In the days leading up to UFC 153, when Jon Fitch openly talked about going out to win the best fight bonus, a lot of people were snickering.
A win over Erick Silva? Certainly believable. Even though he came in as a slight underdog, the idea that Fitch, known from grinding down opponents and using superior conditioning to break them late, could win was clearly a strong possibility. But the idea he'd go out there and fight a wide-open style against an opponent that explosive, well, there was nothing in his history to suggest that.
Fitch was aggressively pursuing a finish more than he had in most of his previous bouts against top level opponents. But what made the fight so exciting was how both men on different occasions had the other in danger of being finished, but they each survived and came back.
The result was not only a win that kept him in the top-tier pack in the welterweight division, but earned he and Silva a $70,000 fight of the night bonus.
With the win, Fitch improved his UFC record to 14-2-1, the kind of numbers that can only be matched by four other modern UFC fighters: Anderson Silva, Georges St. Pierre, Jon Jones and Rashad Evans.
As far as an overall scenario, except for the fact a clean finish eluded him, it was almost the perfect night for a fighter who days earlier was talking about having to get a regular job if he were to lose. And more than just winning, if any one fight can shake off the tag of boring, Saturday night's fight was it.
"I've got to give credit to my opponent, Erick Silva," Fitch said after winning a unanimous decision on scores of 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28. "Great fights are made when both guys are coming in to finish and take risks. Tonight, he was the perfect kind of opponent to show what I'm about, to help my family and make some money."
Fitch solidly won the first round, and dominated most of the third round en route to the win.
After the fight, Dana White went back into the history books when discussing how this could be a positive turning point for Silva, even though losing.
"I think Eric Silva is really talented," he told Ariel Helwani on Fuel after the show. "This loss for him may be like when Georges St-Pierre lost to Matt Hughes the first time. This may be that fight that pushes that kid to the next level. But Fitch looked awesome tonight. He fought a hard battle against a tough kid. I've got nothing negative to say about Jon Fitch."
The then-undefeated St-Pierre, in his first test against an elite-level fighter, lost via submission to Hughes. But he became back to become an all-time great, not to mention beat Hughes twice.
Fitch was like a man possessed in the third round, throwing constant punches and elbows at Silva as he kept him on his back. The beating was such that Silva was warned that if he didn't get out of the position, the fight could be stopped. Silva escaped just before that happened, but the beatdown in the final minutes was so strong that it could have easily been judged a 10-8 round in a fight that two of the three judges had even going into the third round.
Fitch made a comment after that he was so determined that nobody was going to beat him on this night.
"It gives me a lot of comfort, I don't have to worry about money now," he said. "I can focus on doing what I love. It was huge. I needed to step up, have confidence in myself and my game, and know that even if I made a mistake and got put in a bad position, I can come out on top."
What made the fight was both men battling out of positions that would have finished most fighters. Fitch nearly had it won in the first round with an arm triangle that Silva was able to escape from. Silva had a dangerous choke in the second round, but Fitch stayed composed and in getting out, showed why he has a reputation for being so difficult to submit. Fitch came back later in the round to clamp on an armbar, but Silva was able to flip himself out of it.
Silva also went for a guillotine in the third round, and was also battling for an armbar, while Fitch came back and worked for a choke later in the round. Even with the decision seemingly in the bag, Fitch went for a guillotine in the final seconds hoping to get a finish.
Even with his stellar record and impressive performance, the thing that has eluded Fitch for four years - a second shot at the welterweight title - is going to be a tough mountain to climb due to the depth in the division.
St-Pierre and Carlos Condit meet on Nov. 17 in Montreal for the title. If St-Pierre wins, there is talk of a fight with Anderson Silva that will hold up the title picture for months. Even if that doesn't happen, or Condit wins, there is a long list of fighters all in line for the opportunity. Johny Hendricks faces Martin Kampmann in Montreal in what is likely a title eliminator given Hendricks was promised the next shot after beating Fitch almost a year ago. Kampmann comes into that fight with wins over Thiago Alves and Jake Ellenberger in his previous two fights.
Demian Maia, a former middleweight title contender, tore apart Rick Story last night. Maia looked like the Maia of old, going back to concentrating on his world-class Jiu Jitsu game that brought him to the top, and that he'd seemingly abandoned as his stand-up started improving. And with Rory MacDonald facing B.J. Penn on Nov. 17, the winner of that fight would be in line.
Maia or the Penn-MacDonald winner would look to be a potential next opponent for Fitch.
White reacted afterward to people who think he has some kind of a personal beef with Fitch, stemming from an incident years ago when Fitch at first refused to sign over his marketing rights during the period UFC was finalizing its first major video game deal.
"The whole Fitch-Dana White thing is a myth and a little bit overplayed over the whole video game rights thing," he said. "Half the crap I see on the Internet is bull----. It's not true."