It's widely debated whether or not MMA is a sport. Wikipedia describes a sport as, "an organized, competitive, and skillful physical activity requiring commitment and fair play." I would think that MMA falls under those guidelines. In most sports, generally, the idea is to win. It doesn't matter how you do it; just that you do it. This is not the case in MMA. In the UFC, Dana White has always said that he will be much more inclined to keep a guy who goes out and puts on a show than a guy who wins but does it in a "boring" way.That begs the question, what is boring?
In the eyes of most fans you need look no further than Jon Fitch. The American Kickboxing Academy product has been an absolute wrecking machine since debuting in the UFC in October of 2005. Using outstanding wrestling and a black belt in Guerrilla Jiu-Jitsu under the tutelage of Dave Camarillo, Fitch has amassed an unbelievable 12-1 record with the promotion. You would be hard pressed to find a guy with a more smothering top game. He is the epitome of grit, using determination, will and an iron chin to defeat nearly everyone that's been put in front of him. His one and only loss came at the hands of arguably the greatest fighter in the world in current Welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre. So what could possibly be wrong with Fitch? His perceived lack of ability to finish fights.
Of his 13 UFC fights, only 4 have avoided the judges scorecards. 3 submissions by rear naked choke over Josh Burkman, Luigi Fioravanti and Roan Carneiro and a TKO victory over Thiago Alves. Every other fight has gone to decision. Now, not every fight that goes to decision is a boring fight. Obviously, some of the most exciting fights in the history of the sport have gone the distance. We all remember Griffin vs Bonnar and Sung-Jung vs Garcia. We were all on the edges of our seats begging for more. The problem with Fitch is that no one is begging for more of him. In fact, he has the distinction of being the most successful fighter in UFC history with the least main event fights. 13 fights and only 1 main event.
Should Fitch trade excitement for excellence?That's a tricky question to answer. What Fitch is good at is the least popular aspect of martial arts. The casual fan does not appreciate the chess match that is happening when Fitch is working inside someone's guard. They would much rather watch two guys stand and bang it out in the hopes of seeing an exciting knockout. There's nothing wrong with that. But it leaves a fighter like Fitch with a tough decision to make. Does he try to give the fans what they want but risk getting beat in an area he lacks the necessary skills in or does he continue to work hard and hope to win the fans over with his propensity to (almost) never lose?
I can't speak for Fitch but when you have won as much as he has the level of competition does not drop off in any way. His next fight is the perfect example. He'll fight Thiago Alves at the upcoming UFC 117 event on August 7th in the co-main event of the evening. This will be a rematch of their 2006 fight that Fitch won by TKO. He knows that if he wins he will be undeniably close to another title shot considering that GSP is really short on challengers. It's possible that Josh Koscheck will hold the title come 2011 but Fitch has stated that he will move up to Middleweight if that were to happen.
In one respect he is in a good position. If he can beat Alves, no matter how he does it, the UFC will be hard pressed to find someone with a better resume than him at 170 pounds, even with the loss to GSP. At this point he can be as boring as he wants and win however he can and there isn't much the UFC can do about it. Eventually they will have to give him another shot at the title. On the other hand, the UFC does decide the matchups and they've always made it known that they enjoy a certain style of fighting. Even with a win Fitch isn't necessarily guaranteed anything. The Zuffa marketing machine is so good at promotion that they could push almost anyone as a legitimate threat; especially if St. Pierre is the champion.
Jake Shields and Martin Kampmann will be fighting at the gigantic UFC 121 card this October. The winner of that fight could get the next shot at the belt. In fact, that's what I expect. Do they deserve it more than Fitch? No. In fact, many would argue that Shields is a much more boring fighter. Whether they are right or wrong is irrelevant. Shields has never fought GSP and Fitch has. The nature of his defeat doesn't help him either. It's never a good thing to come out of a fight and the only thing good to say about your performance is the fact that you didn't get finished despite the beating you took.
All things considered, Fitch is fighting an uphill battle. He's one of the best Welterweight fighters in the world. Unfortunately one that not enough people want to watch. To me the win is what is important. Let other guys fight to be exciting.