Jon Fitch has fought all over the globe during his nearly twenty year career. Japan, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Brazil. But after challenging for welterweight gold in the UFC and being unceremoniously dumped by the promotion a few years later, it seemed like that big title win was going to elude him. Especially after coming up short for WSOF gold as well in 2014.
Then, two years and a couple of wins later, Fitch found himself in a late-career resurgence, finally winning the World Series of Fighting welterweight title, which would then become the Professional Fighters League belt.
When the PFL moved to a league format with a million dollar prize, Fitch jumped ship, landing in Bellator. After defeating Paul Daley, Fitch wound up in the welterweight grand prix, fighting to a draw with then-champ Rory MacDonald. Gold had again slipped through his grasp. And now in his 40s, many questioned whether Fitch, with nothing left to prove, would simply retire.
He seemed to as well. Earlier this year, Fitch, who is one of the plaintiffs in an ongoing antitrust lawsuit against the UFC, aired the idea that MMA was no longer a sport. And suggested it would take either more money, or a shot at a belt, to coax him back into the cage.
Now here he is, returning at Bellator 246. Something clearly got him back here. “I would just like [Mixed Martial Arts] to operate as a sport,” Fitch told Cageside Press during the Bellator 246 media day this week. “No other sport in the world do promoters control the title, and exclusive contracts. I would just like that to change.”
It hasn’t, yet. But what has brought him back is a mixture of the pandemic, and the challenge in front of him. “Me coming back has a lot to do with the situation of the lockdown, and COVID right now,” explained Fitch. “I’m in a position where I’m healthy and enjoy challenges. The name Neiman Gracie came up, the idea of fighting a Gracie was a big challenge. Neiman’s a super tough guy, it’s going to be a great fight.”
Fitch also put on his entertainer’s hat, noting that “there’s a lot of people out there at home who are trapped inside, they don’t have a lot to do, there’s a lot going on, a lot of people stressed out, a lot of people are hurting. I thought it would be a good thing to come out, distract them, take away from some of that pain and give them 15 minutes of carnage between me and Neiman Gracie, to help them escape from all the madness right now.”
If not carnage, than a grappling lover’s dream match. The UFC may have held disdain for Fitch’s fighting style, but Bellator doesn’t seem to mind it in the least.
As Fitch approaches the end of his career, there’s a question as to whether he’ll be remembered more for his fighting, or as one of the few fighters to really push back against the UFC, going after them via the courts. “I haven’t thought a lot about it, because I’m still working,” admitted Fitch. “I’m still planning on doing things even outside of the cage, taking different strategies towards helping fighters moving forward.”
The idea, said Fitch, it to help fighters monetize themselves better, and “do some of what the promoters maybe aren’t doing for them right now.”
As for his own lot in life, Fitch is now a father. And he admits that “the extra money from another fight is nice.” That’s not the only way being a dad factored into his decision to return to the cage, however. “I think it’s good to show your kids that you have interests, and you can work hard, and you set goals,” he said. “Let them see you struggle through adversity. I think it’s good for kids to see it.”
“They need to understand that if you put yourself into something, things break down, things fall apart,” Fitch added, “but you don’t quit.”
Bellator 246 takes place this Saturday, September 12 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT. The event airs live on Paramount Network.