Jon Fitch learned his lesson about fighting through injuries last time around. When he fought Johny Hendricks last December, his health was compromised by a knee injury. He can still remember that as he prepared to engage with Hendricks, he wanted to throw a kick, but knew he couldn't. The next thing he knew, the fight was over.
Just a few months later, he was faced with the same situation when he hurt his knee in practice. His fight with Aaron Simpson was already scheduled for July, and though the injury wasn't catastrophic -- he was diagnosed with a partially torn ACL -- it was enough to make the decision easy for him. He was out of the fight.
Injuries have racked recent UFC events, and like many, Fitch is of the opinion that they are going to continue to happen.
In a Monday interview on The MMA Hour, Fitch offered his perspective on why so many injuries are occurring, and how athletes are making their decisions on whether to fight through the pain or put themselves on the sidelines.
"I think now the sport is so competitive, people are [less] likely to fight injured now than they have been in the past because if you lose that one fight, it could take you a really long time to get back to the same position you were in before," he said.
In his particular case, he is expected to go through 4-6 weeks of rehabilitation and then be re-evaluated. If all goes well, he could be back in training camp right afterward, setting him on pace for a return as soon as September.
While that potential timeframe seems a quick turnaround for a setback that took him out of a proposed July 11 encounter, Fitch said he simply couldn't continue to train for the Simpson bout and risk suffering a compete tear, potentially 9-12 months of his career.
Fitch theorized that the increased numbers in top MMA gyms around the country and the world are leading to instances where there are simply too many hazards in each setting. Often, he said, there might be 30-40 fighters training in a single room, and because of spacing issues, they often run into each other. Obviously, knees and ankles are the big concern with someone rolling up behind you.
He noted that self-awareness in space is not only a health issue in the gym, but an important attribute for a fighter to have in his fight career.
"If you don't know you’re getting close to the heavy bag when you're sparring or you don't know you're getting close to some other guys training when you're sparring, you’re not going to know where you’re at in the cage or the ring to be able to cut the guy off, to put him into your corner so you're closer to your guys," he said. "It's one of those things, people need to develop that skill."
On top of that, many fighters are often training with nagging injuries that are only worsened by these types of gym mishaps.
Fitch said his gym, American Kickboxing Academy, has become more selective in adding members to its fight team so its ranks don't swell up and make effective training even more dangerous. Still, he'll have to wait and watch on the sidelines until he's ready to throw himself back into the mix.
He said his knee is still a bit swollen and he can't bend it all the way back but otherwise, it feels stable and strong. An upcoming appointment will determine if there's any damage past what he's been told.
On a positive note, Fitch has been uplifted by the release of a documentary about his 2008 title fight with Georges St-Pierre. The film, titled "Such Great Heights," has done quite well so far since its recent release. He describes it as a "great little time capsule" documenting the rise of AKA as well as his own personal biggest fight.
When he does return, he's hoping to again fight B.J. Penn and determine a winner after the two fought to a draw in February 2011.
"But I don't think he wants a piece of me, so he's going after young guys," Fitch said, alluding to Penn's recent acceptance of a challenge to fight Rory MacDonald.
Asked if he thought Penn was ducking him, he didn't hesitate.
"Yeah," he said. "I do."