John Fitch

Height: 6 (183 cm)

Weight: 170 lb (93 kg)

Division: Welterweight (170bs)

Hometown: Ft Wayne – Indiana

Professional Record: 15-2-1 (Win – Loss – Draw)

Biggest Win: Defeated Diego Sanchez at UFC 76.

 

John Fitch is feeling relatively carefree. On this autumn afternoon, the 29-year-old is driving to Friant, California. Although he keeps both eyes on the road while cruising down Pacheco Pass Highway, he spends a considerable amount of time talking on a call phone that occasionally loses reception.

 

Two and a half hours later, the powerful welterweight stops chatting on his mobile device and pulls into the parking lot of Table Mountain Casino. He’s about to walk into the venue and help some of the fighters from his team, American Kickboxing Academy (AKA), strategize for their matches at tonight’s event, Melee on the Mountain.


While Fitch enjoys helping the younger guys develop their skills, he is also excited about the direction of his career. The Fort Wayne, Indiana-bred mixed martial artist is currently riding a fourteen fight winning streak. At UFC 76: Knockout, he earned his sweetest victory, by defeating the ultra popular Diego Sanchez via split decision. As a result, he emerged as one of the top five welterweights in the world. But despite his recent accolades, he has still needed a second job to support himself.

 

Fortunately, he is getting mainstream exposure. Up until recently, Fitch has barely received any airtime. Although he has been with the Ultimate Fighting Championship since 2005, it took nearly two years before one of his matches was promoted for a live television event. But that hasn’t stressed Fitch out.

 

“I don’t think of it as a big personal thing, because as long as I’m getting the fights I want and being paid, I’m happy. But it does bother me to see some guys get more TV time and being pushed more, because there are a lot of guys who fight hard and been through a lot of tough fights that don’t get much respect,” he says. “I think you should market a guy according to skill level, not according to marketability and how popular you are. I have a general dislike for how they do that, but they’re just trying to make money. Whatever. They’re paying me, so I’m fine with it.”

 

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Once Fitch graduated Carroll High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana, he opted to stay close to home and walked-on to the Purdue wrestling team as a freshman in 1997. The spirited warrior spent the next five years there under the tutelage of assistant coach Tom Erikson. By his senior year, he was chosen by his teammates as a co-captain, along with two-time All-American Jake Vercelli. He graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Physical Education in 2002, and he was one of three student athletes to receive the Red Mackey Scholarship, which allowed him to attend graduate school for a full year.

 

Although his collegiate wrestling days were over, he continued helping out the squad, and as a result became attracted to mixed martial arts. Coach Erikson competed in PRIDE and served as a direct influence. Also, Gary Goodridge and Mark Coleman stopped at Purdue from time to time to train. After Fitch heard about MMA’s lucrative paydays and prime competitiveness, he decided to give it a shot. “I thought this could be a fun thing to do, and I could make some money doing it,” he recalls.

 

“I thought I could try it for a little while instead of starting to teach right away.”

 

While Fitch attended grad school, his professional fighting career launched in 2002. But his first few fights didn’t go as planned, leaving him with one win, two losses, and a no contest. Not the best start. Though the former Purdue wrestling captain could’ve called it quits and begun a profession in teaching, he didn’t let the vibe bother him too much. “You’re discouraged on a daily basis,” he admits. “But luckily with discouragement, you got encouragement too. So it balanced everything out.”

 

Once he finished his final exams in May 2003, Fitch relocated to San Jose, California to train with the elite camp at AKA. He meshed well with the team, and vastly improved his skills in every area including striking, Jiu-Jitsu, and even wrestling.

 

Though he had started his impressive winning streak, Fitch wasn’t yet getting the paydays he once imagined. To keep his income fl owing, he needed a side gig. “I worked four nights a week at a bar and spent a couple years bouncing. Then eventually, I got a bartending job,” he explains. “Being the bartender is way better. You have a barrier between you and the drunk people for one. If anything happens, you don’t have to do anything about it. You just pour drinks and make money. The biggest thing is the money thing, because you make more money for doing less work, and you get plenty more time to sleep, rest, and train.” In 2004, it looked as if Fitch was about to stop mixing drinks for random partygoers. When the UFC was recruiting mixed martial artists to partake in their premiere reality competition The Ultimate Fighter, his manager and trainer Bob Cook urged several athletes from AKA to record audition tapes.

 

The organization seemed highly interested in the former Purdue standout. And it looked as if he would join the show. But while he was sitting at the airport, he received some disturbing news. “I only had ten or fifteen minutes left to board, and they called me and told me not to get on the plane,” he recalls. “So I had to get people to get my bags off the plane and everything.”

 

Once he retrieved his luggage, it was back to San Jose and working as a barback. Despite the discouragement, he moved forward and in October 2005, he was offered a fight against Brock Larson. Fortunately, Fitch made the most of the opportunity as he ground out a hard-earned decision.

 

The hard part was over. Fitch got the attention of the UFC brass, and all he had to do was keep it. He steamrolled through his next opponents, including Josh Burkman, Thiago Alves, Kuniyoshi Hironaka, and Luigi Fioravanti. Although none of those bouts were televised, he had a nice surprise awaiting him in June when he took on Jiu- Jitsu wiz Roan Carneiro. The fight occurred during the televised portion of Ultimate Fight Night 10. It was a tough test, but Fitch submitted the black belt with a rear naked choke in the second round.

 

Not only was Fitch climbing the ladder in the UFC, but was becoming ranked as a top ten welterweight. The paydays still weren’t good enough for him to leave his job, although he worked only two nights a week. But on September 22 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California, the Fort Wayne warrior defeated Diego Sanchez via split decision in an electrifying showing.

 

That night, Fitch transformed into a 170-pound threat in the eyes of the mainstream audience and it changed his life. “After the Diego fight,” he says, “I finally stopped washing dishes.”

 

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As Fitch entered the Table Mountain Casino in Friant, California, he reflected on the past couple of months. Though most of his fights in the UFC have been on the under card, he has secured main slots on the televised portion of events and has taken advantage of those crucial opportunities. Now, Zuffa is promoting Fitch more than ever. “They’re starting to push a lot more. They’re putting me on a lot more TV stuff. A lot of my fights are playing on Unleashed and on UFC Wired,” he casually mentions. “They’re pushing me now. So no worries.”

 

Though Fitch would love to walk around with the UFC Welterweight belt around his waist in the near future, he acknowledges that the championship opportunity won’t happen for a while. In the meantime, he is planning to fight sometime this winter and is looking to tighten up his game.

 

“A lot of people have huge glossy goals they write down or put up on the wall. I think that’s too general and too big. I’m more concerned about the daily development of my skill set,” he explains. “I make it small and basic, so that way, it’s easier to beat the goals, stay positive and makes it more fun. The big goals end up taking care of themselves if you do all the small things.”

 

That’s the carefree attitude kicking in.

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