Aaron Simpson eyes possible showdown with Jon Fitch after WSOF debut

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

After dropping to welterweight, Aaron Simpson knew going into his fight last October with Mike Pierce that he needed a win.

It was his second fight in a weight class that better suited him. He was giving up as much 20 pounds once he got inside the cage against some of his middleweight opponents since his walk-around weight was only 191, but he had still compiled an 11-3 record in the division..

He was facing perhaps UFC's most underrated fighter. Pierce's only losses were close decisions to Josh Koscheck, Jon Fitch and Johny Hendricks, and he'd never been stopped in his career.

Simpson was all over him and had Pierce on the verge of being finished in the first round. It appeared that Simpson could become a major player. Then, at the start of the second round, he ran into a punch, and it was over. Not just the fight, but his UFC career. And at the age of 38, there became an obvious question about his future.

"I should have been at 170 all along," said Simpson (12-4), who faces Josh Burkman (24-9), in one of the top matches on Saturday night's World Series of Fighting event at Revel in Atlantic City, N.J., which will air live on NBC Sports. "Retirement is not something I've been thinking about. At the point, I thought it sucks, I'm done, but I didn't consider it for very long. It wasn't much more than a thought."

The fight with Pierce was the last one on Simpson's contract and with new welterweights being brought in, the roster space was limited.

"I felt there was no question I was going to win," he said this week on the MMA Hour about his feeling until the closing seconds of the fight he was dominating. "I felt amazing in the fight. I felt I could do anything to him. But I ran into a punch. I talked to Joe (UFC matchmaker Joe Silva) after. UFC had taken on so many 170-pounders with the Ultimate Fighter shows and Strikeforce that they had brought in and hadn't had a fight forever."

Still with teammates and training partners Ryan Bader and C.B. Dollaway as UFC regulars, and Simpson having coached both of them coming out of high school when they wrestled at Arizona State, being out of the big leagues was a tough pill to swallow.

"Yeah, (it was) definitely a little shot to the ego," he said. "It's all I've known. I haven't fought in any other organization since 2008, and before that, those were just small shows to get my feet wet. It was definitely hard to stomach. But I'm moving forward. I've got a fight with Josh Burkman and he's a tough dude. I've been training hard to put on a show."

While he doesn't want to spend much time thinking about it until after Saturday, a win over Burkman would lead Simpson to a fight that could make him a significant name in the division, even if it's outside the UFC. The winner of the fight could be in line for a fight with Jon Fitch, whose surprising cut by UFC led him to signing with the WSOF, and debuting on June 14.

When Simpson decided to make the move to welterweight in UFC, his first scheduled opponent was to be Fitch, who ended up pulling out of the fight due to an injury.

While Simpson knew before his last fight what the score was with him needing a win, and knew about the roster trimming, the idea Fitch, who has been top-ten in the world for years, being cut, was a shock.

"It blew my mind," he said about the decision that shocked many at the time. "Jon's one of the best fighters in the world right now in the welterweight division. And all he's known is fighting for the UFC. He's got a 15-2 (actually 14-3-1 in UFC) record. He's an amazing fighter the way he attacks. It's surprising especially after the Erick Silva fight, fight of the night, super exciting. He had a rough one with Demian Maia, but Demian Maia can do that with almost anyone. I think it was a bad move on UFC's part. I don't think that was cool. I wish the best for Jon, because he deserves it."

But Simpson, who has power with six knockouts, and was a far higher level wrestler than Fitch as a college star at Arizona State in the late 90s and later an Olympic hopeful, thinks he matches up well with him.

"I'd beat Jon and I think he knows it," said Simpson. "I don't think he's going to get away with taking me down and doing what he does with a lot of people. It is what it is. I have to get this win over Josh Burkman before I can start really talking about Jon Fitch."

Burkman was on The Ultimate Fighter season two back in 2005 and went 5-5 in UFC competition before being cut in 2008. Since then, he's gone 6-1 with his only loss being a decision to Jordan Mein, one of the best young fighters in the weight class.

"I think he's pretty well rounded in how he can attack you," said Simpson. "His wrestling is pretty good. I think he's a pretty good athlete.

"I don't think I have to worry but I have to take into consideration that he'll fight me in every position. I plan to take him out early, but we'll see."

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