World Series of Fighting welterweight contender Jon Fitch currently has two fights on his hand. One will be in the cage on Saturday night against Yushin Okami in the headliner of WSOF 24, and the other is currently ensuing in a court of law against the UFC.
The first order of business on Fitch’s itinerary is to get back into the win column. He hasn’t competed since having his knee mangled by former WSOF welterweight champ Rousimar Palhares last December. The serial leg locker was recently stripped of the title and suspended indefinitely from the WSOF for multiple incidents where he held onto submissions for too long.
There’s no hard feelings from Fitch, who is one of several fighters unlucky enough to be victimized by Palhares. When speaking with Today’s Knockout, the former UFC title contender shifted his focus towards the commissions for failing to deal with the issue when it first surfaced several years ago.
Earlier punishments or a simple psychological review would have sufficed, according to Fitch:
“I think it should have been the commissions that punished him. I guess he has a trial or hearing coming up to get a punishment from them. But it’s too little, too late. …The fact that it keeps happening over and over and over again is just proof that it’s on purpose. There’s also a history of him doing that in grappling tournaments.
So I feel like the commission from the very first time should have said something, done something, given some type of punishment or at least some kind of psychological review. Make him go talk to a shrink or make him talk to someone to see if this guy is even mentally fit to even take part in a professional sport, a combative sport nonetheless.”
Fitch pointed to a video put together by UFC lightweight Joe Lauzon, who gave a technical breakdown of each of Palhares’ egregious submissions.
Palhares is obviously the one in the wrong, according to Fitch, but the commissions haven’t done anything to encourage him otherwise, which has allowed the situation to sit and balloon into an even bigger issue.
With Palhares gone, the WSOF welterweight throne is currently vacant and ripe for the taking. Fitch will have to get through another former UFC title contender in Okami to even receive an opportunity to wear the crown.
It’s easy to mistake Fitch and Okami for having exactly the same fighting style. They are both considered grinders, who typically stick to opponents like glue over the course of a fight and wear them down with short strikes. However, Fitch scoffed at the idea that he was anything like Okami:
“We have kind of a grinding style that’s similar, but I don’t think anybody really fights like I do. I have a unique style, and I don’t really try to focus on what other people are doing too much. I try to focus on what I need to do and what I need to get done to accomplish my end goals.
I’m not too worried about the way he clinches and works for his trip and ground-and-pounds and that type of stuff. I know how to get back up, and I know how to get done what I want to get done.”
Along with the fight against Okami, Fitch is also one of three original fighters involved in the class-action lawsuit that was filed against the UFC in December.
Per BloodyElbow, the multi-million dollar lawsuit, which also includes UFC veterans Cung Le, Carlos Newton and Nate Quarry, accuses the promotion of “illegally maintaining monopoly and monopsony power by systematically eliminating competition from rival promoters, artificially suppressing fighters’ earnings from bouts and merchandising and marketing activities through restrictive contracting and other exclusionary practices.”
Through its acquisition of Strikeforce and forcing the new Reebok sponsorship on its fighters, there are plenty of reasons for professional athletes competing in the UFC to be concerned. While he loves to compete, Fitch admits that his life as a professional athlete hasn’t panned out exactly the way that he’d hoped.
It isn’t uncommon for fighters to work side jobs or end up penniless when their careers are over. Fitch sees the lawsuit as an opportunity for fighters to finally take some of the power back:
“I haven’t liked the way that the sport has been run since I got into it. It never felt professional. I always grew up wanting to be a professional athlete and had an idea of what it was going to be like and how we’d be treated. It’s never really materialized. So I just feel like enough is enough with the way things are going.
I went to an NFL Players Association meeting about a year ago, and just the stories of where the NFL Players Association came from, the struggles they went through, the things they had to do to get where they’re at. It was kind of really inspiring to me.”
A fighters association with the kind of power to make a real difference in MMA would be the end goal for Fitch and many other professional fighters. UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo called for a fighters union a month before the UFC launched its new Reebok sponsorship, which axed all other outside sponsors.
Fighters are now paid on a set sum in a pyramid system based on number of fights in the UFC. Heavyweight fighter Brendan Schaub said he lost quite a bit in the transition into the Reebok era when he’d only earn $10,000 in sponsorship money.
I've made six figures in sponsorship in each of my last 6 fights 😕 https://t.co/gotToaSDJh
— Brendan Schaub (@BrendanSchaub) May 6, 2015
Regardless of how dire the situation looks from the inside, Fitch truly believes change is coming:
“[Change] is going to have to [come]. This lawsuit isn’t a one-time thing. Win or lose, if they do not change their business practices, they’ll be sued again. There’s guys that are doing our litigation and companies that does class-action antitrust lawsuits — that’s all they do.
So as long as Zuffa is continually doing the same business practices, they will continue to keep filing suit against them. So it will be a monster expense to them, and they’ll have to deal with it by changing the way that they do business because there’s no other option for them, other than to keep getting sued and to keep paying out money to deal with the lawsuits.”
Fitch competed in the UFC for a long time as the second best fighter in the welterweight division behind Georges St-Pierre. With everything that’s happened recently, it’s unlikely he would ever be welcomed back to the UFC.
It’s even more unlikely that he would even agree to go back to a “Zuffa-run” MMA promotion. Besides, he doubts the UFC could even afford his services:
“Probably not a Zuffa-run UFC,” said Fitch. “There’s a lot of speculation that they may be selling sometime in the next couple years anyways, but I really have a hard time seeing them wanting me back. They really can’t afford me. That’s what they said was the reason for them getting rid of me in the first place.”