The story of the fight was told when the horn sounded at the end of the third round and Fitch climbed off of BJ Penn, raised his hand high and let out an exultant yell. As he walked back to his corner, his nose was bloodied but he looked strong enough to go another three rounds. Penn, meanwhile, made it to his corner and slumped against the cage, and as his corner men poured water over his bowed head, he looked like a beaten man who couldn't have fought for three more seconds.
But Penn was not a beaten man, at least not in the eyes of two of the judges, who scored the bout 28-28 (the other had it 29-28 for Fitch) to make it a majority draw.
This was not one of those highway-robbery decisions we've so often seen in mixed martial arts, though. Penn surprised Fitch with takedowns in the first and second rounds, and both times maneuvered into dominant position. Both times, however, Fitch reversed him and did some damage from on top. Those rounds were close. But not the third, which was all Jon, all the time. That's not hyperbole, by the way. According to CompuStrike stats, Fitch outstruck Penn by a dizzying 134-0 in the final round -- yes, zero -- including 42 power strikes.
Afterward, Joe Rogan interviewed both fighters in the cage. First he asked Fitch (23-3-1, one no contest) if he thought he did enough to win. "I thought so," said the visibly disappointed fighter. "I mean, I gave up some positioning in the first and second rounds, but I came back, finished out on top, did some damage of my own."
When Rogan posed the same question to Penn (16-7-2), the answer was more blunt. "No," said Penn, the right side of his face bruised purple. Did he expect the decision to go Fitch's way? "Yeah."
That might have been his third-round beatdown speaking. After two close rounds, Fitch connected with a hard overhand right hand just seconds into the third, then shot for a takedown. Penn managed to get back to his feet half a minute later, but it took Fitch around 10 seconds to take the fight back to the mat, where it remained for the final four minutes. Fitch never passed Penn's guard, but the bigger, stronger man blanketed Penn and landed a succession of punches and elbows, with no return fire. It was a thrashing. But it was not enough for two judges.
The decision was not the first letdown Fitch has seen in the UFC. Despite having won his last five fights and 13 of his 14 UFC bouts, he's struggled to win the support of fans. His smothering style is not the most exhilarating form of combat the cageside crowd has ever seen. Perhaps because of that, Fitch has seen a promised title shot snatched away and given to another man. Yet he's still fixing his focus on a title belt.
"You know, I want that title more than anything," he said, "but at the end of the day, I don't make the decision, the guys in the suits do and the fans do." Two things about that: First, has Jon ever taken a look at Dana White's wardrobe? And second, does he really think the aftermath of a draw -- even one in which he pummeled his opponent -- is the time to ask for a shot at the belt?
"I'm here to fight, I'm here to fight the best," Fitch said. "If my 13 wins in the UFC isn't enough to already put me in the spot for a title shot, then whatever, I'm willing to prove myself more."
Maybe against BJ again? Penn, bruises and all, would be up for that. "Since the gods were nice to me and gave me a draw," he said, "if he wants to do it again, I'll do it again."
"Go Home, Loser:" Those were the words Michael Bisping spoke to Jorge Rivera after his second-round TKO win, but maybe he should have been talking to himself. Rivera, finished at 1:54 of the round by a barrage of punches against the cage, had just come over to shake hands and quell the bad blood that had boiled over throughout the buildup to the fight. But Bisping just stuck a finger into his glassy-eyed opponent's chest and, well, as TV announcer Mike Goldberg called it, "Real classy." It simply wasn't the moment for that, especially following a win fueled by a blatantly illegal knee to the head in the first, while Rivera had both knees on the mat. Jorge could have called it quits right then and it would have been Bisping who went home a loser. He sort of did anyway, despite the W and despite his apology in the interview with Joe Rogan in the cage afterward. It's always something with Bisping on the big stage, it seems. He got his first finish in four fights, looked strong doing it, but that damaging knee and those classless comments put a dark cloud over it all.
In Good Standing: Dennis Siver is best known for his bludgeoning kicks, and he did land a few potent ones against George Sotiropoulos. But the most decisive thing he did with his legs was to simply keep them underneath him. By avoiding the Aussie's takedown attempts for three rounds, he transformed a cage set up in his opponent's home country into his turf. The standup battle was all Siver, especially the first round, when he dropped Sotiropoulos twice with nasty left hooks. That was not the way Sot was hoping to hit the mat, and he ended up disappointing the crowd with a unanimous-decision loss.
Worth the Wait: Debutantes traditionally have a coming out party. In the case of Brian Ebersole, his UFC debut was a "Lights Out" party. That's the nickname of opponent Chris Lytle, whom he crumbled with a knee to the chin in the second round and rendered largely ineffective to win by unanimous decision. Ebersole, in his 63rd pro fight but his first on the big stage, had his chest and stomach hair shaved into an arrow pointing at his chin, but Lytle nonetheless never found it. The fellow veteran (62 bouts) did threaten with guillotines throughout the fight, but Ebersole, an American who fights out of Sydney, was relentless, unorthodox and creative. And after his upset win, he was, as he said, "overcome by emotion." A long time coming, no doubt.
Man at Work: The only thing Kyle Noke didn't do perfectly was pick entrance music. "Down Under" is a cool song and all, but it was a bit too obvious a choice for my tastes. Of course, the crowd ate it up, which I suppose is the point. And once Noke reached the cage, there's no disputing that he was a rock 'n' roll hit parade. He took down Chris Camozzi within a minute, went right to full mount, dropped a few elbows that persuaded the fellow Season 11 alum of The Ultimate Fighter to give up his back, and then quickly choked him out at 1:35. Can't you hear, can't you hear the thunder?
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