One of the funniest damn things happened immediately after Jon Fitch was released in what has been dubbed “Bloody Wednesday” by us at Inside Fights; the groundswell of support for the man was somewhat astonishing in the aftermath of Zuffa’s dismissal. For years the running gag was that Jon Fitch was a walking, talking Snuggie who would blanket a fighter to a decision and discuss how he was “boring,” et al. And then after his firing he became “the third greatest welterweight in UFC history” and the outrage was palpable; many of the same people who hated the way he fought suddenly became his most ardent supporters.
It was the same way when Miguel Torres rape-joked his way out of the UFC for a second time.
Torres was still a Top 10 bantamweight at the time, far enough removed from his reign of terror in the WEC as its titleholder but not far enough removed to be considered at the tail end of his career. He still had some value as a fighter, even if it was as a solid test for up and comers instead of as an elite level fighter. Guys who were ready to take that next step, like Michael McDonald and Demetrious Johnson, would beat him and show they were ready. Guys who weren’t would take a step back as they lost to Torres, having to earn their way back up.
That’s what happens to fighters at the end of their career; they get fed to the youth of the sport. The youth feast on their star value, building their own names up in the process, and Fitch is nearing the end of his career. You can argue a lot of things about his position in the sport, of course, but the one thing you can’t argue is that the light at the end of the tunnel is much brighter than it once was. Fitch is in nearly the same spot Torres was in before he got cut: valuable as a name but probably not good enough to make a run for another title shot.
The Purdue wrestling captain had his chance and had a stellar run in the UFC. Fitch came at welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre, chronicled in the film “Such Great Heights,” and wound up on the wrong side of a hellacious ass-kicking over 25 minutes.
He came at the king and missed.
Afterwards he put together another significant winning streak but the signs of age popped up. Erick Silva had him in a number of bad spots and that win may have been the best of his career. He fought back to force a draw with BJ Penn after dropping two rounds, something uncharacteristic of Fitch. Johny Hendricks would skip him like a rock across the Octagon with a big left, of course, and Demian Maia clung to him like a “Dora the Explorer” backpack on a 12 year old. Fitch went from being a clear #2 to being on the fringes, injuries putting him on the shelf for significant periods of time. Fitch looked like a fighter on his way out of the promotion towards the end; someone like Silva wouldn’t have hung with him in 2009.
In 2013, though, he could. That fight probably showed Zuffa more about what Fitch had left than what Silva’s ceiling could be.
Look, there are a lot of reasons to not be thrilled with Fitch’s departure. I’m not exactly a fan of the move but Fitch is starting to hit that same point that Torres is: diminished returns. This is why the next fight in his career, wherever it is, will determine whether or not the UFC was right in cutting him. Torres wound wind up losing a lackluster decision to Marlon Moraes, a veritable unknown who wasn’t supposed to be in his league. There are plenty of fresh matchups on the regional circuit for Fitch, who’s probably only a win or two away from getting back in the UFC. His next fight will show just how much he has left; if we see Fitch defeat someone like Jay Hieron or Jorge Santiago, two tough but winnable fights, it’ll show the cut was unwarranted. But a loss on a card meant to showcase him, like the World Series of Fighting was to do for Torres, will show just as much.