The opening round of Bellator’s welterweight grand prix wraps up Saturday when Jon Fitch challenges 170-pound champion Rory MacDonald in the main event of Bellator 220, where MacDonald’s welterweight title will be up for grabs.
Fitch rides into the contest having won five consecutive fights over the course of a red-hot streak that includes a successful title reign in WSOF/PFL and a triumphant Bellator debut against fellow tournament competitor Paul Daley. MacDonald, on the other hand, is coming into Bellator 220 following one of the worst showings of his career, a brutal beatdown he suffered at the hands of Bellator middleweight champion Gegard Mousasi in September.
But Fitch has been around the fight game for a long time — 17 years — and he knows better than to underestimate any opponent simply because of their most recent performance.
“[MacDonald has looked] really good [in Bellator], really dominant,” Fitch said Monday on The MMA Hour. “Good stand-up, good wrestling, good ground, so he’s been performing well. It’s going to be a great challenge. I’m looking forward to it.
“I can’t think of [the Mousasi loss]. You can’t think, ‘oh, well, my opponent’s not going to be 100 percent.’ You want to always train for the best version of your opponent. You want to be trained for somebody better than your opponent actually, so I don’t put those type of things into my mind going into it, going into training. I just focus on me, what I need to do. I pretend that my opponent’s a well-programmed robot and I have to defeat it.”
For Fitch, the timing of the opportunity against MacDonald is fortuitous. At 41 years old, the former UFC title challenger acknowledged Monday that his time in mixed martial arts is coming to an end, even despite his recent streak. He noted that a perfect final chapter for his career would be a successful run through the welterweight grand prix then a move up to middleweight to challenge for two-division glory at 185 pounds. That would mean four more fights before he calls it quits, but Fitch feels confident in his chances.
“Physically, I’m a little banged up. But I think, mentally, I’m 19 still,” Fitch said, laughing. “So sometimes things hurt and I don’t remember why, and I go, ‘oh yeah, I’ve been doing this for 17 years, maybe that’s why.’ But I’ve had a great career. I’m really happy with everything I’ve done. I’m planning on putting everything into this tournament, winning this tournament. I think I’ll have one more fight on my contract and we’ll see how I feel after that. I might move up to challenge for an ’85-pound belt and then call it quits.
“If I’m coming off this tournament a champ and I’ve got money in the bank from 50 Cent, why not go with the momentum and just try it?”
Fitch certainly has his work cut out for him. He drew what may be the toughest test in the tournament field for his opening round matchup against MacDonald.
But even still, once he saw the other six fighters who made the bracket, Fitch knew he was in a bracket without a single easy out.
“I think they’re all tough fights,” he said. “I think everybody brings something special to the table. I don’t think anybody’s a pushover. Ed Ruth, Neiman Gracie, I already beat (Paul) Daley, but ‘MVP,’ (Andrey) Koreshkov, and (Douglas) Lima, they all present their own special problems. Nobody’s a pushover. This is a very deep weight class that Bellator has put together, and you’re going to have to figure out your ways around the puzzles and that’s really exciting.”
If Fitch can manage to defeat MacDonald and capture Bellator gold, he will still have a difficult road awaiting him on his way to the tournament crown. A fight against undefeated prospect Neiman Gracie would be next, followed by a finals matchup against the winner of Douglas Lima vs. Michael Page, which will be decided on May 11.
“I think there’s a good potential of fighting Lima on the other side,” Fitch said. “He’s looking really good, he’s really big, he’s strong. I think he might be able to figure out a way to get past ‘MVP,’ but I can’t put ‘MVP’ out of it. He’d be a fun fight, and he’s got a lot of athleticism, a lot of explosive power, and you never know, he could land something crazy on Lima. It could be either one of those guys.”