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COLUMBUS, Ohio – Not since the primitive days of the Ultimate Fighting Championship had a fighter won eight matches in a row. That honor belonged to Hall of Famer Royce Gracie, who racked up eight straight in 1993 and 1994.
But now the legend has been joined in the record books by Jon Fitch. The Indiana native's unanimous decision victory over Chris Wilson was his eighth straight octagon victory, tying the UFC record.
"It's a huge honor to be considered along with a legend like Royce," said Fitch, who upped his career record to 16-2. "I don't go thinking about stuff like that while I'm training. All I ever say is I want the best matches people can give me. I'll fight anyone. I want tough opponents."
Since making his UFC debut in December 2005 with a unanimous decision win over Brock Larson, Fitch disposed of Josh Burkman (submission); Thialgo Alves (TKO); Kuniyoshi Hironaka (unanimous decision); Luigi Fiorvanti (submission); Roan Carneiro (submission) and Diego Sanchez (split decision) before Saturday's win.
"Look at some of the guys I've beat," he said. "Real tough guys like Luigi, you saw him tonight (a win over Luke Cummo) and Thialgo Alves. I haven't had many easy matches."
"I don't let myself think about things like title shots and records when I'm training," said the former captain of the Purdue University wrestling team. "You do that and it takes your mind off things. But afterwards, after you win, when you start thinking about being named along with a legend like Royce Gracie, it's pretty cool."
Despite being pushed to the limit by Wilson, a former IFL fighter making his UFC debut, Fitch feels he has earned his shot at the title. UFC president Dana White indicated Fitch was next in line for a title match after Georges St. Pierre fights Matt Serra next month.
"I had to go grind my way through; they were a lot of tough guys," Fitch said. "I earned my position. No one coddled me; no one gave me easy fights. I don't care how many people kiss my ass and tell me I'm great. It's about how I can sleep at night. I've grounded away, and I deserve a title shot."
Including matches outside the UFC, Fitch has won 15 fights in a row since a no-contest against Solomon Hutcherson in 2003.
Heath Herring sees a problem up ahead.
The fighter known as "The Texas Crazy Horse" is working his way back to the top of the heavyweight division. But he already has fought current interim titleholder Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira three times. And he lost all three.
"I don't know if America is looking for Herring-Noguiera 4," Nogueira said. "It's getting to be like a bad Rocky movie."
Still, after an impressive win over Cheick Kongo at UFC 82 Saturday night at Nationwide Arena, you can't help but wonder if the veteran fighter finally is about to live up to his potential.
"I've got a whole new team put together," said Herring, who turned 30 on Sunday. "I got my head out of my rear, and I decided to take my career seriously. I dropped about 15 pounds. I feel like a new fighter."
Herring did admit he was surprised by the way Kongo looked to take the fight to the ground.
"I didn't train a day on the ground," Herring said. "I need to go back and work on my wrestling. I thought it was all going to be in the standup. I thought, 'Is he trying to take me down? Dang.' "
But Herring managed to work his way out of predicaments on the ground time after time and turn the fight in his favor by using knees to Kongo's torso.
"I wish we could have used the knees to the head on the ground like we did in Japan, but the world changes and I have to adapt," Herring said. "Fortunately I had 10 years of experience to draw from.
"I want the fans to know when the Texas Crazy Horse is on the card, they're going to get $30 or $40 worth or whatever they're charging now."
Yushin Okami did not attend the postfight press conference, as he was in the hospital getting treated for a broken right hand after his knockout win over Evan Tanner. But White offered his opinion on the middleweight contender, who improved to 6-1 in the UFC.
"Yushin is one of those guys (who has) got a style that he sits back and waits a lot," White said. "He doesn't have an exciting style, but he wins fights. You used to see that with (Lyoto) Machida. Machida used to lay back and stay relaxed, and now that he's getting comfortable you're seeing him get more aggressive. I can see Okami ending up the same way."
Fitch was asked why UFC has been so successful in Ohio. UFC 68 did arena record business at Nationwide Arena in Columbus. UFC 77 sold out in Cincinnati, and Saturday night's event came up just short of a sellout.
"I'm from Fort Wayne, Indiana," Fitch said. "There's not a damn thing to do in the Midwest. There's a lot of blue collar people, hard-working people who grind away in their lives to take care of their families. They really respect combat sports; it gives them something to look forward to and talk about. I think you could break records, if you go to the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, we'll have 100,000 people there."