What do Jon Fitch, Chael Sonnen, Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard all have in common? Decision victories.
It doesn't seem to bother fans that Sonnen doesn't finish his fights. He's a fan favourite. Sonnen is such a hit that Dana White was willing to give him a rematch for the title fight that he decisively lost and then failed a drug test for. That is answering to the fans.
Edgar and Maynard have both taken heat from the fans for all of their decision wins. They knew going into their title fight that the fans were groaning over their matchup. But at UFC 125, Edgar and Maynard went a long way towards rehabilitating their reputations.
Edgar and Maynard answered the critics with their epic battle.
Then there's Jon Fitch.
Every time Fitch fights, Dana hears it from the fans.
Fitch is one of the best fighters in the world. He is 22-1-1 in his last 24 fights. Fitch has only one career loss in his 15 fights in the UFC, and it was to Georges St. Pierre, one of the best fighters ever. Without question Jon Fitch is an elite fighter.
Fitch's base is wrestling. With his size and strength he is able to overwhelm his opponents. He is relentless and almost impossible to stop.
Fitch has a ton of heart. He trains hard and he fights hard. No one can argue otherwise. But for some reason all of this has not translated into popularity in the cage for him.
Like all pro sports, MMA is a business. For a business to succeed it must understand its market. Dana White understands the MMA market. That's why Sonnen was going to get the rematch against Anderson Silva before the money laundering charges forced Sonnen's suspension—because the fans wanted that rematch.
What the fans do not want is to see Jon Fitch fight for the belt, and that's why he hasn't been given another shot.
This is why the BJ Penn fight was so huge for Fitch. It was the biggest fight outside of a title fight, and Fitch blew a major opportunity. With a dominating win over Penn, Fitch could have made a statement.
Fitch knew this going into his fight at UFC 127.
For many people Jon Fitch's career-defining moment is his survival of the monumental beating he took from St. Pierre during his only title shot at UFC 87. This is why Fitch needed to fight the fight of his life in his bout with Penn.
If Fitch could have done what Edgar and Maynard did in their last fight, if he could have done what Diego Sanchez did against Martin Kampmann at the recent UFC on Versus 3, if he could have made the fans believe that he left everything in the cage, it would have gone a long way towards rehabilitating his reputation.
Fitch had an opportunity at UFC 127 to deliver a hero-making performance, but he needed to answer his critics by doing something remarkable, by doing something that convinced the fans he was ready. If Fitch had dominated Penn, sending him into the retirement that he's always talking about, Fitch would have forced Dana's hand.
But he didn't. It was a missed opportunity, and it justifies Dana not giving Fitch a shot.
Because if he had left no doubt in the fans' minds that he deserved a shot at the title, there wouldn't be any doubt in Dana's mind either.