For the better part of the past decade, Jon Fitch has been heralded as one of the top welterweights in mixed martial arts.
The former wrestling standout from Purdue University worked his way up from the lower rungs of a stacked 170-pound weight class to become a perennial contender in the UFC fold. Unfortunately for the AKA staple, a lengthy layoff due to injury and a rough skid where Fitch dropped two of his last three bouts pushed the 35-year-old further from title contention than he'd been in years.
Adding insult to injury, following his loss to Demian Maia at UFC 156 back in February, Fitch was released from the promotion despite carrying a 14-3-1 record over his time with the company.
Nevertheless, it didn't take long for the Ft. Wayne native to find a new home with World Series of Fighting, and Fitch will begin the next chapter of his career on June 14 when he squares off with veteran Josh Burkman at WSOF 3.
For Fitch, the new endeavor will provide new opportunities, and he's looking forward to proving he's still one of the best 170-pound fighters on the planet.
"I'm going to show everybody what I'm capable of," Fitch told Bleacher Report. "And I'm going to show everybody what I'm capable of with support behind me. It's going to be really nice to fight for an organization that is pushing and promoting me instead of trying to hold me back and put me down.
"There wasn't a fight I went into where I didn't feel as if I was fighting for my job. If I didn't win I was going to be fired. Every fight I had before was not just a fight against the guy in front of me but a fight against the people putting on the show.
"I'm really excited," he added in regard to fighting at WSOF 3. "I only have a couple more weeks of training then I take off for Las Vegas. I can't wait to get started in this new promotion and be on free TV with NBC Sports network. I think it's a big opportunity and I can't wait for it."
The upstart promotion made headlines around the MMA community when it signed Fitch back in March, and he's eager to get the next chapter of his career under way. His first challenge will come against a resurgent welterweight in Burkman.
"The People's Warrior" has won both of his showings under the WSOF banner and collected victories in seven of his last eight bouts. While Fitch was victorious in their first meeting back in 2006, he's not relying on history or memory for the upcoming tilt. Fitch knows the 32-year-old Utah native has evolved as a fighter since their initial clash and is looking at Burkman as a new challenge.
"I can't really view this as a rematch because there has been so much time between the two fights," Fitch said. "I'm looking at him as a new opponent. He's switched his stance and changed a lot of things. I'm looking at him as a brand-new opponent and I'm excited for this opportunity."
Following his win over Aaron Simpson at WSOF 2, rather than use his post-fight interview to hype a future bout with Fitch, Burkman suggested the San Jose-based fighter needed to get in line to fight him. While the commentary created a bit of confusion around the MMA community, Fitch understood his upcoming opponent's point of view.
"I think he was trying to say that I shouldn't get a title shot for my first fight," Fitch said. "There were a lot of people talking that I was going to walk in and fight for the title in my first fight. I can understand where he's coming from with that because he has two wins for World Series and could certainly make a case for himself that he deserved it. He's put in the time and the work. But I don't think they are going to be bringing in any belts until their fifth or sixth show or something like that.
"I've put in the work and I could see myself fighting for a title with this organization very soon. But I also understand it's a very young organization and it doesn't have very many depths where fighters have had multiple fights competing for that organization for people to get behind. That makes it kind of hard to introduce belts that early.
"I'm hoping the next fight will be a title shot. Obviously, I'd make more money but I understand what they are doing with the organization. I think they made the right call."
With the the next chapter of his career rapidly approaching, Fitch will be looking to shake off the troubles of the past two years and put his unique brand of the grind back at the forefront of mixed martial arts.
It was grit and heart that brought him to the pinnacle of the sport, and it will take more of the same to begin on his new journey. That being said, without the stresses and concerns he once carried, Fitch is certain he will put his best on display at WSOF 3.
"People can expect to see the best of Jon Fitch," he said. "No filters. No worries other than the fight in front of me and I think that is going to bring out the best Jon Fitch you've seen."
Duane Finley is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.