When Jon Fitch and Josh Burkman face off in the main event of Friday night's World Series of Fighting 3, it will be a rematch of a 2006 bout that has never been seen by most, since it didn't air on live TV. At the time, both were very early in their UFC careers. For Fitch, it was only his second fight in the octagon, and for Burkman, it was his third.
And while it was just one in a long series of victories for Fitch, Burkman said it would serve as a key turning point for him.
"I remember that I got beat up," Burkman said. "I remember that. I had some things happen in my training camp but I don’t know that if those things didn’t happen, that the result would have been much different. Jon Fitch was a much more focused martial artist than I was at that time. That’s why he came in and had the performance that he had. I remember that fight, me just learning a lot from it. How to go about training. How to approach my career. I implemented some of that, and I didn’t implement some of it at the time.
"The other thing is at the end of the second round, I think there was two seconds left at the end of that second round and I was just putting my hand down so that I could get a little space," he continued. "So I didn’t tap. I was saving my energy for the third round. So that’s kind of what I remember about it. That’s it."
The finish officially came with three seconds left in the round, and video of the rear naked choke shows Burkman's right hand come down on the canvas one time, and referee Steve Mazzagatti immediately interpreting it as a tap. Burkman didn't seem to protest the decision at the time, and there was no controversy about it.
For Fitch, the fight was a piece of vindication, stemming from what was a very recent snub.
"I remember being fired up for that fight because I had an interesting thing go down with The Ultimate Fighter," he said. "I was scheduled to be on the show. I was actually left at the airport, I was told at the airport not to get on the plane, that I had to pay to get my bags off the plane and stuff. I was a little irritated about that. Being given the opportunity to fight somebody who was on the reality show was like an extra prize for me. I kind of had this extra burning desire to be the guy who went out and smashed everybody I could who got to be on that show."
Burkman said he was probably destined to lose the fight because after starting his UFC career and moving to welterweight, he had easily won both of his fights. As a result, he was far too overconfident.
"So I came in against Sam Morgan, and I beat Sam in like 21 seconds," he recalled. "And then the next fight, I fought Drew Fickett, and Drew Fickett had just beat Josh Koscheck. And he was ranked No. 10 in the world at the time. Going into that fight, I remember Joe Silva calling me up and saying ‘We’ve got a fight. His name is Jon Fitch.’ And I didn’t know who Jon Fitch was because I didn’t really follow the sport. And so I think that because of those first two victories that I had at welterweight, I probably overhyped myself. I didn’t give Jon Fitch enough credit, and gave myself too much credit. I think that’s another thing that helped me further my career. Don’t underestimate anybody. Whether you know somebody or not, it’s not about their name, it’s about how focused they are on their training. I think that was a big mistake on my part, I believed my own hype a little bit and didn’t respect Jon Fitch.
Fitch, of course, would go on to put together an eight-fight win streak in the UFC before challenging Georges St-Pierre for the belt and losing in a unanimous decision. His 14 career octagon wins has him ranked behind only a handful of fighters all-time. Most of those above him are considered all-time greats, including St-Pierre, Matt Hughes and Anderson Silva.
Burkman would compete in the octagon for about two more years until a three-fight losing skid sent him out of the company. Since then though, he has orchestrated something of a late-career rebirth, with wins in six of his last seven.
A rematch with Fitch is something he's long desired, mostly because it will allow him to discover just how much he's grown up.
"I think we’ve both changed loads since our first fight," Fitch said. "You cant really look at the first fight. If he hadn’t changed since that fight, then there’d be no reason to fight today. He’s changed a lot and he’s developed as a martial artist but I feel I’ve made greater gains in that same period, and I think that’s what’s going to lead to me winning the fight."