Before he was unceremoniously cut from the UFC, with many feeling it was unwarranted and unjustified, Jon Fitch was the certified best welterweight in the world for a significant period of time … in the “MMA Welterweights Who Aren’t Georges St. Pierre” division. In the actual MMA welterweight division it was clearly GSP at #1, especially in light of the five round mauling he gave Fitch in their lone bout, but Fitch was clearly ahead of everyone else besides GSP. It’s just that he came at the king and missed … missed quite profoundly, in fact.
UFC 87 would be Fitch’s highest moment, a card noteworthy for historical purposes as well because a young fighter from New York named Jon Jones fought on short notice in his UFC debut, and from there he never would get a shot at GSP again. A couple of title eliminators came and passed for Fitch, a lackluster win over Thiago Alves coupled with a draw against BJ Penn leaving him in a lurch. High profile losses to Johny Hendricks and Demian Maia would leave him out of the UFC. Fitch’s legacy after the GSP loss would be one in which he clearly deserved a title shot but never got one for a variety of reasons.
Lyoto Machida needs to be aware of Fitch’s history … because he’s about to repeat if he doesn’t win in impressive fashion at UFC 163.
Machida was supposed to get a title shot a year ago. After knocking out Ryan Bader in impressive fashion on a Fox card, and looking better than Shogun Rua did in victory, Machida was moved to the front of the line to face Jon Jones after what a supposed to be a title defense against Dan Henderson at UFC 151. Henderson famously got hurt, of course, and Machida would decline facing Jones at UFC 152 due to the late notice (after being announced as having accepted the fight earlier). Machida was then offered another “#1 contender” slot, fighting to face the winner of Jon Jones vs. Chael Sonnen, against Henderson as the co-main event at UFC 157.
A lackluster win there and Machida winds up in an even murkier situation against Phil Davis instead of in a title fight against Jones, who now faces Alexander Gustafsson for the title. Machida is seemingly out of the title situation right now, oddly enough, as other light heavyweights are seemingly in a better position than he is to get their shot at the title next. Glover Teixiera has been bandied about by a lot of people as the man with the solution to the Jones riddle. Daniel Cormier has been held up as a potential opponent if/when he drops down from heavyweight.
Everyone but Machida is being discussed, much like other fighters got their shot at GSP when Fitch was significantly more deserving at the time.
Lost in the talk of who’s next for Jon Jones is Machida, who’s been technically the #1 contender for a year plus without a title shot. Even the UFC’s own rankings have Machida as the man most deserving of a title shot, ahead of the pack, and yet Machida is seemingly the last guy in line. Scheduled to face Phil Davis in what has to be considered a fight of lesser stature than one against Henderson for a title shot, Machida is on a dangerous career slide of sorts.
He has to win now, and he has to do so spectacularly, if he wants to get back in the title hunt for real. Another lackluster decision win, unanimous or otherwise, and Machida will find himself back in line again. We may argue that he couldn’t continue to beat elite guys and not get another shot to prove himself the best in the world but history has shown us otherwise.
Jon Fitch ran off five wins after the GSP loss and didn’t lose in two title eliminators yet never even sniffed another shot at the title again. If he can’t win in spectacular fashion again, like he did against Ryan Bader, Lyoto Machida might be doomed to be the best fighter not holding the belt in the division but not get a shot at Jones again.