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Discussion: Does the fighter or the promoter determine who becomes a star in MMA?

At UFC 130 this past weekend we saw a virtual unknown fighter(to casual fans) in Rick Story come from out of nowhere to beat  top five welterweight Thiago Alves. He had actually called out Thiago Alves after his prior victory over Johnny Hendricks in late 2010. He got what he asked for in Alves and came home with a win, an impressive win.

After defeating Alves, Joe Rogan asked Story who he would like to face next and he quickly pulled Jon Fitch’s name out of a hat as someone he’d like to face next. It was a rational decision, he has just beaten someone top 5 and Fitch is considered by many as the #2 welterweight in the world.

However, Jon Fitch doesn’t want that fight as he spoke on his fighting future with MMAWeekly:

“I’ve gone out of my way throughout my career to just fight everybody they put in front of me and it’s cost me dearly,” he said. “When you fight somebody who no one knows and don’t recognize their name, it doesn’t matter how bad you beat them.

“I kind of had a talk with Rashad Evans during the expo up in Canada. (It) kind of opened up my eyes to it a little bit. He was telling me I (have to) stop screwing around, I have to think about my career, and I’m a main event fighter. I should only be fighting main event people.”

Fitch went on to say that fights with BJ Penn and Georges St-Pierre are the only fights that interest him and that he was willing to set out a year if it came down to it. How would setting out a year be beneficial when that would just keep him out of the fluid MMA landscape and allow hungry fighters like Rick Story fly right past him to get the title fight that he just sat out a year for?

We’ve seen what playing the waiting game did for Rashad Evans. He’s been out over a year and STILL hasn’t gotten that second title shot. I understand Fitch’s plight to a degree, he’s had 15 fights in the UFC, fought for a world title, and has been ranked as a top welterweight for  years now. All of that should carry some weight right? It seems as if Fitch is frustrated with the UFC and his level of ‘stardom’ if you will, which brings me to the question.

Does the fighter or the promoter determine who becomes a star in MMA? 

Let’s keep this strictly with UFC fighters since they are the largest MMA company out there. I think it’s a little of both, but the fighter dictates how far he goes in my opinion. Check it:

  • Nobody knew who Jon Jones was prior to UFC 87 as he debuted on the prelims against another no name guy in Andre Gusmao. However, his exciting decision win in that fight led him into his next fight against Stephan Bonnar at UFC 94. His exciting performance in a decision win against the likes of the well respected Bonnar placed him on the heavily anticipated UFC 100 card against someone that casual fans knew very little about in Jake O’Brien. Jones stopped O’Brien impressively which resulted in Jones co-main eventing an event on Versus in just his fourth UFC fight. His exciting performance(even though he was technically lost) against Matt Hamill resulted in a main event fight against Brandon Vera. Jones dominated Vera and put him away impressively in the first round. That resulted in Jones main eventing his next fight, also on Versus, in which he destroyed MMA veteran Vladimir Matyushenko in the very first round. Jones then faced another rising prospect in Ryan Bader and dominated him, finishing him in the second round in his next fight which resulted in a title shot. We all know that Jones went on to dominate Shogun Rua to become the youngest UFC champion ever and he is now on the cusp of becoming a superstar.

If you look at Jones UFC career as we did in a nutshell, you’ll see that he virtually made it easy for the UFC to promote him as a fighter. You’ll notice words like impressive, finish, exciting. Those words don’t come to mind when you think of Jon Fitch. Not to mention the outside of the cage stuff that has transpired between he and the promotion which is an  entirely different matter in and of itself. I’m not saying he should be a ‘company man’ like some fighters, but you have to pick and choose your battles sometimes.

I think Fitch is a very good fighter, but hasn’t exactly made it easy for the UFC to market him as someone that fans should want to watch fight. In 15 UFC fights, he has gone to a decision 11 times often against guys not ranked in the top ten. Let’s be perfectly honest, he didn’t exactly beat a murderer’s row of welterweights to get his welterweight title shot against Georges St-Pierre. The same could be said for Jones leading up to his light heavyweight title shot. The difference between the two is that Jones gave the UFC no option in regards to promoting him as the next big thing because of the way he performed inside the octagon, and he won the title when he was granted a title shot. If Fitch would have beaten Georges St-Pierre at UFC 87  he would be a main event fighter.

The UFC has done their part in providing Fitch with the opportunity to fight 15 times, sometimes on the largest platforms(UFC 68, UFC 76, UFC 87, UFC 94, UFC 100, UFC 107, UFC 111, and UFC 117 were all big PPV’s) in recent years. Who’s fault is it that Jon Fitch isn’t a star even though he’s one of the best welterweights in the world?

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