MMA is supposed to be a solo sport, right?
Well, that’s not entirely the case for welterweight contender Jon Fitch.
While he does go into the octagon and win his fights on his own, mixed martial arts means much more than individual accomplishments.
To fully identify with the mindset of Jon Fitch you have to understand the importance of his training camp, American Kickboxing Academy, and his fellow welterweight teammates Josh Koscheck and Mick Swick.
Their UFC path was supposed to commence on the first season of the hit reality show The Ultimate Fighter. It was a path that quickly diverged before ultimately coming back together.
Koscheck and Swick were both contestants on the first season. Fitch was supposed to be there right alongside them, but he got cut from the reality show at the last minute. He explained what happened in our recent interview.
“I had been through the whole process. I had quit my job. I told all my family and friends that I was going to be on the show. I was at the airport waiting to board the plane when the producer called me and told me not to get on the plane. He apologized and said that they didn’t have room for me, that they were reformatting the show.”
Fitch was forced to sit on the sidelines and watch as Josh Koscheck lost to Diego Sanchez in the middleweight semifinals and Mike Swick lost to Stephan Bonnar in the light heavyweight semifinals. Despite the losses, the road was far from over for this talented trio of fighters.
Fitch would go on to win his UFC debut in October of 2005, just six months after Koscheck and Swick won their respective UFC debuts on The Ultimate Fighter season finale. Fast forward to today and Fitch, Koscheck, and Swick are all top 10 fighters in the welterweight division.
For Fitch, their success is tied to the team mentality at American Kickboxing Academy.
“I think we have a good mindset and atmosphere at A.K.A. We really strive to be martial artists and not just fighters trying to make a buck or make a name for ourselves. We really try to focus on bettering ourselves, making ourselves the best athletes and fighters we can be. It’s not just about the end-all, be-all of getting paid or becoming famous."
That team mentality seems to be paying off big dividends for all three fighters as their individual accomplishments inside the octagon are impressive to say the least.
“This fight with Paulo Thiago at UFC 100, I win this fight and it’s my tenth victory inside the octagon. Koscheck has ten wins and Swick just picked up his ninth win. Not everyone is able to win that many fights inside the UFC. In terms of total wins we are all right there with some of the biggest names in the sport. We are proud of what we've accomplished as a team.”
For the teammates, it would seem inevitable that at some point they will have to fight each other, given all three are in the top of their division.
What will happen when two of them were asked to face off for a title fight? For Jon Fitch, it’s simply not an option.
“I don’t see even that being a factor for us to fight each other. There is no point in tearing down what we’ve built up as a team over the past seven years for one fight. Who trains with what training partners, who gets to train with what trainers, who gets to use the gym at what time?
And after that fight, who is to say everything goes back to normal afterwards. The reason why were all ranked as high as we are, it’s because our team functions the way it does. I think if we were to damage our team and our team we would all suffer as fighters.”
That team sentiment will be put to the test soon enough as Fitch and Swick are the fighters at the front of the line for a title shot against the Georges St. Pierre-Thiago Alves winner at UFC 100.
Fitch says the one who deserves a title shot first is not up to any of them.
“The bottom line is we aren’t the ones who get to pick who fights for the title. That’s the job of the UFC. You never know who they are going to think is deserving of a title shot.
"They are in the business of selling fights and making money so all we can do is perform to the best of our ability and keep knocking off top fighters to keep ourselves in a position where the UFC can’t ignore our dominance and our ability to challenge for that title."
Fitch was staunch in his answer when pressed if he would take the title shot over one of his teammates, if given the opportunity.
“I have never turned down a fight and to turn down a title fight would be insanity. My teammates wouldn’t hold that against me, no one would doubt it for a second. Everybody would understand and respect that decision. You can’t ever turn down a title shot. No one would ever expect anyone else to turn down a title shot.
"To be honest, I wouldn’t have a problem if Alves wins his fight at UFC 100 and the UFC goes to Josh Koscheck and says, ‘you know what, we think it would be a great rematch between you guys’ and they give him the title shot. I wouldn’t blame Josh for agreeing to take that fight.
"And that’s just an example. Both Koscheck and Swick are my teammates so whoever they give a shot to, I can’t argue it because they work hard and deserve it. I will help them as much as I possibly can to get that belt, even if it’s before me."
The truest reflection of Fitch as a teammate came when he discussed the scenario of one of his teammates holding the belt for an extended period of time.
“If it came down to a point where one of them held onto the title for six or seven fights and it didn’t look like they were going anywhere, it would be a consideration for me to move up in weight class.
"I would move up to middleweight before fighting Swick or Koscheck for the title.
"What it comes down to for me is that I will benefit more as a martial artist training with Swick and Koscheck as teammates then I would if we were to split up. As a fighter, I become better by sticking with my training partners.”
Despite being the consummate teammate, don’t doubt for a second that Fitch still has his own goals in mind. While Fitch does not make predictions on fights, he does know what he wants to happen.
“I am hoping GSP wins his fight with Alves and in 2010 I will be able to get a rematch with him for the belt. The next time I get a shot at GSP it will be a much different fight. First things first though, I have to get through Paul Thiago at UFC 100.”
Whether Jon Fitch is fighting for the title, or one of his teammates, expect the three partners to stick together through thick and thin, redefining what it means to be an MMA teammate in the process.