing and I felt like I had one of the best performances of my career that night. Then you don’t get the title shot and it sucks, but you can’t let yourself worry about those things too much.
“I don’t really understand the situation. I tend to focus on the fight I have immediately in front of me because it’s easy to get distracted in this game, and I focus on what is in front of me and not so much on the trajectory I’m putting out. If I keep getting wins, then I’ll keep moving forward.”
Throughout his career, Fitch has preferred to let his performance inside the Octagon represent him. Never one to get caught up in pre-fight trash talk or go on wild tangents in interviews, Fitch has allowed his record to speak for itself. Despite the ever-increasing trend of fighters using words and outbursts to elevate their statuses, Fitch prefers to keep his nose to the grindstone and pays no attention to what the critics have to say.
“I haven’t been paying enough attention to the sport to know what other guys are doing or if, in fact, the squeaky wheel is getting the grease," Fitch said. "I don’t know who is squeaking or not. My daily life consists of me training my ass off and spending time with my family. I don’t go outside that bubble. Going to the UFC in New Jersey was the first time I had done anything like that in a while. I’m in the fight environment if I’m fighting or if I have a teammate fighting. Otherwise, I don’t pay much attention.
“If people think that I’m not beating people up in there, all they have to do is look at my opponent’s face after the fight. If I’m not doing work in there, then how did their face get so f***ed up?”
As the welterweight division experienced a surge of contenders battling their way toward the top, Fitch had to stand his
ground to defend his position in the weight class’ upper tier. After fighting to a draw with former multi-divisional champion BJ Penn, then being defeated by upstart Johny Hendricks, the path to UFC gold seemed further than it had ever been. But rather than allow the situation to compile, Fitch relied on his mental toughness and got back to work.
“Your mindset changes from fight to fight and different occurrences,” Fitch said. “The losses to GSP and Johny Hendricks are both motivating in entirely different ways. I think they all come down to mental mistakes and you have to keep pushing yourself to keep a high output and make sure your body is always ready to go. You can’t ever relax and back off.
“I try to keep things simple. Your mind can run all over the place when you are getting ready for a fight or even in training. I have two mantras that go through my head that I focus on and they are: 'Pull the trigger' and 'Be in the moment.' If I’ve trained right and I’m in shape, if I do those two things, I'm going to win the fight.”
With the division being more competitive than it has ever been, getting back into the win column holds the utmost importance. Every fight will be under the microscope, and if welcoming fellow wrestler Aaron Simpson to the division wasn’t motivation enough, the opportunity to compete in San Jose has Fitch elated.
Since moving to San Jose over a decade ago, the city has become Fitch’s world. He is excited to give something back to the fight-loving community and vows to put on the type of fight local fans can be proud of.
“It’ll be the first time I get to fight in front of my hometown, and San Jose hasn’t shown me anything but love,” Fitch said. “It’s going to be awesome to fight in San Jose. I can’t wait. I’ve been here almost 10 years. I’ve bought a house here, married a woman and I want to give back to this town because they’ve done nothing but show me love.
“It’s going to be nice to roll out of my own bed then go cut weight. I’ll have all the food I need, which is usually one of the hardest parts. Making sure you have the right food and having your diet right the week of the fight is so important. I fought once in Oakland, which is kind of the same area but it’s going to be awesome fighting in San Jose. The Bay Area is definitely a fight town. These people have been watching fighting for a long time and they really get it. Whether it’s kickboxing, boxing or whatever – they love fights up here and I want to put on one hell of an ass whooping for them.”
Whether or not a victory over Simpson puts Fitch back into the title picture isn’t something that concerns him. Just like every fighter in the UFC, becoming a champion carries a certain level of importance. But at the end of the day, it is the respect he receives from his peers that matters the most.
“Overall, respect means a lot,” Fitch said. “For what all the fans think they know, the fighters themselves actually know it. When you get respect from your colleagues, it means a lot because those are the guys who are going through the same things you are, making the same sacrifices you make and have dealt with some of the same circumstances and they can empathize with what you are going through.
“To have respect from those guys is a big deal. I always tell people one of the coolest things that has ever happened to me came years back when I got into a van with Minotauro (Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira). He came up to me and said, ‘Hey I know you – you are that tough guy.’ For him to call me a tough guy was a highlight of my career.”
Jon Fitch certainly has made a reputation for being all business inside of the cage, but outside of work he is anything but. He has a Twitter account dedicated to his gaming adventures on Skyrim and his hostility toward banana trees is a popular YouTube video. In addition to these extracurricular activities, his signature “Fitch Face” is a go-to photo opp used throughout the MMA community.
“It’s something I’ve been doing my entire life,” Fitch explained about his signature expression. “We just got some pictures from my mom the other day and one of them is from when I was two years old and I’m doing the 'Fitch Face.' It has a lot of different meanings. It’s my war face because everybody needs their war face. It’s part smile because I enjoy fighting and what I’m doing. I think it’s funny when guys mean mug when they try to stare you down, so I use it there and it gets a few laughs. I used to be a smartass as a kid, and when they would tell me to smile for pictures I would do it. It’s multi-faceted.
“I want to get some new banana trees, but those other ones we were getting rid of. I want to get some new ones to put in. The funniest thing about that video where I was kicking the banana tree is the people who thought I was trying to be serious. People were giving me crap about how many kicks it took. I was cutting them down with a saw beforehand and wearing jeans. I think people were a bit anal with their banana tree kicking critique.”