UFC and Jon Fitch: 5 Reasons Why the Jon Fitch Issue Is the Most Toxic in MMA

Matt Saccaro@@mattsaccaroContributor IIIJuly 22, 2011

UFC and Jon Fitch: 5 Reasons Why the Jon Fitch Issue Is the Most Toxic in MMA

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    UFC welterweight Jon Fitch has been the source of great controversy on MMA message boards and around the water cooler for quite some time. Why? His "grinding," decision-heavy style of fighting.

    Despite Fitch's unbelievable success in the UFC—he is 13-1-1 in the organization—he is harshly criticized and disliked by MMA fans across the Internet and snubbed by UFC president Dana White.

    In a recent interview, Fitch expressed that he's had enough; he is frustrated and angry at the current situation.

    How could a fighter that has been so successful fall into a situation like this? How has the issue of Jon Fitch become one of the most inflammatory and toxic in MMA?

    The answer lies in the fact that the story of Jon Fitch isn't predicated upon one issue but upon many issues that are actually some of the most divisive faced by MMA. What issues are these? Read and find out!

The "Lay and Pray" Issue

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    The issue of "lay and pray"—meaning a fighter just uses superior wrestling to smother an opponent without attempting to finish and "prays" for a decision victory—is one of the most heated in MMA.

    Many believe that Jon Fitch is the poster boy for lay and pray. These Fitch detractors cite the fact that Fitch hasn't finished a fight since June 2007 as proof.

    Many feel that Fitch's style is boring and don't want to pay to watch him fight.

    Fitch advocates, on the other hand, claim that Fitch does attempt to finish and that many of the opponents he has faced have hardly been finished in fights throughout their careers.

    They also claim that Fitch's style is the most dominant in the sport; how can the strikes of Muay Thai and the submissions of Brazilian jiu-jitsu be so incredible when they can be countered by a "hug" from Jon Fitch and other dominant wrestlers?

    So, the lay and pray issue isn't an easy one to solve, especially since there are actually three separate problems that are part of it. What are they? Read the next three slides.

The Rule Change Debate

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    When the people who are bored by fighters like Jon Fitch see what they call a "lay and pray fest," they begin to think about how to rid the sport of what they just saw. Their conclusion? Changes to the rules.

    Practically every major sports organization has had to make rule changes to make the product more exciting and fan friendly. Will the modern UFC be any different?

    There are several rule changes advocated by the anti-lay-and-pray faction which run the gamut from the inclusion of yellow cards given to fighters who are stalling to amending the rules to allow knees to the head of a grounded opponent, soccer kicks and more.

    Their point is that the current set of rules favors wrestlers above fighters from other disciplines, specifically striking.

    This dilemma is intertwined with another problem, as old as the modern UFC itself...

Pride vs UFC

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    It's difficult to believe, but the specter of the Pride vs. UFC debates of old still exist in modern MMA. How? Through issues like the one just discussed.

    The fans who find Fitch and other wrestlers boring often advocate the aforementioned rule changes because they were rules in the now defunct Pride organization. These fans feel that Pride rules did a better job of mimicking the circumstances of a real fight and just made a more entertaining fight overall.

    At one point in the interview provided on this slide, Nick Diaz provides a summary of why he thinks Pride was better and why the rules need to be changed (although it's worth noting he has historically had trouble fighting wrestlers).

    This debate once caused a great schism between all MMA fans and it appears as though it is causing another.

    There is still yet another problem interwoven with the "lay and pray" issue; see the next slide.

Fans Who Train vs Fans Who Don't

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    The most common rebuttal to people who think that Fitch is boring is that only someone who has trained in the grappling arts could comprehend the brilliance of Fitch's performances.

    This evokes resent from the fans who don't train; it splits the MMA community between fans who train and fans who don't.

    However, other major sports such as football don't have this issue. Why does MMA?

    Because one can't simply stroll into a professional team's training camp and request training in football. But there is nothing stopping people from going to the local MMA gym (which, for some lucky people, might be a gym where many professional fighters train and teach) and signing up.

    Only someone who has trained can understand the punishment that these fighters take and how difficult and energy-consuming it is to totally shut down and control an opponent when wrestling for an entire 15 minutes!

    (Hint: skip to 0:35 in the video to see me doing warm ups back in the days before getting hurt—I'm in a Voltron shirt and a knee pad. I do hope to get the problem fixed and return sometime in late 2011 or early 2012—not that anyone cares.)

Teammate vs Teammate/Friend vs Friend

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    While the issue of teammate fighting teammate isn't directly connected with the previous four, it is strongly connected to Jon Fitch because of his complete aversion to fighting fellow welterweight and American Kickboxing Academy member Josh Koscheck.

    The issue of "friend fighting friend" has likely given Dana White many a stomach ulcer since he has been for friends fighting each other for quite some time, though many fighters are still against it.

    While this problem isn't as controversial as the others listed, it makes Jon Fitch an enemy of Dana White—which isn't a good thing to be.

Conclusion

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    There is so much controversy around Jon Fitch because the problem that many feel he represents, "lay and pray," is actually interwoven with other unresolved problems of the sport.

    However, this is through no fault of Jon Fitch, who deserves the utmost respect from MMA fans for the simple fact that, if nothing else, he gets into the cage and fights.

    Unfortunately though, Fitch's image will likely always be tarnished due to the myriad of problems and debates that have been caused by fans reacting to him and his ilk.

    Can these issues and dilemmas ever be solved with a fanbase that is so virulently fickle? Only time will tell.

    As for Jon Fitch, all MMA fans can agree that a fighter who is 13-1-1 deserves more than what he has received thus far.

    Matt Saccaro is a Bleacher Report featured columnist and an avid MMA fan. For articles like the one above and for brilliant 140-character insights into MMA, follow him on Twitter @mattsaccaro.