Jon Fitch and Junior Dos Santos; A Tale of Two Contenders

UFC 117 was billed as an event that would determine the new top contenders for the heavyweight and welterweight world titles, with UFC President Dana White making the official announcement in the lead up to the event that both Roy Nelson vs. Junior Dos Santos and Jon Fitch vs. Thiago Alves were Final Eliminator Fights. However while Junior Dos Santos confirmed his arrival onto the world title scene, Jon Fitch once again failed to fully convince. As they leave Oakland, two very different contenders move towards two very different futures.

Ever since the fight had been made it was expected that a win for Junior Dos Santos against The Ultimate Fighter 10 winner Roy Nelson would secure the Brazilian a title shot. Dos Santos had been an absolute roll in the heavyweight division, having the best resume of victories and performances of any contender. Ever since he blitzed Fabricio Werdum on his debut in the organization, he had dominated his opponents quickly defeating credible opponents Stefan Struve, Gilbert Yvel and Gabriel Gonzaga. The only fighter able to get out of the first round against him was Mirko Cro Cop and he eventually crumbled, submitting due to strikes in the third round.  In all his fights Dos Santos had impressed, with his boxing showing the best mixture of technique and power in the division. However as with Shane Carwin his dominance had the unfortunate side effect of leaving several key questions unanswered with his takedown defense, ground game, conditioning and chin all untested.

All though their fight was in reality as one-sided as Dos Santos’ prolonged demolition of Cro Cop, Roy Nelson sheer bloody-minded resilience did pose a new challenge for Dos Santos. His boxing was as crisp as always, taking full advantage of flaws in Nelson’s boxing guard to constantly connect with the uppercut. But no matter how much he connected he just couldn’t get the KO. Dos Santos responded well, trying to vary his offense by adding kicks and knees into his striking and shooting for the odd takedown. He paced himself well, fighting the second and third at a more manageable pace after frenetically trying to finish when thought he had Big Country in trouble in the first round. As the fight progressed Nelson landed some big, looping right hands and Dos Santos seemed more than able to shake them off. Above all that, he showed tremendous takedown defense with Nelson unable to get him to the ground despite numerous attempts. While some have expressed disappointment at Dos Santos inability finish Nelson, the more important things to take away from this fight was that he showed the takedown defense and punch resistance he will need to be competitive against Brock Lesnar or Cain Velasquez.

While the fight between Junior Dos Santos and Roy Nelson wasn’t competitive, by going the distance Nelson took Dos Santos out of his comfort zone. Jon Fitch on the other hand could not have been more comfortable as he thoroughly neutralized whatever threat was left in the dehydrated body of Thiago Alves. After failing to make weight, Alves was slow and sluggish lacking the dynamism needed to stuff Fitch’s takedowns or make himself a nuisance off the back. Encountering little resistance from Alves, Fitch was content to control and smother whilst never taking the necessary risks to finish the fight. So stifling were his tactics that the crowd eventually turned on the hometown fighter, booing Fitch and cheering any fleeting moment of offense from Alves. As he has done in all five of his fights since losing to George St. Pierre, Fitch did just enough to win the fight but nowhere enough to suggest that a rematch with the world champion wouldn’t be another one-sided mauling.

UFC 117’s two Final Eliminator Fights contrasted terribly, with everything that made Roy Nelson vs. Junior Dos Santos a great fight to determine a new number one contender noticeably lacking in Jon Fitch vs. Thiago Alves. Firstly Nelson-Dos Santos brought together two new contenders who had never faced either possible champion; whoever won would be a fresh challenger. Alves-Fitch on the other hand have both lost decisively to current world champion George St. Pierre, although in theory there would be interest in either facing Josh Koscheck. Whereas Dos Santos-Nelson matched together two popular fighters that had been both had momentum within the UFC, Alves-Fitch was the first fight back for Thiago Alves since losing to St. Pierre last year while for all his victories Fitch feels stale. Whereas Nelson-Dos Santos was the only logical contender fight to do, Jake Shields vs. Martin Kampmann at UFC 121 was the more natural Final Eliminator in the welterweight division seeing as both fighters have momentum and would be a new opponent for whoever emerges from UFC 124 as champion.

But above whereas Roy Nelson was a good opponent to test Junior Dos Santos, Thiago Alves offered nothing that Jon Fitch had not already manhandled to the floor. Nelson has the punch resistance, the punching power, the wrestling and the grappling to test the areas of Dos Santos’ game that we had yet to see inside the Octagon. Having focused on developing his Muay Thai, Alves lacks the ju-jitsu to trouble Fitch off his back and his once feared takedown defense seems to have deteriorated. Junior Dos Santos and Jon Fitch were both the favorites going into their fights, on paper the logical next contenders for the world title in their respective weight classes. But whereas the UFC produced a match that successfully gave Dos Santos the stage to develop and impress, they gave Fitch a retread fight that proved nothing we didn’t already know.

At the post-fight press conference it became clear that UFC President Dana White had realized his error, refusing to confirm Jon Fitch as the number one contender despite being far less equivocal about Junior Dos Santos. White even went as far as to raise the very match that he had ignored when announcing Alves-Fitch as being for the number one contender spot, pointing out that both Jake Shields and Martin Kampmann should be in the mix. Even Fitch himself seemed open to the possibility of fighting again before challenging for the world title. UFC 117 was truly a tale of two top contenders; Junior Dos Santos took another step forward with a dominant victory over Roy Nelson while Jon Fitch didn’t take the necessary risks to turn control into dominance against a substandard Thiago Alves. Whereas Junior Dos Santos now seems assured of facing the winner of Brock Lesnar vs. Cain Velasquez, Jon Fitch has once again failed to secure the world title shot that on paper is rightfully his.

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