Fitch looking to revamp image, finances

Finally healthy, Jon Fitch heads to Brazil for a fight he deems important for the future of his family. Martin McNeil for ESPN.com

The bout officially lasted just 12 seconds, but Jon Fitch had lost his battle with Johny Hendricks at UFC 141 months in advance.

Fitch, who's been a welterweight contender for as long as anyone can remember, had no business being in the cage that December night against the hard-hitting Hendricks.

He was less than 100 percent physically, but not with the usual aches and pains that come from normal prefight preparation. Fitch walked into that fight with a second-degree tear of his right medial collateral ligament.

A year earlier, Fitch would not have fought with such a serious injury, but he was in no position to stay at home that night. So he stepped into the Octagon and quickly got hit on the chin by a Hendricks left hook.

And that was it.

"I should have pulled out of the fight; I should have tried to postpone the fight," Fitch told ESPN.com. "But I wasn't in a financial position to do that. I had a pregnant wife, two mortgages and we were living in pretty much rubble from the remodeling we were trying to do to our house. I couldn't afford to not fight that night.

"So I rolled the dice to see if I could somehow pull out a victory with an injury -- fighting with one leg."

Fitch's wife, Michelle, was pregnant at the time with the couple's now 7-month-old son, Mason, and the bills were piling up.

To make ends meet, Fitch borrowed money from family members with the promise they would each be paid back after he beat Hendricks.

But Fitch didn't win. And he finds himself in similarly dire financial straits heading into his showdown with fast-rising Erick Silva.

There will be one major difference from the Hendricks fight when Fitch enters the cage Saturday night at UFC 153 in Rio de Janeiro: He will be completely healthy. The MCL has fully healed, as well as the knee injury he suffered afterward that forced him to pull out of a July 11 fight with Aaron Simpson.

"My body is healthy for the first time in a long time," Fitch said. "I haven't felt this good training and getting ready for a fight in ... I can't remember when. I've been feeling so many crappy injuries over the years; I'm finally healthy and ready to do work."

Knowing his body will not betray him on fight night has placed Fitch's mind at ease. It has also allowed him to re-examine his career to this point, and he's concluded he doesn't like the perception fans have of him.

For all the success he's experienced as a fighter, Fitch is often viewed as nothing more than a highly skilled wrestler. Making matters worse is that too many paying observers have tagged him as boring.

Fitch plans to set the record straight Saturday night and alter that perception.

"The funny thing is everybody talks about me being just a wrestler," Fitch said. "I'm not a very good wrestler; I'm really not. If you look at my college career, I was .500, 50-50. I wasn't an All-American. I wasn't a national champion. I was never a state champion. I was never any kind of freestyle champion and I never competed internationally.

"It's not that I didn't try. I just failed at those things. I'm not that good of a wrestler. I'm a great martial artist. What I bring to the table is an ability to blend my striking with my takedowns and use my mind to outthink my opponents."

Fitch will bring a few more intangibles into his fight against Silva -- experience and a determination to get his financial matters back in order.

This fight will serve as a chance for Fitch to remind fans that he is still a dominant welterweight. It also gives him an opportunity to deliver an exciting performance against a fighter who isn't afraid to mix it up.

Being out of the spotlight for nearly 10 months and being a few months shy of 35, Fitch realizes the time is now for him to make another serious drive toward the title.

It's championship belt or bust for Fitch.

"This is a chance for me to start my second run at the title," Fitch said. "It's my chance to remind people that I am still here, that in this division I'm still top dog. It's an important fight for my career, but it's an even more important fight for my family. I have bills to pay, and just fighting isn't enough to get to where I want to be financially.

"I need to be a champion. I need to smash these guys in front of me with an entertaining and flashy style. I have to do that in Brazil."