Jon Fitch isn’t going to get into a war of words with coach Firas Zahabi.
With Fitch set to challenge Bellator welterweight champion Rory MacDonald on Saturday in a welterweight grand prix quarterfinal match at Bellator 220, the 41-year-old’s history with PED usage reentered the MMA conversation last week courtesy of a video posted by Bellator broadcaster DAZN. In the video, Zahabi — MacDonald’s longtime coach at Tristar — ripped into Fitch for his 2014 failed drug test for elevated levels of testosterone, labeling Fitch a “true coward” and a “cheater” and accusing Fitch’s late career resurgence of entirely being the product of performance-enhancing drug use.
Fitch responded to Zahabi’s words on Monday’s episode of The MMA Hour, and ahead of what may be the final title opportunity of his 17-year mixed martial arts career, Fitch made it clear that he isn’t concerned with playing a tit-for-tat game with the Tristar captain.
“I don’t care,” he told host Luke Thomas on The MMA Hour. “I don’t live my life caring what other people say or think. If you’re going to go through your life worrying about other people and what they think, you’re going to be a loser. You’re not going to get far. So I don’t care. People can think whatever they want to think, I live my life for me and my family.”
A former UFC title challenger and World Series of Fighting/Professional Fighters League champion, Fitch has been open about his 2014 testing failure. He ultimately served a nine-month suspension after testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone in relation to his 90-second loss to then-WSOF titleholder Rousimar Palhares.
Fitch has since racked up a 5-0 record, captured and defended the WSOF/PFL welterweight title twice, and now stands a darkhorse contender to win it all in Bellator’s stacked 170-pound tournament. So in many ways, Fitch has re-righted his MMA career, and he is more than willing to discuss the combination of factors that led to his own personal rock bottom and resulting decision to use testosterone for the Palhares fight.
“That short period of time, I broke and I thought I was missing out on something,” Fitch said.
“I fell down a spiral of depression. I was struggling with my personal family life and finances. I got to a place where you could see other guys around you — I found out about guys who I fought who were on TRT, the therapeutic exemptions, I learned about Vitor Belfort’s testosterone being covered up and him being allowed to compete anyway. There were rumors of other guys, that happening too also. And then I was taking a 70 percent pay cut, at least 70 percent pay cut from going from the UFC to World Series of Fighting.
“So I was thinking, like, why am I holding myself to this standard and making less money and my family’s struggling? Just all kinds of excuses. Any kind of excuse to rationalize why it was okay to cheat against a cheater like Palhares. And I had no idea what I was doing. It was pure comedy, me trying to use this shit. I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t even grapple that entire training camp because I was so sore from the injections, because I was doing something wrong. I’m not even sure what I was doing wrong. But yeah, that was probably the stupidest thing and the best thing that ever happened to me.”
One of the things that Fitch found most ironic about his career-changing crossroads is that his decision to cheat didn’t actually end up helping much at all. He lost to Palhares in swift fashion and didn’t feel like he received any performance-enhancing benefits in the lead-up to the fight that could’ve helped him once the cage doors closed.
“That’s my thing too is I don’t that testosterone really does anything in a weight class sport, except make you look awesome,” Fitch said. “I could eat garbage food and look awesome, and I had the libido of a 19-year-old. But other than that, I didn’t recover better, I wasn’t any stronger, I wasn’t any faster. I don’t think I was doing enough of it to get those benefits, but I think if you do do enough of it then you put on weight, and I’m not going to benefit from putting on 15 pounds of muscle. I’m not going to be able to get down to the weight class and be strong and be able to compete like that.
“So I really was confused with what people were doing, because I was trying to figure this all out online by myself, I’m sure I was probably doing some things wrong. But yeah, I don’t really see the benefits of it, and I think guys who are using [PEDs] are using it kind of as a crutch. I think it’s not the magic pill everybody thinks it is.”
As for why Zahabi is choosing to direct so much venom his way ahead of Bellator 220, especially when the normally mild-mannered coach rarely has a bad word to say about anybody, Fitch can only shrug his shoulders.
“I don’t know, maybe he’s scared,” Fitch said. “He’s already creating an excuse for his fighter losing. I don’t know, I don’t really care.”