Typically, the UFC’s regular announcement of fighters it has released from its roster is not met with much surprise. In the vast majority of cases, the names on any given cut list are ones belonging to fighters who are, at best, middle-of-the-UFC-pack talent and, without exception, coming off a loss. The most recent list of fighters whose time in the UFC has come to an end was similar to the ones that preceded it, containing names like Che Mills (who lost to Matthew Riddle on Feb. 16), Jay Hieron (loser of two straight UFC bouts) and Josh Grispi (0-4 in his UFC career). There was, however, one fighter among the group whose release has been met with confusion and frustration. That fighter is former UFC welterweight title challenger Jon Fitch.

Fitch has gone 14-3-1 since debuting in the UFC in Oct. 2005. He won his first eight UFC fights, including victories over the then-highly regarded Thiago Alves and Diego Sanchez, and earned the reputation as a tough grinder who used his superior wrestling to maintain control and beat up his opponents. It wasn’t until he was decimated by UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre in his lone title shot that he looked less than completely dangerous.

After the loss to GSP, however, Fitch didn’t slow down one bit, racking up another five straight wins and maintaining his position as the consensus second-best welterweight in the sport. Since 2011, though, things have not gone so well for Fitch.

First, he fought to a majority draw with B.J. Penn at UFC 127 in what was supposed to be a welterweight title eliminator. The two were slated to have a rematch a few months later, but Fitch was forced to withdraw due to a shoulder injury. He would return at the very end of 2011, but would be rudely welcomed back to the Octagon by Johny Hendricks, who knocked Fitch out in just 12 seconds. Fitch would rebound with a “Fight of the Night” victory over Erick Silva, but would again suffer a loss in his next (and most recent) fight to Demian Maia. In that defeat, Maia controlled the action for the duration of the fight, much of which was spent on the mat. The inability to generate any offense from the ground must have been especially frustrating for Fitch, who has long been considered one of the division’s best grapplers.

So there Fitch sat, coming off a loss against another of his division’s elite, not entirely removed from the welterweight title picture but not entirely included in it either. He’s currently ranked fourth in The MMA Corner’s welterweight top 10, but found himself bereft of an opponent since most of the other fighters sharing the upper echelon at 170 are otherwise occupied. St-Pierre (1) fights Nick Diaz (6) at UFC 158, an event that will also feature Hendricks (2) vs. Carlos Condit (3) and Jake Ellenberger (9) vs. former Strikeforce welterweight champ Nate Marquardt. The other fighters who remain in the top 10 as possible opponents for Fitch are Rory MacDonald (5), who is on the shelf with an injury, Josh Koscheck (7), Fitch’s friend and former training partner who fights Robbie Lawler on Saturday, and Ben Askren (8), who is not employed by the UFC. This leaves Martin Kampmann (10) as the only top-10 welterweight available to fight Fitch. This wouldn’t be the worst fight in the world, but it’s certainly not a match-up for which MMA fans are clamoring.

In other words, Fitch has, in the eyes of the UFC, exhausted his ability to be a draw for fans based on potential match-ups alone. He’s obviously on the outside looking in of the de facto welterweight title tournament being staged at UFC 158, and would therefore require at least two more wins over fellow top-10ers to even be considered for a second shot at GSP’s belt. Wins over lesser fighters would prolong his UFC tenure, but that’s about it. To put it yet another way, Fitch is overqualified to fight welterweights outside of the top 10, but his ability to compete against his fellow 170-pound elites has recently come into question. With no logical move to make, it seems the UFC simply decided to cut him.

It likely wasn’t just the lack of opposition that led to Fitch’s release. In fact, there are at least three other factors that could have also compelled the UFC to part ways with the revered welterweight.

Foremost among these is the matter of Fitch’s pay. In each of his last three fights, Fitch earned between $60,000 and $66,000 just to show. His win at UFC 153 netted him another $60,000, as well as an additional $70,000 that came with winning “Fight of the Night.” This certainly isn’t the highest salary among UFC fighters, but when compared to recent paydays for fellow contenders Rory McDonald ($21,000 to show at UFC on Fox: Henderson vs. Diaz) and Johny Hendricks ($26,000 to show at UFC 154), it seems fairly steep. This is especially true when one considers the fact that Fitch, at age 34 and with a 1-2-1 record in his last four fights, has probably entered the past-his-prime portion of his career, as perhaps evidenced by his recent loss to Maia. Who knows if the UFC first offered to re-structure Fitch’s contract before releasing him. Either way, his comparatively more expensive contract, particularly in light of his recent performances, probably played a role in his ouster.

Another criticism Fitch has faced over the years concerns his fighting style. Of his 14 UFC wins, 10 have come by decision, only one of which—his recent victory over Silva—earned post-fight honors. Mostly, Fitch has preferred to drag his opponents to the mat, maintain control and do whatever damage he can for the length of the fight with the apparent goal of winning on the judges’ scorecards. It’s been a successful strategy (again, 14 UFC wins to just three losses) but has never been confused for one that markets a fighter as exciting to watch. Much is made of the promotion’s sometimes heavy-handed insistence on not only winning, but winning in television-friendly fashion, and perhaps Fitch’s release is a direct reflection of that philosophy.

Finally, there’s the little matter of Jon Fitch’s 2008 run-in with UFC officials over including his name and likeness in the UFC’s products. The dispute actually led to Fitch’s brief release (along with at least one other American Kickboxing Academy fighter) before the situation was resolved shortly thereafter. While this incident from more than four years ago is likely looked at as water under the bridge by UFC executives, it nevertheless put Fitch in the promotion’s proverbial dog house. Is this years-old disagreement a primary reason for Fitch’s release in 2013? Certainly not, but the UFC likes “company guys,” and the mark on Fitch’s record outside the cage, however old, probably didn’t help his cause.

For his next move, Fitch will probably wind up in Bellator or another second-tier MMA promotion that can afford to pay him an amount at least somewhat close to what he was making in the UFC. Despite his mixed results in his most recent fights, Fitch’s previous status as one of the UFC’s elite will make him a draw to seasoned MMA fans no matter where he ends up, and that fact must be attractive to Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney and his contemporaries. It won’t be long before we see Fitch in a cage once again, it just won’t be in the UFC.

Many consider Fitch to be the third-greatest welterweight in MMA history (behind Georges St-Pierre and Matt Hughes), and to them his release from the UFC seems unconscionable. These people certainly are entitled to their positions, given Fitch’s enormous past success in the promotion. Of course, the move does not rule out a potential return if Fitch is successful elsewhere (or, perhaps, if one of the other top-10 welterweights slated to fight in the coming months is bitten by the injury bug), but it nevertheless has left a lot of people reeling. Still, looking at all the factors that likely led to his release, one can’t say the UFC doesn’t have a somewhat reasonable defense for its action. Any of these reasons alone would probably not be enough to justify cutting Fitch, but when combined, the move no longer seems completely crazy. UFC contracts stipulate that a fighter—any fighter—can be released following a loss, and this time, fair or not, Jon Fitch’s number got called.

Photo: Jon Fitch (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

About The Author

Eric Reinert
Staff Writer

Eric Reinert has been writing about mixed martial arts since 2010. Outside the world of caged combat, Eric has spent time as a news reporter, speechwriter, campaign strategist, tech support manager, landscaper and janitor. He lives in Madison, Wis.

  • GOT RID OF FITCH (FINALLY)

    You left out the #1 reason they got rid of Fitch. Because he is the most miserbly boring fighter in MMA history and he has almost no fanbase and he couldn’t sell a PPV if his life was on line. Best decision the UFC has ever made