Jon Fitch: “Fighters should be able to fight as free agents”

World Series of Fighting Welterweight Jon Fitch earned the biggest win of the his post-UFC career and WSOF run when he smothered former Middleweight Yushin “Thunder” Okami en route to a unanimous decision victory this past Saturday at WSOF 24 in the main event.

Despite what may have looked like a size and strength advantage, the Jon Fitch of old made his return in full force. Utilizing to maximum effect his relentless takedowns and his smothering top game, he frustrated the Japanese star to the final bell and garnered another gritty and hard-earned victory. Now, Fitch has earned the chance to turn his victory into gold, as he will face Jake Shields for the recently made vacant WSOF Welterweight championship.

Now while Fitch looks forward to adding a championship belt to his long and elaborate career, the former UFC veteran looks forward to more than just a change in his own career, but to that of the entire mixed martial arts landscape. As has been noted as of late, Jon Fitch along with two former MMA fighters Cung Le and Nate Quarry, filed a class-action lawsuit against Zuffa, LLC., the parent company of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The suit alleges, in short, that the UFC participated in anti-competitive practices that hindered fighters and their mixed martial arts careers. With the recent motion dismissed in court for past filings on business deals under the UFC, Fitch and company’s legal team will soon get to look over and extract whatever evidence it is that they seek. Now unless presented as evidence in open court, not much is expected to be released from these findings. However, Jon Fitch believes it will lead to progress in his case against the world-renowned promotion, and in the end hopes to see the mixed martial arts world flipped on its head in the best way possible. Fitch appeared on the MMA Discussion Podcast to talk to me about his thoughts on this particular aspect of the case and what changes he hopes to see:

“Fighters should be able fight as free agents.” says Fitch. “They shouldn’t be locked into long-term contracts that prevent you from fighting multiple times a year. You shouldn’t have to be able to wait for your fights, there should be (an unbiased) party that does the rankings so that it’s not up to the promotions in any way to decide who is ranked what. There should also be an outside matchmaking. Somebody matchmakes those ranked fighters so that promotions don’t have any kind of hand in leveraging fights and leveraging the guy that they think is going to make more money for them. And the promotions, the licensed promotions, will be able to bid actively against each other for those big marquee fights. It’s an ideal situation for the fighters and the fans because then they’re going to always be getting the top fights and top guys who are supposed to be fighting each other rather than getting a pro wrestling type of match-up.”

Jon Fitch, who is a former title challenger for the UFC promotion, seemed to be stuck in limbo for a time after his failed attempt to capture the title in 2008 against then-champion Georges St. Pierre. Fitch would go on to win 5 straight fights yet was repeatedly cast aside by the promotion whenever notioned as the next title challenger at Welterweight. When asked if this extreme motion was within the realm of possibility in the near future, the former UFC title challenger admitted that challenges await around many corners. But that we may one day see such drastic change in our sport.

“It’s probably going to take more than just one lawsuit. It’s also going to take some heavy lobbying, writing letters and calling senators, state representatives. It involves pushing for some type of Muhammad Ali act. It would offer up protection and would stop promotions from operating in certain ways. They passed the Muhammad Ali act out in 2000 to stop promoters from doing exactly what mixed martial arts promoters are doing today. Because it was dangerous for the fighters. It was unfair for boxers to have to go through what they did. What Don King used to do back in the nineties and before was just not good for the fighters at all.”

The Muhammad Ali act that Fitch refers to is a federal law passed out in 2000 that was made enacted to protect the rights and welfare of boxers, and aid state commissions with the oversight of boxing. The act came about due to rapid responses of widespread abuse of boxers by means of exploitation, rigged rankings, and rigged matches. Fitch and I pondered over why such an act or any fighters association has yet to come about in MMA.

“Education. Education, because there is no known knowledge on how to do it. I didn’t know how to do it until a year or so ago. Being educated and trying to educate others because this is not a simple process. We need to come together. We need to be recognized by the government as an association. There’s all kinds of legal and tax things that need to be set up. A lot of steps that need to be taken. But it’s doable it’s very doable and we have people helping us to make that happen.” Fitch explained. “Mark Cuban, back in the day, tried to come in and put on a fight with Fedor Emelianenko and Randy Couture. That would have been the biggest fight in MMA history at that point and it wasn’t allowed to happen because of the way his (Randy’s) contract was. So fans are really the ones who are suffering the most because they don’t get to see the best match-ups. They’re told who’s ranked in certain rankings by the promotion. That doesn’t make sense. It’s not believable. But that’s what happens and we’re made to accept what the rankings are and who gets to fight for titles.”

When asked why the UFC wouldn’t stand to benefit the most under this platform, due to being the world’s premier MMA organization as well as arguably having the most to throw down financially. Fitch offered a surprising point of view.

“Viacom. Viacom has way more money than the UFC has. Viacom could very easily snatch them up. There could also be licensed promoters in Mexico or Brazil who have more money also. Mark Cuban, as I said, was looking to get into the market. He was unsuccessful because he couldn’t get any marquee match-ups or any of the big names.”

It’s clear Jon Fitch has a noble heart put into this crusade to change MMA and wishes to unite the fighters so that their future and the future of MMA in general will be left in a state of arcadian bliss long after he has hung them up. Jon Fitch vs. Jake Shields for the WSOF Welterweight championship has yet to be scheduled though it has been rumored to happen in early 2016.

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