Jon Fitch has lost just once in the UFC, but always seems to find himself in a frustrating position in the UFC welterweight division. It happened again Saturday night at UFC 127 in Sydney, Australia. The highly-rated contender at 170 pounds mauled B.J. Penn in the final round but the fight was scored 28-28 on two judges' scorecoards, resulting in an unfulfiling majority draw at Acer Arena. Fitch was a 29-28 winner on the third scorecard.
UFC analyst Joe Rogan asked Fitch if he won the fight:
"I thought so," Fitch said. "I gave up some positioning in the first and second round, but I finished out on top and did some damage of my own. I think I did enough at least to win a split decision."
The "decision" has been the unfortunate story of Fitch's UFC career, but this one was tough to swallow. Fitch crushed Penn in the final round. He got the Hawaiian down for good with 3:39 left and pummeled him with punches, hammerfists and elbows. According to FightMetric, the final strike count in round three was an amazing 149-2. Compustrike said it was 134-0 and the final two rounds were 191-15.
Fitch is now an impressive 13-1-1 with the promotion, but his grinding style has turned off some fans, and UFC management has been reluctant to throw Fitch back in the Octagon with champion Georges St. Pierre. GSP dominated Fitch in a decision victory back at UFC 87.
"I want the title more than anything," Fitch said. "At the end of the day, we don’t make the decision, the guys in the suits do and the fans do."
Things get interesting in April when GSP defends his title against Jake Shields at UFC 129. If he wins the fight, he plans on leaving the division and relinquishing his title to challenge Anderson Silva for 185-pound belt. That would essentially force the hand of the UFC.
There's no way, even with this draw, to justify not putting Fitch (23-3-1, 13-1-1 UFC) into an interim title fight, should St. Pierre vacate the title. The only alternative would be some sort of mini-tournament at 170 pounds, something the UFC has never put together since Zuffa took over the company back in 2001.
Penn (16-7-2, 12-6-2 UFC) didn't exactly sell the fans on the fact that the fight was a draw. He openly admitted in the Octagon that he didn't think he'd done enough to get the decision.
"I think I got some dominant positions in the first and second, but he kicked my butt in the third," said Penn.
Penn said he was open to a rematch.
"I guess I wasn't really sure what I would do with my career if I lost the fight," Penn said. "Since the gods were nice to me and gave me a draw, if he wants to do it again, I'll do it again."
Fitch echoed the sentiment, but also expressed some frustration with his position in the division.
"I'm down for whatever. I'm here to fight. If my 13 wins in the UFC isn’t enough to already put me in the spot for a title shot, I'm willing to prove myself more," said Fitch.
Fitch gave Penn credit for confusing him in the first two rounds. Penn, the smaller fighter with better boxing, was expected to try to keep the fight standing. Instead, he charged forward at the start of the fight and tried to outgrapple the wrestler.
"It just threw me off," said Fitch. "I didn’t train at all for B.J. shooting takedowns. I did zero defensive wrestling this whole camp."
Penn scored takedowns in the first and second, that he turned into threats for a rear-naked choke. Fitch did a great job of defending against the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt. In both cases, he fought off Penn and spun into a dominant position. That said, heading to the final 75 seconds of the second round, he was probably headed for a 2-0 deficit. After the second round escape, he capitalized on the top control by pounding away at Penn. Fitch set the tone for the final round and on the Cagewriter scorecard, stole back the second to even the fight.
"I was looking for him to come out, counterbox and counterwrestle," Fitch said. "I wasn’t expecting that at all. It was a great gameplan. It took me until the second round to really catch my groove."
The third round was an absolute blowout. A tired Penn made a terrible tactical error, swinging wildly at Fitch and attempting a flying knee. Fitch took him down easily and pounded away at Penn. The Hawaiian got back to his feet a minute later, but was taken down two more times. That last time spelled doom for Penn, who just couldn't contend with Fitch's size anymore.
This writer scored it 29-27 for Fitch, as did Adam Hill from the Las Vegas Review-Journal. FightMetric also gave it to Fitch 29-27.
- Jon Fitch