The last two years have not been easy on UFC welterweight Jon Fitch.
He's had more surgeries on his body than he's had fights, and the time off has been physically, mentally and financially very taxing. Despite having 16 fights in the UFC, Fitch fell on hard times over the last 12 months and it has taken its toll on his body, but mostly it has taken its toll on his bank account.
“It's awful and it goes back even further because last February 2011 I had shoulder surgery, so I fought in February and then I was out again until December. Then I fought once and I haven't fought since, it's awful. It's a terrible mental burden, terrible physical burden, terrible financial burden,” Fitch revealed when speaking to MMAWeekly Radio.
“We don't make millions of dollars as it is, but if you're not fighting, you're not getting paid, so things have been a little bit rough in the bank account.”
Looking back on his last fight against Johny Hendricks in December 2011, it almost seems like Fitch didn't even get a chance to compete. Hendricks caught him with a big punch early, and in only 12 seconds, Fitch was handed the second loss of his UFC career.
Fitch actually took the fight with an injury, but he's not making any excuses as to why he lost. He's not even saying he looks back on that fight with regret of any kind. He did exactly what he wanted to do when he fought Hendricks and that's all that matters to him.
“Honestly, there's zero bad taste from that fight because, at the end of the day, it was mission accomplished. I shouldn't have fought that night. I had no business fighting that night. I had a second degree MCL tear; my mind wasn't in the fight. The only reason I stepped through that cage door is because I needed the money,” said Fitch.
“I had a pregnant wife and two mortgages. If I didn't fight, I probably would have had to retire and get a day job. I did what I set out to do in that fight. I have no negative feelings towards that fight at all.”
Fitch is quick to point out that his financial burden isn't uncommon because like any job, when you're not working, you're not getting paid. The last two years, Fitch has fought twice and between the time off and all the medical costs, his bank account has seen better days.
Sixteen fights in the UFC, a load of seniority in the welterweight division and Twitter followers don't equate to money in the bank to pay the bills and Fitch has seen the ugly side of that a lot over the last 24 months.
“It can go away in a flash. We get paid okay money. It's not great money. We're not making NFL or NBA money; we're making okay money. But if you're not fighting, you don't get paid. So that okay money is gone and now you have (expletive) money,” said Fitch.
“If you're not finding a way to get in the cage, you're not getting paid.”
Luckily for Fitch, he has had the support of a couple of great sponsors that helped keep him afloat during these long stretches of inactivity, but as a whole, he knows the sponsorship market in MMA isn't exactly flourishing these days.
“Especially in this economy, sponsors aren't awesome right now,” Fitch stated. “I have some really good sponsors and they've really been helping me out. Without them, I probably would have had to get another job because money has been tight. It's just the environment we're in right now, we don't have sponsors throwing tons of money at us on monthlies because the economy just doesn't really allow that now.”
The rough waters have forced Fitch into a new mentality as he heads into his next bout, against Erick Silva at UFC 153 in Brazil. Of course, he'd love to work his way back into title contention and once again battle for the UFC welterweight gold, but he knows now that his priorities have to change.
He's got a wife at home and a new baby boy to worry about, and those are the important things in life.
“Priorities have changed and things I've had to accept. I think I was kind of just stubborn with wanting this sport to just be a sport kind of like an amateur sport. Well, it's not, it's an entertainment industry and at the end of the day, the people who get the opportunity are the people who sell tickets. It doesn't matter who you beat, it might matter how you beat them, but if people see you as boring and you don’t sell tickets, you're not going to get opportunities,” Fitch said.
“It doesn't matter how many times you win. It doesn't matter who you've beaten. All that matters is: do you put butts in the seat? With that acceptance and my priorities changing towards me needing to take care of my family, me needing to make money, you have to make those changes, you have to adapt and evolve into the system that's there.”
Facing a very tough challenge in Erick Silva in his home country of Brazil, Fitch is hoping to not only bring home a paycheck, but change a few fans' minds when it comes to his style of fighting.
“I know the kind of fireworks this fight can bring and that means dollar signs,” said Fitch. “So fireworks, fans loving it, that all equals dollar signs at the end of the day.”
Tune into Monday's edition of MMAWeekly Radio to hear the full interview with UFC 153 fighter Jon Fitch.