Purgatory: A timeless place between worlds where restless souls hang in limbo.
We see the concept pop up across most major religions, in endless philosophical debates, in many creative or artistic works and in particularly acid-trippy episodes of Lost (always the best kind).
I imagine Jon Fitch could tell you a little something about being stuck in limbo.
That’s because since time immemorial, since the earth first cooled and the stars in the cosmos first took their shape, Jon Fitch has been the No. 1 contender in the UFC welterweight division.
Like Sisyphus, pushing his boulder up a hill for all eternity, Fitch seems doomed to an eternity of futile toil.
Ok, so that’s an exaggeration, but the fundemental point is not.
Fitch has been spinning his wheels in the 170 lbs division since 2005, winning plenty of fights, but not many fans—and only one title shot.
As a case study, Fitch is fascinating.
Though great strides have been made of late, the UFC still toes a thin line between popcorn entertainment and legitimate sport. Fitch’s career is one of the casualties of that shotgun marriage.
Let’s crunch the numbers for a moment.
Fitch is 23-3-1 as a professional. He has gone 13-1 in the UFC—one of the longest overall winning streaks in UFC history. That’s as many wins as Anderson Silva, for those keeping score at home.
He holds wins over Thiago Alves (x2), Paulo Thiago, Akihiro Gono, Diego Sanchez and Josh Burkman.
He is, in a word, elite.
And yet, here he sits in the sixth year of his UFC career still outside the title picture, still spinning his wheels uncertainly, still in limbo.
Well first, there’s that lone UFC loss.
That loss came in his one and only title fight, at the hands of GSP. And the feet of GSP. And the elbows of GSP. And the knees, as well. I’m pretty sure GSP backhanded him in that fight, also.
In short, if there was a solid surface on the Canadian’s body, he whacked Fitch in the face with it at some point that night.
Now, there’s no shame in losing to GSP, who hasn’t at welterweight. However, it was the manner in which he lost.
Five rounds of perhaps the most one-sided beating ever witnessed in MMA. After the fight, Fitch looked like someone had backed a Buick over his face.
Hell, I bet he wished someone had backed a Buick over his face—at least it would only have lasted a couple seconds that way.
That loss haunts Fitch’s legacy.
Over the course of that fight, it was made very obvious that there was nothing Fitch did that GSP didn’t do better. And even though its been nearly three years and five fights since Fitch last fought GSP—most people don’t give the AKA product much of a chance in a rematch.
The second problem is the manner in which he wins his fights.
He uses his wrestling, control, tenacity and pure gritty toughness to wear his opponents out, sap their will and shut down their offense.
The number of high-level guys Fitch has done this too is nothing short of amazing.
In a word, Fitch is a grinder, pure and simple.
In other words, he’s boring.
Now, let me state for the record that I don’t find anything boring about Fitch’s style— just like I don’t find anything boring about dumping the puck on a power play, an easy base hit or short passes up the middle to move the chains.
MMA is a sport, and all sports involve strategy.
Strategy is about winning first, and sometimes that can be less then exciting. Just the reality of sports, people.
What that usually means—what it will likely mean for most casual fans—is the winner of this fight is getting a rematch with Georges St. Pierre.
After all, Fitch’s last fight was a title eliminator.
So was the one before that. I’m starting to sense a pattern here.
Besides, GSP (so we’re told) is one fight away from leaving welterweight for the greener, beefier pastures of 185.
Where does that leave Fitch? Same place as always—kinda, sorta, maybe gonna get a title shot at some point, probably.
The only thing that can save Fitch from purgatory might be actually finishing a fight—or deciding he wants to talk over those likeness rights again.