Interview with Jon Fitch

September 22, 2005
by Sal Carrillo

Jon Fitch

( Thanks for taking the time out of your busy training schedule to sit down for this interview. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you became interested in MMA?

(Fitch): You're welcome. I have a wrestling background. I kind of, I don't know... I feel like the sport was created for me. I found it in a roundabout way... you know I come from a middle income family with good parents. I never had any problems fighting in school you know, that wasn't a part of growing up but I was always drawn to contact sports. I loved football, I'm from Indiana so of course you play basketball but I fouled out of every game that I ever played in I think (says laughing). I found myself in wrestling in fourth grade. I just loved wrestling and continued to wrestle and decided to wrestle in college. I was almost going to go the route of military, some kind of special forces or something. Just because I wanted to do something very challenging and push myself. But I don't think my mother was at all excited about military so I was like alright I'll walk on and I'll wrestle somewhere I think I can do that. That’s why I chose Purdue; it's a Big 10 school. Nobody was knocking on my door for scholarships so I decided to walk on there. It wasn't too far from home, and financially it worked out the best. Luckily I had three really good coaches. They all had their own special thing to bring to the table. Head Coach Mr. (Jessie) Reyes is an outstanding technician; Tom Erickson had great mat awareness and a great coaching presence. There's nothing more confidence building than having a 300lb Olympic wrestler in your corner while you’re in a college wrestling match. If a call or match didn't go your way, you know the ref heard about it (laughing). (Scott) Hinkle was extremely motivating and always down for competition, always pushing it to the extreme. The guy's thirty-something and still doing crazy workouts, I can't understand how he can still do it. Tom was fighting at the time and that's how I got into it. I started watching his workouts with Gary Goodridge and Mark Coleman. They were coming into town and ... umm oh I can't remember his name, Coleman's guy, the big tall guy that Big Mike (Kyle) fought.

( Sims???

(Fitch): Sims! Yeah, Wes Sims. He came into town once. I met him then but I didn't get to work out with him then because a heavyweight sat on his ankle and messed up his ankle or something. So just watching those guys and working out with those guys. It was always just an idea. I was like hey this is something I could do after college you know? Especially with my style of wrestling, I was always the brawling type. I was never the kind of guy who lost because I was tired or because I was getting beat up you know? I only got handled like two matches....(thinking).... maybe... yeah three matches my entire wrestling career that I remember. The rest of them were all one, two, or three point losses. Close matches. It was the things I did, stupid technical things where I lost because I just didn't have the technical background a lot of guys did coming out of high school. I had the physical aspect you know, but I didn't pick up the technique as fast as I needed to. Then working out with Tom and those guys after college I was like hey let's try it. Tom pulled some strings and worked me into a fight. My very first fight was out in Vegas and it was way above where I probably should have started. I had never even sparred. I had never even rolled and done ground and pound with the light gloves. All I had done was wrestled and learned a couple of techniques and hit some heavy bags. Gary Goodridge held pads for me a few times before that fight. I probably had about a week of pad training before that fight. The fight started and I was like what the hell do I do now? I kind of froze. I tried a foot sweep and ended up putting myself on my back. I think I was just naturally drawn to this sport, I think this was kind of what I was meant to do. Once I made the decision to move out here (San Jose, CA) everything started clicking. Everything started falling into place. I've been much happier out here than I've been anywhere, doing anything in my life. I loved wrestling in college but I still had to deal with the daily grind of classes and all that crapp that goes along with it.

( So is that who you trained with before you moved here (Erickson, Coleman, and Randleman)?

(Fitch): Umm... it was spotty because I got the chance to learn a couple of techniques and roll with Coleman like twice. Randleman I never met, but Goodridge... I got a lot of work with Goodridge when he would come in. He came in several times getting ready with us for our fights. He was there to help Tom with his standup and then Tom and us were there to help him with his wrestling, his takedowns, and stuff. So we did a lot of takedowns and takedown defense things with him. It was a big confidence booster you know? Watching fights with Gary Goodridge and then when we're wrestling and I was taking him down I was like yeah maybe I can do this. I was a lot bigger then too and I was thinking I was going to fight at 205. I was walking around at about 210 and I was like man I can lift and beef up to about 220 and cut down. But I got that out of my head pretty quick and moved out here and made the cut.

( You said you walked on at Purdue; did you wrestle through high school?

(Fitch): Yeah. I started in 4th grade and wrestled every year. I wrestled half a season in the fifth grade because my mom got mad at me for grades (laughing). I walked on as a red shirt freshman my first year and then I had four years of eligibility after that. So I had five years wrestling at Purdue but I stayed on a sixth year as a grad assistant. In total I had six years of the coaching and practicing and I was kind of the attack dog. There's always a grad assistant who's kind of the attack dog where Jessie's like "I want you to break him today." He sticks you on a certain guy and it's your job to make him break.

( You will be making your UFC debut on UFC's Ultimate Fight Night which airs on Spike TV on October 3rd. Assuming this fight is televised, what does this mean to you to be fighting for the UFC on a nationally televised event?

(Fitch): I'm just happy to get my foot in the door. Whether it's televised nationally or not I'm just glad to have this opportunity. I really don't care if it gets aired or not this time, because I WILL make an impact. I'm not just going to knock lightly on the door this time. I'm going to kick it open. I'm tired of... you know.. we've been pussy footing and knocking at the door of the UFC for a while and haven't gotten the opportunity. They haven't paid much attention you know? They're like "Oh yeah yeah he's ok we'll get him in here sometime." I don't want that to happen. So as long as I do well and put on a show and they bring me back, I'm happy. Because I'm going to get the exposure the next time. The second fight, the third fight, I'm going to be on a pay per view. I 'm going to be the main event eventually. It's not going to take that long. My skills are getting up there where they're not going to be able to ignore my abilities anymore.

( You kind of answered this next question in a roundabout way, but there is a good chance that your fight will be a dark match (a match that is not televised) since both of you are making your UFC debut. If your fight is not televised would that be a letdown in any way?

(Fitch): Not at all, because once again it's still fighting in the UFC. It might not air that night but it will probably air eventually. The fight will be seen and will be talked about by people. So... I mean, no matter what it's still a bigger fight than any other fight that I've done. It will still be a bigger fight than the fight in Canada which aired on FSN and was seen by millions of people. You know? Because it's a bigger venue and it's a bigger stepping stone to better things.

( Your opponent for that card will be Brock Larson. Can you tell us what you know about him?

(Fitch): I know that he's a strong wrestler out of Minnesota and he's got some Jiu-Jitsu. Umm... I don't know much about who he's trained with. I know he works out with (Sean) Sherk a little bit, but I don't know a ton about him. He's undefeated. You know he's probably going to be a typical mid-west tough wrestling guy with some submissions. There are a lot of those guys out there. I don't think he matches up as well against me. I think I'm a better wrestler and I think I have a better ground game. I have no idea if he has any kind of standup at all. I don't see him beating me at what he's good at, but I know he's going to be tough. I know he's going to be in shape so it's nothing that I can take lightly. It's not going to be an easy win. It's going to have to be hard fought. I just don't see it going his way. I don't think he matches up great against me.

( Do you happen to know what belt level he is in Jiu-Jitsu?

(Fitch): I think I heard he was blue belt, but I'm not sure. But I mean... that doesn't mean a ton because Josh Koscheck's a white belt and we battle all the time. (Mike Swick's a white belt too! Mike says from the office next door in AKA laughing, and that dude is bad!!!) (Laughing) Mike Swick's a negative belt color. (Laughing) (I'm a clear belt, Dave's giving me my white belt next week) (Laughing).

( From what I've read on Brock it appears that you two have a very similar fighting style in that you both have solid wrestling and BJJ skills. I've seen where he's actually won a couple of BJJ tournaments that he's entered. An interesting note here is that you both have trained under BJJ coach Dave Camarillo. Do you think this presents any advantages or disadvantages for either one of you?

(Fitch): Well... I mean as far as advantages go having an in-house instructor or teacher like Dave who's here everyday, who's here like 90% of the time I'm in here working out that's a huge advantage to anybody. He's lucky to have time with Dave when he goes out there and gets to work with him. He's very lucky for that and it's probably a big reason why he's done so well on the ground and with his Jiu-Jitsu. But I get a lot more exposure. I don't know anybody who spends as much time in the gym as I do. I'm here all the time and I'm using all of the resources I have available to me.

( Your fight will be taking place in the middleweight division (185lbs), whereas most of your previous MMA fights have taken place in the welterweight division (170lbs). Do you think this will be a factor in the fight?

(Fitch): Actually I've had one welterweight fight. I'm technically a welterweight, but I've fought once at welterweight, and once at 175lbs. Most of my fights are at 185lbs, 190lbs, or 205lbs. It's actually been very difficult for us to find fights at 170lbs. A lot of guys don't want to fight. The names that I need to fight don't want to fight on a small show. It's no discredit to them, I understand whole heartedly. There's no reason to fight a really tough guy for no money on a show that nobody's going to see. It's just not smart financially and it's not smart for your career. You know? If you win, who cares? Nobody saw it... big deal. If you lose, then you got smashed by this guy or you got beat by this guy and then everyone loses respect for you. So I mean... I 100% understand why it's been so difficult. It happens to a lot of fighters. It's hard for some people to understand but being in this situation now I completely agree and see how things work like that. He's not a super large 185 pounder so I'm not overly concerned about that, but we have been trying to get my weight up. It was a little low because I just fought at welterweight so I've been eating extra and some protein drinks and stuff trying to get my weight up a little bit. But he's not a Trevor Prangley, he's not walking around at 200lbs or 205lbs. At best he's as big as Mike Swick at 185lbs, but he's more likely my size at 185lbs to 190lbs. There was talk of him fighting at welterweight in the future.

( Looking over your past wrestling experience at Purdue University it appears that you wrestled in the 184lb division for a short time. During that time did you have to cut weight or did you actually have to bulk up?

(Fitch): My first year of eligibility I wrestled at 197lbs because we didn't have a 197 pounder. So me an another freshman stepped up and we were like hey we'll get more mat time in and get to eat whatever we want to. So I'm used to competing against large guys. I spent a year and a half at 174lbs. I blew my knee out half way through my junior year so I was only half a season at that weight. Senior year I bulked up a little bit and wrestled at 184lbs. It's a pretty natural weight. I'm a little bit lighter than I used to be because I don't lift like I used to. We used to lift like mad men back in school four days a week. Just crazy weight. When I was at 174lbs I had a really strict diet and I ran 10-15 miles a week not really for conditioning, but just to burn fat. I got to the point where I was actually eating extra meals because I was getting my workout to a point where I was burning so much fat that I was lighter than I wanted to be. I was walking around at 180lbs and I wanted to be at 183lbs and cut down to 174lbs.

( You train at the American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) which seems to have all of the pieces for training great MMA fighters. Whether it be striking, submissions, takedowns, etc. All of the bases seem to be covered. Head trainers include former two time ISKA Kickboxing Champion Javier "Thunder" Mendez, UFC veteran "Crazy" Bob Cook, and Judo and BJJ Black belt Dave Camarillo...

(Fitch): (Interrupts) Lynn Schutz... Lynn Schutz is a huge part of our daily training. It's a lesser known name to a lot of the MMA public, but it should be known because he handles 90% of the workload. He's the guy that's in here every single day; he's the guy that catches everybody (pad training). He's the one who puts in all the time.

( Now this is striking?

(Fitch): Striking and just.... you know he doesn't have the technical background on the ground, but he's there to push us and put us through drills and get us motivated. Gets us to take care of business, get things done. He is ALWAYS here. He's the only other person who's here more than I am.

( So he's probably the biggest motivational factor here in the gym?

(Fitch): You KNOW he’s going to be here! You know? He's a 49 year old trainer and he can be here every single day. A lot of times he's worked harder through workouts than most guys and he's just catching. We do four rounds hitting mitts but then he takes someone else and catches four more rounds for someone else. So he's up there catching for like two hours straight. I call him the mad scientist of MMA, that's my nickname for him. When you start getting something down his gray hair just spikes up and gets fro'd out and he starts going yeah (pumping fists in the air) and starts screaming. He's happier than anyone I've ever seen just because you got a certain combination right.

( In addition to the trainers and instructors, AKA also has a wealth of wrestling experience to draw from in the form of Mike Van Arsdale, Josh Koscheck, and yourself. How valuable has it been to learn from such high quality instruction?

(Fitch): It's great! Where I'm getting with my ground right now I can sit around with Dave (Camarillo) and other black belts and other purple belts and other people who do different things with technique. You get to share; I call it a jam session. Just like musicians would get together and just start banging notes and songs and whatever out. It's the same thing with jiu-jitsu and wrestling too when you get those wrestlers together. It's like... I would say I defend a single (leg takedown) like this, and Koscheck's like "Oh I do this a little different" and I'm like ok and we make little alterations. Different things help us do things better. Sometimes with takedowns you can't just hit straight takedowns, you have to set it up with strikes so we can help each other with what's working. Hey this works for me, I throw this combination right into this or whatever. So we help each other a lot with that. That's one of the reasons I'm very confident for this fight... I don't think this guy's going to have anywhere near Josh Koscheck's takedown ability. I mean, we're talking about a four time All-American, a National Champ. He would've been a two timer I think but he had neck surgery. I mean, that blows my mind about him. He had neck surgery and then he comes in just to the conference tournament, wins that, and then places third at the NCAA. That blows my mind. That's unbelievable dude. It usually takes guys months of pre-season wrestling just to get into that flow. That's pretty impressive.

( Another aspect of training is of course surrounding yourself with top quality sparring partners. Many fighters in the sport today point to this as being one of the key components for being successful in MMA. You are surrounded with fighters such as Paul Buentello, Mike Kyle, Josh Koscheck, Mike Swick, Bobby Southworth, Josh Thomson, Rich Crunkilton, Mike Van Arsdale, and Trevor Prangley. How beneficial is it to be able to train with so many Pride and UFC veterans?

(Fitch): It's unbelievable! I mean the competition you get. For my last fight... the last sparring session I had, I have it on video, I sparred four rounds: I did a round with Mike Swick, with Josh Koscheck, Josh Thomson, and Trevor Prangley. They each came in fresh on each round. Who am I going to fight that's going to have that skill and put that much pressure on me you know? You're not going to find that. It's an amazingly beneficial... and everyone brings something different to the table, different styles. You learn really quickly to protect yourself from uppercuts when you spar with Paul Buentello (laughing) and look at Paul's takedown defense right now and his ground... getting up and getting away right now. You won't get that (anywhere else). That's why a lot of guys get to the top level, get to the big show fast and then they kind of plateau and fade away. It's because their training doesn't change, they don't have the training partners to push them to get to another level. They might be good enough on their own or with the training partners or trainers they have to get there, but they don't have the people surrounding them to stay there.

( Not many people in the MMA world have had the opportunity to see you fight. Some of your career highlights include a TKO victory over long time veteran Shonie Carter in the Shooto USA organization, two classic submission grappling matches with Shooto standout Jake Shields where you went 1-1 against Shields, and most recently you won the MMA Mexico 8 man tournament. A tournament in which you beat highly regarded current WEC Middleweight Champion Alex Serdyukov in the finals. What was the most important thing you learned from those experiences and how do you feel this has helped you prepare for your upcoming fight?

(Fitch): Probably just the training. The Shonie fight, that was the first 8 week training period I had where I had a lot of guys helping me out. I had guys rotating in and out... a lot of times you split time because the most important fights get the most attention. Everybody who has fights gets attention, but Paul's getting a ton of attention because he's got a really big fight. He needs the guys helping him out to get there. So that was a good feeling and a good experience getting that kind of training. Feeling your body getting broken down to that last week and you're just like man I don't know if I can do this and then you get that recovery week and everything pops right back and you're on point and everything feels great. The grappling matches... the first time, I beat Jake Shields that was great, but I out pointed him. I was trying to earn rent money. I took him down, I got my rent check. The second time... he was able to get to my back and submit me because I was trying to be offensive. I was trying to pass his guard and I was looking for an armbar which was really sloppy and really stupid. It taught me a very valuable lesson that there are certain guys you can't make mistakes against, and he's one of them! You make a mistake and he gets to your back and you're in trouble. That's very valuable information for the future because he's young and he's going to be around a long time and there's a good chance we're going to fight again... which would be great. He's a good guy too, I like Jake Shields. The MMA Mexico tournament, that taught me never to fight a tournament again (laughing)! But that was a good experience, because I had mono when I fought that and I just had no energy going into any of the fights. I was trying to finish the fights as quickly as possible without expending too much energy. I wanted to put my guys away but I didn't want to get into a big flurry and completely drain myself. I think it also toughened my shins up a lot (laughing). If you watch the film on my web site (, I have the whole tournament on my web site. I threw a lot of leg kicks and checked a lot of kicks. I had lumps on my legs for I don't know how long, like six months after the fight. I still have some there. They've started going away, but I mean it was bad! I didn't even realize how tough Alex ended up being; he went on to submit (Mark) Weir. He's a tough kid.

( Well, he's the current WEC middleweight champion right?

(Fitch): Middleweight, yeah. It would have been nicer to let a lot more hands go in that tournament, but I was still getting used to standing and throwing.

( Is there anything else you would like to say in closing? (Sponsors, fans, family, etc.)

(Fitch): Well, I want people to check out and I want everyone to know that I will take on anyone at 170lbs. I'm not saying that I'm the best in the world at 170lbs yet, but I will be competitive with anyone and give them one hell of a battle.

( Is that where you want to stick around if the UFC extends your contract?

(Fitch): Yes. For a while. Once the skill level is at a high enough level then I want to move up in weight.

( Ok, speaking of 170 pounders, there is a huge fight coming up in Sean Sherk vs. Georges St. Pierre. I have to ask, who do you think will take that fight?

(Fitch): Wow! That's a really tough fight to call. St. Pierre is so well rounded. I didn't think he was really all that strong at first. You know seeing his first few fights and all, but after the way he man handled (Frank) Trigg! I also had the chance to stand right next to him and you always size people up when you're standing next to them. He is thick, just solid and he's a tough kid. And then you have Sherk. Sherk probably is the most well conditioned athlete in the sport today. He's also just so explosive. His body type is such that it's really hard to submit him. He's short and stocky and that makes it tough to get leverage on something or pull on a limb when it's so close to his body. St. Pierre might have the edge standing, but Sherk is so explosive that St. Pierre might risk getting taken down if he tries to stand. Pierre might hit Sherk, but Sherk can close the distance so fast. He (Sherk) has also got a chin. That fight is too close for me to call.

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