Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
Jon Fitch, the longtime UFC welterweight contender and the No. 7 fighter in the SI.com 170-pound mixed martial arts rankings, made his debut with the nascent World Series of Fighting on Saturday night in Las Vegas. The fight lasted all of 41 seconds and did not end well for him.
Fitch was floored by a Josh Burkman left-right combination in their first exchange of fisticuffs, then was choked unconscious so swiftly that referee Steve Mazzagatti didn’t seem to notice that he was out. The ref just stood there watching as Burkman let go of the submission hold all on his own, climbed to his feet and raised a fist triumphantly in the air. Fitch lay limply on the canvas.
What a stunning come-down it was for a fighter who once challenged Georges St-Pierre for the UFC belt and over a five-year span built a 17-fight unbeaten streak in that promotion. He’d had his struggles over the last couple of years, winning just one of his final four UFC fights before being released in February. The release drew quite an uproar. After all, Fitch's losses had been to the steel of the 170-pound division, Johny Hendricks and Demian Maia. He'd battled back from a rough start to get a draw against B.J. Penn, and he'd gone down to Brazil and interrupted the spotlit ascent of Erick Silva.
So the thought was that, at 35 years old, Fitch (24-6-1, 1 NC) still had some fight left in him. Maybe he does. He sure didn’t use up much of it on Saturday night.
Afterward, Fitch attributed the defeat to a miscalculation. “I got a little overconfident with my choke defense and was going to try to slam him, but he locked it in too tight,” he said. “Mistake on my part. I should have fought the choke right away.”
For Fitch and perhaps also for Mazzagatti, the mistake was in not recognizing the gravity of the situation. There’s no excuse for a ref to be asleep at the switch, but we’ve all seen Fitch in chokeholds before and never seen him succumb to one. Well, except for anyone who happened to be in Las Vegas way back in July 2002 and saw Jon’s professional MMA debut, in which he was choked out by Mike Pyle. Since then, Fitch had 30 more bouts and submitted not once. During his UFC tenure, he defended all 28 submissions attempted on him, more than anyone in the history of the promotion.
Imagine that. Penn and Maia couldn’t do it. But Burkman could, finishing Fitch in less time than it took Johnny Cash to sing “Rusty Cage” during Jon’s walk out from the locker room.
“I feel really good,” said Burkman (26-9), a winner of four straight. “I’m kinda sitting back, going, ‘Is this real life?’”
Josh can be excused for wondering. The 32-year-old is also a former UFC fighter, dropped by the promotion in 2008 following three straight losses. Two years prior, he took on Fitch and was dominated, losing by a rear-naked choke in the second round.
Now Burkman has evened the score. But Fitch wants more, saying, “I think we should do it again.”
That’s what you call a wake-up call-out.