Over the course of his mixed martial arts career, Jon Fitch has seen it all. For the past five years, the Indiana native has been considered one of the world's top fighters at 170 pounds. He holds victories over some of the division's best, and on the strength of those performances, Fitch has loomed within striking distance of another title shot.
Unfortunately for the American Kickboxing Academy trained fighter, a series of injuries and a first-round loss to Johny Hendricks have threatened to push him out of the sport's upper tier.
But if there is one thing about Fitch you can pick up from his time in the Octagon, it is resilience. While he has spent his entire career testing the heart and spirit of the opposition, Fitch now finds himself under the microscope. He knows the first step in his rejuvenation begins with a victory over Erick Silva at UFC 153 because losing is simply not an option.
"Honestly it has to be," Fitch told Bleacher Report in regard to the next chapter of his career. "If this fight doesn't go the way I need it to, I'm kind of at a loss of what to do next. Losing fights is not paying the bills. It is not really an option for me to go out there and not perform well or not put on a good show. I'm really looking for the 'Fight of the Night' bonus. That is something which is really going to put some distance between me and financial problems.
"Fans are going to see a man who is highly motivated and a man who is driven to perform well. They are going to see a man who has to perform well, not just for himself, but for his family and career."
The saying in MMA is "styles make fights," and there a few better examples in contrasting styles than Fitch and Silva.
The young Brazilian brings a unique blend of speed, power and accuracy into the cage. During his three fights in the UFC, Silva has made short work inside the cage, as he's dispatched all three opponents in quick and dominant fashion. He has yet to make it out of the opening round under the UFC banner, and that is one of the areas Fitch will look to test the young prospect.
"My intention is to drop him into deep water," Fitch said. "He's a prospect, very explosive, with a lot of ability, but he hasn't been tested. In his career leading up to the UFC, he wasn't really tested. That can mislead a lot of people and the fighters themselves because fast knockouts or fast finishes over opponents who get finished and knocked out often could build a false sense of confidence."
When Fitch's grinding style of fighting is mentioned, criticism is sure to follow. Over his seven years on the sport's biggest stage, he has held the line as a perennial contender.
Despite carrying one of the highest winning percentages of any fighter in the organization, a lengthy run of decision victories and a wrestling-heavy attack have put Fitch on the defensive where fans are concerned.
The ideology of being a better fighter who can impose his will on the opposition at anytime is something which drives a wedge between the sport's fanbase, and Fitch believes it is a point the fans miss.
"I think that concept is a little bit lost in MMA today," Fitch said. "On top of that, I believe I receive unfair criticism. If you look at the guys I've fought and the fighters I've been matched up against, they are not people who get finished often or ever. I think that is lost on a lot of people. Take a guy like Mike Pierce who has never been finished. A guy like Akihiro Gono, who at the time I fought him, had been finished four times in a 15-year career. He's fought guys like Dan Henderson. He's fought multiple times against opponents several weight classes past his size. The list goes on with a lot of the guys I've fought.
"I still don't get credit for great performances against really tough guys who are very tough to finish. I think people are kind of superficial with their fandom in this sport. Sometimes I think they are more impressed with somebody beating up an opponent who isn't that good in quick fashion rather than a drawn out battle between two guys who are top tier and very good at what they do. If you are a better fighter than me, then you are going to be able to stop what I'm trying to do and be able to take advantage of whatever holes in my game you find."
When he steps into the Octagon Saturday night in Rio de Janeiro, Fitch will be a man at a distinct crossroads of his life and career. The 34-year-old is fully aware of everything teetering on the line and knows only one result will suffice.
This is a case of the savvy veteran versus the dynamic young prospect, and Fitch intends to prove the time for a change in positions has not yet come.
He will square off against Silva in the Brazilian's home country and rather than allow the pressure of the situation to set in, Fitch believes he will harness the energy of the spirited crowd in Rio.
"It is something I think I'm going to be able to feed off of," Fitch said about fighting in Brazil. "I love it when the crowd is excited, screaming and going nuts. It is something I missed and really didn't have in a wrestling background. When I played football in high school, it was there, but not when it came to wrestling. We had a very good team and performed well, but the crowds weren't there going crazy.
"Being able to to be in that type of environment with that type of crowd creates a lot of energy to feed off of and I'm looking forward to it."