In this episode, I talk to Jon Fitch. Jon was the World Series of Fighting Welterweight Champion, Has fought for the UFC title against George St Pierre and also fought for the Bellator title against Rory Macdonald which went to a draw. He has also written an autobiography called Failing Upward/Death by Ego and hosts his podcast called Jon Fitch Knows Nothing. We discuss how he got into fighting and his early wrestling career at University. His thoughts on mindset, masculinity & manhood. And the issue of fighter pay and his antitrust lawsuit against the UFC.
Podcast Transcript – Episode 016
Sonny: Jon, how are you today, mate?
Jon Fitch: I’m good man. I’m doing pretty good, sunny day out here in California.
Sonny: That’s what we like, mate.
Jon: I’ll probably get a lift. I’m going to move some stuff out into my regular yard area, in between the garage and the house. I think I want to get a little solar workout in with some tan going while-
Sonny: Get that vitamin D.
Jon: [crosstalk] beach muscle workout.
Sonny: [laughs] Good stuff. Today, I just want to ask you a couple of things about your career, your training, training style, smash system, and really get into some of those details. I would like to start things off just, obviously, with your wrestling career. In Australia, the wrestling isn’t that much of an option for people to be able to go into. I was just wondering how that started for you, getting into wrestling and if you had any idea if you’d be doing it for as long as you have been.
Jon: I was a huge pro wrestling fan when I was really little. Everything for me was pro wrestling and professional football. That’s the only things I really was interested in, other than He-Man and G.I. Joe, and all of that stuff. I always thought I was going to be a professional football player, but then I found wrestling because I had- it was a second cousin. It was a kid of my dad’s cousin, his older brother wrestled in high school, and he would tell me stories about the wrestling matches at school all the time. It sounded like what I was watching with Hulk Hogan and Junkyard Dog, and all those guys. I thought it was amazing because he’s a good storyteller. I was only at the fourth grade. I was intrigued. Went to a Catholic school and buses would come, you could go and get on a bus, and then ride the bus to the high school because that’s how they would stop around different places and drop the kids off. I believe I wouldn’t ask for anything, I just would get on the bus and we’d ride to this high school, junior high. I’d go to the junior high practices, started it in the fourth grade. We had this coach, Sonny, he would let young kids come in. He wouldn’t say anything. He would take us to tournaments. I was in the fourth grade and wrestling in a junior high tournament. I was also on the eighth graders. He would just lie about our age, and he would get us matches. It wasn’t really that much about records or whatever at that time. He just made wrestling super fun. My focus was football, but then in the off-season, I had wrestling because it was just so much fun. Wrestling was my backup sport until my senior year. After football season, I was like, “Oh, well, it doesn’t look like I’m getting a scholarship. It doesn’t look like I’m going to a big school.” I wasn’t really that fast. I was probably 30 pounds too light for the position I would have played, so a little bit too short. I was like, “Well, let’s focus this year, the senior year on wrestling, and then try to get that into a scholarship, something wrestling in college”. I had a good high school career, a good high school season, senior season, that year. There’s not a lot of money in wrestling. I didn’t get a scholarship. I ended up going and walking on to Purdue because I wanted to challenge myself and wrestle the big 10 schools. I was in the big 10, and all these other big schools are in the big 10. I couldn’t really afford to just go out to Iowa or go to school out of state, so I went to Purdue. I didn’t like IU at the time. I just ended up going to Purdue and wrestled there.
Sonny: Nice. I got to ask what’s IU, actually? Is that another university?
Jon: Indiana University. They’re the rival schools.
Sonny: The rival school, got you. That makes sense. Why not then? You went to university it was to study physical education, is that-?
Jon: Yes. I initially went because I wanted to do history and PE was the minor, because you did majors and minors back then. Then I was getting a two-point-eight one semester and history requirements are at three-point-oh. They’re like, “Oh, well, you’re going to lose eligibility because we don’t know if you’re going to raise your grades enough to be eligible.” I just flip-flopped my major, minor because the requirements for PE was a two-point-five. The degree was pretty much the same, and the classes were pretty much the same. You could still get the same job.
Sonny: I did PE at university as well. I guess, if they’re making it a bit easier for them what they say, “Those who can’t do, teach. Those that can’t teach, teach PE.” It’s brutal.
Jon: My thing was I went to college because I wanted to wrestle. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with myself. I didn’t know there was that many options of career paths. I was fixated on playing professional football. I didn’t even think for a second I wasn’t going to make it.
Sonny: How did you transition? You’re in that situation, how did you go to being a fighter? How did you start MMA? How did that transition take place?
Jon: Success has a lot to do with hard work, but it has a lot to do with luck, too. I went to Purdue University where Tom Erikson was an assistant wrestling coach. He was a heavyweight for the United States as number two for 13 years under Bruce Baumgartner. He fought Brazil a couple of times, he’s knocked out Randleman a long time ago, he’s fought Bustamante, he fought Goodridge at Pride, fight a number of times. He fought Shannon “The Cannon” Briggs in K-1.
Sonny: I think he’s still going.
Jon: Yes, sure. Him and Tyson are supposed to have some local fight. We’ll see. I just got lucky because Tom was there. I had watched fights and some pancreas and some other things. It was interesting. I never really–There was no outlet to go and try it. There wasn’t jujitsu around. There wasn’t a Muay Thai school. There’s cheesy McDojos, karate schools, and taekwondo schools. It was just something like, “Oh, that would be cool, maybe.” I didn’t really put any thought or effort into it. When Tom started bringing guys like Gary Goodridge, and Mark Coleman, and Ian Freeman came in the town once. He would bring guys in to train. Then I would just watch them and work out with them sometimes because it was a different alternate workout that was interesting. Then I wouldn’t do that bad with bigger guys. I was like, “Oh, maybe I could do this. This is interesting.” Then they’re talking about the money they’re making and the girls, the gangsters, the travel. It sounded amazing.
Sonny: That probably appeals to every young man, who can blame them?
Jon: Getting an envelope full of cash. I will pull a hundred dollar bills because you put on a good performance. There’s just all kinds of stories. Stories like guys getting tricked into smuggling drugs, guys get in fights and pull knives in the parking lots on the way. This is the wild west of MMA too, back then. Some wild stories, dude.
Sonny: I want to hear a couple of those stories for sure. How do you tell your parents that, “Hey, I’m dropping out of school. Mom-“?
Jon: I didn’t drop out, I graduated end of year. That’s [crosstalk] .
Sonny: I’m sorry, my correction. “I’m not going to pursue a career in teaching, Mom, instead I’m going to become a professional fighter.” How do you have that conversation?
Jon: I didn’t for three years. I fought for three years and they didn’t know. Then after the last fight, the trip before I came back to tell them, it was right before I signed my first UFC fight. It was that summer I went home to see them. I was going to tell them because I had just had a fight, but one of my knucklehead cousins said something about it. They saw it online at somebody’s wedding, funeral, or something. My parents found my– I had a website. [laughter]
Jon: They tell them I had a website. They found my website and then they sent me a personal training or request.
Sonny: I think you have worked the best to get a personal trainer, to get a session, to get a private.
Jon: I was like, “Oh, what? Oh, they got me”.
Sonny: I guess if you’re going into the UFC that was [crosstalk] project.
Jon: That was when they had found out on. They had an idea because, before that fight, I almost got into the Ultimate Fighter, so I had to let them know that, “Hey, I’m nowhere training, and then they’re pudding all those reality show.” That was before they didn’t tell anybody that they’re going to fight on the show.
Sonny: Okay. The other first one, right?
Jon: The first one. Yes, that was like, “Surprise, you’re going to fight for free”.
Sonny: That’s why I’d like to get into that and, I guess, those early days of American Kickboxing Academy then. Because I know that first show was big for you guys there, and if we could start, I guess, with how you found AKA? And how that all began? There’s a book.
Jon: I got this book. Failing Upward/Death by Ego. A lot of all that stuff is in here. Because it’s that early development of the gym and you’re going to read my actual journal entries from that time, and the stuff I was thinking about while it happened. Then I read reflections with my perspective now, with everything I’ve seen and been through. It’s fun to see and for me, to go back and read about because seeing how our workouts evolved, the team evolved, it really was- It wasn’t like there was anyone person who was responsible for AKA. Javier had the location and he had some skills of footwork and power, and then he had guys with wrestling, discipline, and cardio. You had kickboxers, you had a blend of guys from all over the place who were all adding a little bit of something and help form and shape AKA for what it is today.
Sonny: That first Ultimate Fighter where you were selected, then they called you and you said, “No, we’re good”, how did you overcome that? You must have been disappointed, right?
Jon: Yes, I was disappointed because I knew- and you can read it in there, there’s that in that book too, me going into that. You’ll see I was super disappointed because I knew it was going to be big. I knew there’s no way it wasn’t going to be and I was just like, “Damn, that was a huge opportunity that I missed out on.” I doubled down with training and I was lucky the Wednesday that I was supposed to leave, they told me not to get on the plane and my management had a fight for me that Saturday, so I didn’t have to wait any time or stew in my anger or whatever. I went down to fight, I got a W right away and then I was just like, “Whatever I don’t need them. I’ll focus on my own stuff”.
Sonny: That’s got to help, just being able to get back onto it and keep-
Jon: Yes. Get back to work, get to a fight, get to win and then you launch yourself into whatever the next thing is. It was going through relationships, get on to the next one and the next.
Sonny: Tough times [laughs] .
Jon: Just get to the next one.
Sonny: [laughs] Now you’ve gone through the UFC, you’ve had a long career 40-odd fights, still going. I’m wondering, how does someone like you from those early days make their career? How do you have that longevity in your career that a lot of people started later than you and have finished earlier than you?
Jon: I think diet nutrition helped a lot. I think training smart and listening to my body, not just beating the crap out of ourselves. Making sure that I train to win the fight, I train to peak on fight night. I think, discipline. I have to owe all my success to discipline because I’m not naturally like gifted, I’m not a super-fast, I’m not super strong, I’m not really flexible, my technique is pretty good. I’m a technician, I think my way through things and I think just the discipline, my stubbornness, and my way I can calculate things. I think there’s something to be said about pattern recognition. I think when it comes to this I have a lot of that. I think it’s just that I understand the body and how it moves, and I can read where it’s going sometimes.
Sonny: That’s pattern recognition massive. Is there any way that you consciously developed that pattern recognition for you in your fights?
Jon: I think that I owe a lot of my success to visualization, I would say, because I can be obsessively compulsive about thinking about a specific topic, a specific sequence of techniques. That can be a really great thing but again, also it’s a two-sided sword. I can also get stuck just sitting and staring thinking about something stupid for a long time, but at the same time I catch myself, it’s almost like I get sucked into a vortex and into spit out into another dimension where I’m living that life in that dimension. If I’m honed that into visual training, walking through the fight, walking through the tunnel, walking through getting my hands wrapped, the conversations, if I can recreate that in my head, that’s a big benefit. It can be a slippery slope because if you go down the wrong way, then you’re thinking about throwing shit all day.
Sonny: Yes, for sure. I think everyone’s probably been there once or twice in their lives. Is that something that you had as a child? Were you always like that? Or was it something you developed as a professional athlete?
Jon: I think that I’ve always had it as a kid. I have a couple of boys now and my younger one, I think has that too or he can just sit quietly and play by himself for a long time. Before I came down here, me and the older boy were playing the LEGOs for 40 minutes, and the other ones in the kitchen by himself just playing. He’s probably got a little bit of that too. I think I’ve also developed it over the years. Realizing that your mind is your mind and so if your mind’s going crazy, your mind is thinking whatever, you’re the one that has the power to stop it and make it think something different.
Sonny: Yes. That’s a massive power that if people can get control of they can change their thinking, they can change their lives. Is-
Jon: If you follow my Instagram, I have a big poster in my garage, it says, “It’s your fault”, so I can always remind myself because it doesn’t matter what happens to you in your life. You could be robbed and attacked but still the way you feel about it, the way you deal with it, the way you handle the situation afterwards, that’s on you.
Sonny: Yes. I’m with you on that for sure, accepting responsibility of, “Hey, you’re the one who’s got to fix it. You’re the one who’s got to change it, it’s your fault”.
Jon: You’re the one who has to get over it. You’re the one that has to heal. No one else is going to do a for you or take any of that away from you. Nobody’s coming to save you.
Sonny: Yes, I hear you on that. What I found though is sometimes, like now, if you showed someone that poster, they’d be like, “Oh, that’s not very positive.” It’s the power of positive thinking, “Hey, why are you saying negative?” How would you respond to someone like that?
Jon: I’d rather have the power of rational thought. I like the power of rational thought over, “My feelings are hurt all the time.” It’s a rational way of explaining it, and I can use that anytime that I’m upset, or get angry, or feel like somebody wronged me. It’s an easy fallback, like, “Well, you being angry about this right now, that’s on you.” It doesn’t change anything, it’s not going to change the situation. It just makes you feel a little shittier, it raises your cortisone levels, your testosterone drops, and then it’s just a spiral downward. Then your black pilled, MGTOW guy went and bought everything, “It’s not fair. Life is not fair”, like, “No, it’s not.
Sonny: [laughs] That’s going to dark places. But that’s just- it’s-
Jon: Yes, it’s not. Life’s not fair. I told you, it’s just an acceptance of life’s not fair. Life is full of suffering. It’s awful, it’s terrible. So many bad things happen throughout your lifetime or the other people, it sucks. One of my friends died recently from brain cancer, I have another one who’s going through his third session of brain cancer. I don’t know, it’s a dark place but once you can accept that and understand that, there’s still a lot of beauty and the fact that you get to experience life and you get experience loss, I think it may make things easier to absorb.
Sonny: Yes, I agree with you on that. Do you think that obsessively, positive people-? although I think people have a hard time actually staying that overly positive all the time. Do you think maybe that’s one end of the spectrum, that, “Hey, you’ve got to be positive all the time, never say anything negative” has fostered that other darker end of the spectrum that it’s ruining things up?
Jon: That’s the thing, it doesn’t have to be about happy or whatever, it’s just a stoic acceptance of is. This just is, it’s not good or bad, whatever. The way I respond to it, that’s on me. This just is, this thing just happened. I can cry about it, I can do whatever, or I can move forward. If I can’t change it, accepting the fact I have no power over it. That’s spilled milk. I spilled the milk; do I sit and cry about it and feel upset about it? Or I’m like, “Oh, well, this thing happened, I can leave it there and it’ll get smelly and sticky or I can take care of it and clean it up before it gets smelly, and sticky, and get ants”?
Sonny: I’m a big fan of stoicism. What I’m wondering, I guess, is then for your coaching, and maybe with visualization as well, is that something that you’ll coach your fighters to do? Will you try to get them to sit down, and visualize, and be stoic about things?
Jon: I will try to get them to separate because even in the fight you can’t be emotional. There’s this balance where you have to fight with feeling like Bruce Lee, right?
Jon: You can’t be emotional, you have to have purpose behind your actions, but at the same time you can’t have anger or that emotion behind it.
Sonny: I like that. I guess looking for that balance, one thing with you is I know that you play the ukulele, which, of course, professional cage fighter ukulele people may not think goes hand in hand. How do you find that connection there between the softer side of ukulele and cage fighting? Do you think there’s a link between them beyond just being arts? Between music and martial arts?
Jon: I think there’s a great connection between just brain health and fine motor movement and music. I think that’s one of the reasons why I like ukelele, is because I want to keep my brain healthy. Two is I used to play a lot of video games, a lot of video games, eight hours a day video games. On the weekday in between training. Then I had kids and I realized that I was wasting a lot of time doing nothing, and I wasn’t getting anywhere, so I replaced my video game time with reading and ukulele. Now it was something that I was learning, something I was benefiting from, and then it was a chance for me to have music in my kid’s life. Now, they could grow up and listen to songs, another day I’d play some instrument. We wrote a song together called The Dinosaur Song, it’s pretty good.
Sonny: We got to check that out.
Jon: It’s on somewhere on YouTube. I need to redo it because I didn’t sing very well. The Dinosaur Song it’s pretty good song, I did a really good job writing it. Then I’m real about this idea of creating, or starting, or being a part of a new masculine Renaissance. I think we have an issue with men not really knowing how to be good at being men these days. A lot of masculinity is villainized, you have a lot of young men who don’t have positive male role models or role models that are men around. They don’t get to see what positive masculinity looks like. I don’t know, I think being able to sing, dance, play music, fight in a cage, shoot a gun, change your oil, it’s man shit. There was a time when the manliest men painted.
Jon: Let’s get back to that, we can do it all.
Sonny: I’m with you on that, having a full range of skill sets as a person, they should be never seen as a negative just broadening your avenues of experience. Can you expand on that a bit for me about what things you think should change, how you would go about doing that?
Jon: You can’t force anything. I think I’m trying to put together a masculinity mastery program. Or at least a group where guys can share space and talk about shit they didn’t get taught because they didn’t have a dad or somebody around, or they had an effeminate dad. Things that don’t get covered by a lot of people, things that even I took years to learn. I think that would be a good start, just creating spaces that men have. Because women have infiltrated everything, there’s no space for just dudes. Boy Scouts of America now have girls in it, but there’s plenty of space where it’s just women, but men are not allowed to congregate alone.
Sonny: Obviously, probably the biggest thing or negative when talking about those men’s issues would be the rates of suicide with men, right? That’s a huge thing, and depression, and you talk about [crosstalk]
Jon: I would say that a lot of those depression and suicide cases are biological because the men have low testosterone and they don’t realize it. They go to a psychiatrist, and they put them on a bunch of drugs, and the psychiatrist never says, “Hey, go get your T levels checked.” Low testosterone levels will make you fucking sad, will make you a sad little whiny girl. If you are struggling with depression the first thing you should do is go get your T levels checked and then start lifting weights.
Sonny: Nothing wrong with getting down and lifting some weights, that’s for sure.
Jon: Lifting weights, resistance training is one of the best things for your health overall. It’ll raise your mood, it’ll raise T levels, and it has a lot of long-term health benefits. In a short period of time you see benefit, two weeks of resistance training you’ll see benefits.
Sonny: For sure, I think it’s like resistance training, sleep, vitamin D, those are the things that can help.
Jon: High-intensity cardio.
Sonny: To open up that space for men to be able to talk about things that I guess are commonly seen as being weak, that’s stereotypical like, “Never talk about something bothering you”, how do you do that?
Jon: I feel there’s a lot of brainwashing stuff about the stereotypical stuff. They push around a lot of the worst things that some of the worst maybe fathers said, “Don’t talk about your-” It’s not about not talking about your pain, and your suffering, and what you’re going through, it’s about time and place. There’s a time and place. If you’re in charge of a company, and you have a big meeting, and they’re facing something and you’re crying in the middle of a meeting, and these people are looking up to you for leadership, that is the time when you have to man up because you have a lot of people depending on you. You’re going through shit, yes, but part of being a man is taking that shit and dealing with it, so everybody else doesn’t suffer. You can have your time and place to deal with it, that’s a part of that stoicism. I cry, there’s times when I have to cry, but I’m not going to do it in front of my kids when I have to get shit done. Bad things happen. When you’re a man you’re supposed to be the leader, you’re supposed to be looked up to as a leader. When shit goes down, the women and the children look to you to handle shit. It’s not about not being sad and not crying, it’s about time and place because people depend on you. If you falter, people may die. That’s evolution of where we came, millions of years to get to this point. Men were responsible for keeping the women and the children alive. “Oh, my feelings are hurt. Somebody didn’t return my call”, or, “You didn’t say hi. You missed my birthday.” Those are things that hurt your feelings, and you can feel sad about, and you talk to the people who hurt you, but if that’s getting in your way of living your life, and staying alive, and keeping people around you alive, that’s not a good look.
Sonny: I think I get you. Let me say if I’ve understood right, you’re talking about I guess balancing that idea of stoicism and never expressing, or just accepting all the responsibility.
Jon: It’s not never expressing it, it’s just knowing when to.
Sonny: Creating a space where that’s where you’re going to express it and doing it in there. Then, outside of that, you’re taking care of everything else and taking responsibility.
Jon: Quite honestly, there were clubs and places where a man would be able to go and be alone, and that’s when it happened. The second you add a woman to the environment everybody’s attitude changes. Men would go out to battle for millions of years, they’re fighting to the death to protect what’s theirs. They come back home and they sit by the campfire, and they share their stories about what happened, and what they lost, and what they felt. They decompressed from the horror of the violence they just went through. The same thing happens when men go to war. They go out to war, they fight, they go through all the shit. It was around the Vietnam, is when we really started seeing bigger cases of PTSD. That was because they no longer had the decompression time. They went from killing somebody on Saturday to being at home in their living room on a Monday. In World War II, they took months to get home. They decompressed, they had a time to talk it out, and cry, and deal with stuff along their comrades who went through the same shit. Then, that ended and then you see [unintelligible 00:30:46] cases of soldiers committing suicide and PTSD. They don’t have the same chance to decompress, and I don’t think men get a chance to decompress in this society because there’s no spaces where it’s just men.
Sonny: That’s something I think is huge, that you’re probably referring. Clubs like Freemasons is a worldwide one, we had other local clubs, Lions Club in Australia, I don’t know if that’s worldwide. But clubs like that, that it was just taken for granted that that’s what men would go and meet. I know all their numbers are dropping down, membership numbers-wise. It seems like sports, especially maybe even fighting, people are coming into it to get that initiation, to get that feeling of acceptance and it’s [crosstalk]
Jon: In the tribe.
Sonny: Yes, that initiation structure that has maybe been taken out of our society.
Jon: We don’t have any rites of passages in our society at all anymore. People don’t move out of their parents’ homes, so you don’t even have the rite of passage of moving out.
Sonny: Yes, I hear that. Do you think that people are looking sometimes at cage fighting as a way to get that rite of passage?
Jon: Fighting is an art, it’s an art form. I think people escape to art when they want to be distracted and pulled away from reality. It’s not a fantasy, people want to live the fantasy in some way because real life is terrifying. If you can’t accept how that it’s terrifying and that you’re lucky just to breathe and that it’s going to end tragically one day, it’s easier to live in the dream.
Sonny: It’s killing the boy, not living in the dream and getting after it.
Jon: I think we’ve lost that. In a way, I didn’t really become a man until I started having kids and started realizing all this shit I thought I knew was fucking garbage. It’s just growing pants.
Sonny: Sure. I think the idea of the positive masculine role model then that you have is having that balance of the lighter and hardest sides. For that, what would you be looking for then for the positive female role model that’s not the negative stereotypes of the female?
Jon: That’s the thing. That’s where a lot of people may disagree with me, but men’s behavior is responsible for the women’s behavior. If men are being lazy, childless slobs, how do you think the women are going to act? They’re not going to step up to your– You’re lowering yourself. You want a woman to be better role models, you lead, that’s the job of that man, is to lead. You’ll be the role model. Women will step up to your level. If you make yourself high value and you lead a certain life, those women will start to adapt to the high-level men. The problem is we have a lot of soy-ish behavior among the males today. Because I go on dates and I do Bumble, and the Tinder, and whatever. I’ll go on a lot of just one-time dates and I’ll ask girls straight up what the market’s like, what’s like being out, what do they think of the guys. It’s all the same type of stuff. They’re all passive, they’re all soy, they’re effeminate, it’s not looking good out here. They call this area, “Man Jose”, because it’s four guys to one girl out here, but if you’re slightly masculine at all it’s shooting fish in a barrel. If you’ve got a decent job, and you lift weights, you got a little bit of game, you got no problem out here.
Sonny: If I’ve got this, understanding right, your advice or just your idea, maybe not advice, is just for men-?
Jon: Don’t worry about the girls. Make yourself the best version of yourself as possible that turns you into a magnet. You don’t have to go looking for a needle in a haystack, the needle comes searching for you.
Sonny: That makes sense. If you’re working on yourself, trying to be the best person that you could be and trying to take yours-?
Jon: Think, if The Rock was a single dude, you think he’d have a hard time looking for a girl? No, because he works out really hard, he’s a hell of an actor. He hustles, dude hustles. Girls are going to flock to him. Make yourself a center of attention, make yourself something to flock to. You have to build a life that people want to be around.
Sonny: Obviously, it should be everyone’s goal. Build a good life, build yourself in life.
Jon: Yes, there’s a lot of the positive mindset people who are like, “Oh, you’re just good enough the way you are.” That’s a dangerous trap to me. “Oh, you’re just good enough. You’re perfect just the way you are.” The same thing with body positivity, you’re telling people that they’re fine when they’re unhealthy. They could get diabetes, or cancer, or something, a heart disease. It’s mean almost. I don’t know. Are you really being that nice? You’re causing more damage than you’re stoping.
Sonny: It’s a combination then of having that acceptance of being responsible for everything in your life, but also not just accepting a lower level of standards for yourself or-?
Jon: For a long time throughout human history the goal was to always be improving, always be bettering yourself, always do more, be better, where I feel like in recent years, last 20 years or so, it’s just like, “I’m good enough. Gimme, gimme, gimme”.
Sonny: That trying of bettering yourself and becoming the best person you could be, how do you think that taking it back to martial arts is? Is that the best vehicle they got to do it?
Jon: That’s the whole purpose, that’s the whole purpose of martial arts, isn’t it? It’s self-betterment. It’s not just about fighting people, it’s about being better to your family, being better to your loved ones, being better to strangers, being better to earth and things around you, I think. When I first got into fighting, it was about I wanted to do the crazy stuff and I wanted the money, but then I think I went to Japan the first time, I started reading about Buddhism and I read this book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. By the time I moved to California, I had already started moving towards the path rather than the party.
Sonny: That’s a huge thing in that book. I remember it’s just talking about that idea of quality and just- [crosstalk]
Jon: Yes, I got that from that book. Writing that book helped me fall back in love with training, and the fighting, and all that stuff again because I channeled myself back into that mindset, I was like, “Yes, man, I forgot about the quality.” I became obsessed with the UFC title. I felt like for a long time that my only chance of success or any type of success was tied to that title. That made me train hard and win a lot of fights, but at the same time, it almost destroyed me.
Sonny: The great example, I guess, in that book as well, I remember when he’s going on a hiking trip with his son and they’re talking about when you’re going to reach the top of the mountain and then there’s- It’s a big lesson.
Jon: Well, he spent time in Tibet, I think, and he was walking up to the mountain with some monks. He kept complaining about the trip. “Are we at the top yet? Are we at the top yet?” Rather than just looking at the rocks, and looking at the trees, and smell in the air and enjoying himself, he’s worried about getting to the end. That can ruin it.
Sonny: Yes, all about enjoying the journey. You’ve got a great documentary. It’s such great heights that follows that path for you up to your title fight with GSP. Can you explain that process? Did you have that feeling as you were going through it or was that something that you discovered off after that fight? Because that’s got to be a massive moment.
Jon: Man, no, that was just the accumulation of all the hard work and following the path. I think a lot of the things that went around, that whole fight made me sniff the gold, I started coming down a little bit with the belts are becoming a little bit of the precious around that time. They don’t know if you’re going to win, so they start buttering you up because any watch the company man so you got to- I have special dinners and your plane seats are a little bit better now, your hotel room’s a little bit better now. There’s little perks that come along and they let you know, “Hey, we can do this. You don’t have to be with the rest of the slobs on the first floor”, or whatever [chuckles] . I think they may have do it on purpose, man, because you’re hooked. They use you hooked to that, like, “Hey, look what we can do for you if you’re a company man type of thing”.
Sonny: Yes, okay. That was something that, I guess- maybe a little known for as ending up resisting that?
Jon: Yes. Because some dumb sportsman are hard. I wanted to be a true sport, I don’t want to get by on anything because of outside things. I didn’t want to be charismatic and get fights. I just wanted to win and do it that way. I wanted it to be a sportsman. That was one of the things too because I could feel what they were doing. It was like, “Oh, this is what it’s like.” The money and the respect, and whatever, is nice but at the same time, this is sleazy and slimy, I didn’t really like it. [chuckles] I don’t take the buy-out for it.
Sonny: I remember the time, I think it was even Dana White, there was a common criticism that your fighting start wasn’t exciting enough but-
Jon: That was a manufactured criticism because no one had ever said that until before my second fight with Thiago. That was the fight that I’d started getting pushed around. When they really started pushing me, “Winning doesn’t matter, only excitement matters.” They really started pushing the entertainment narrative over the sport narrative, at least towards the public.
Sonny: It’s a testament though your longevity to have- maybe you’ve made the right decision in terms of longevity of your career.
Jon: I would’ve made a lot more money if I just would’ve said, “Okay, boss. Whatever you say.” Which a lot of guys do.
Sonny: Yes. That was the famous example of when you turned down the lifetime licensing rights for the video games. Which I think if you explain that to anyone rationally, of, “Hey, do you want to give a company the right to use your-?”
Jon: Image and likeness forever for no money.
Sonny: It was probably the contract that was probably for the universe, the end of time, five billion years, or something like that.
Jon: Yes, it was lifetime, as long as they wanted it, it was theirs, that and the merchandising you get. If I die, they could still use it and not pay my family. I’m like, “Are you fucking kidding me?” I think it’s a tragedy alone that the promotions are allowed to keep all of the pictures and all the videos of the fights. That’s part yours as a fighter. You should be allowed, at least some access to that, to create your own promotional content.
Sonny: Yes, that should be standard in contracts.
Jon: We don’t get any kind of say in anything, it’s take-it-or-leave-it. The managers are just brokers, there’s no real agencies.
Sonny: That’s a shame, maybe we’ll get into that. What do you think about the sport then? It’s definitely become more entertainment.
Jon: It is. It’s pro wrestling. They also catered to a pro wrestling fanbase. There’s almost a hundred percent crossover between WWE fans and UFC fans, but there’s no crossover between boxing fans and UFC fans. Boxing fans don’t watch any of it all.
Sonny: What do you think is the difference then in the fans?
Jon: I think they created this pro wrestling fanbase because that’s what they’re used to seeing. They wanted to see they control the titles, they want to see the forced match-ups. They like it, it’s pro wrestling. This is basically the offer-it-all, the WWE did a tough man type competition, that’s basically what happened. The Fertittas probably watched that and said, “Oh, that’s what we could do to this.” It’s their exhibitions, the titles are promotional titles, they’re not world titles. It’s a show, they’re putting on a show and they’re selling it as a sport which is a problem because the Athletic Commissions are involved. There needs to be sanctioned by the controls titles. It just has to happen, there has to be a separation of power. We can’t allow them to exploit fighters like this anymore.
Sonny: Yes. You mentioned the Brawl for All, actually, there’s a great show on that, I watched recently called Dark Side of the Ring. Have you seen that?
Jon: I did watch along with my friend Kris Tinkle. We did a Fitch & Tinkle SMASH Everything, we have a podcast and we did a watch along. We watched that and we did a podcast over it while we were viewing it, so people can cue it up and watch as we are watching it and comment direct. Have you watched the New Jack one?
Sonny: Yes, that’s fascinating. What a guy.
Jon: It’s terrorizing. We watched that one too. He did out-threat me accordingly to what that was about. But, oh my goodness, if you guys have not watched that, that is–
Sonny: Yes, I don’t want to spoil it because that’s- [chuckles] there’s a lot of guys wowed. He is wow.
Jon: They got them. They’re taking advantage of a situation too, men. Just taking the things he would say to the crowds to get them riled up, oh my goodness.
Sonny: That’s right. You got to remember there are some bad and scary people out there [chuckles] .
Jon: Excuse me, scary people. I think he was charismatic. He has three- what do you call it? Three justifiable homicides [laughs] .
Jon: He’s also a bounty hunter. Three justifiable homicides, that’s wow.
Sonny: They’ve got some great stories in there. Let’s say if there was a Dark side of the Ring of UFC, what would the story be that you would know, that you would tell for that?
Jon: My dark side of the octagon story would be the story of how SEG was in position to get MMA regulated by the State of Nevada and when they would’ve done that, they would’ve been successful, made money, and they’d never would’ve had to sell the property or sell the OC. For some strange reason, the Nevada Athletic Commission voted no, and nobody could figure out why. Shortly after that, the Fertittas bought UFC under Zuffa for two million. Do you know who is on the Athletic Commission at the time of the vote?
Sonny: I don’t.
Sonny: There you go.
Jon: One of Fertitta voted no, quit the Commission, turned around and after they cut the legs out of one of the UFC there, there was no way they were going to get regulated by any other state, and they had no way to make money, so they had no other choice. The Fertittas defunded, they cut the legs off of the SEG UFC so that they could buy it at a cheap two million dollars.
Sonny: Okay. My understanding that the Fertittas feels like, maybe, a mafia involvement element of-
Jon: There’s cronyism. This goes deeper. Next, there’s around 2000, ‘2000s when the Ali Act passed. Senator John McCain was having that, he’s pushing that in to get that passed. He wanted to also put MMA on it because he was upset about MMA and he called it cockfighting and he was going to force them onto the same bill. But then one day, he just stopped talking about it. It just so happens that he is also constituents or colleagues who work very close with Harry Reid. Do you know who Harry Reid is?
Sonny: I don’t.
Jon: He’s a senator or governor from Nevada. They worked, voted, and did a lot of stuff together. Harry Reid is good friends with Fertitta’s father, [unintelligible 00:49:13] Fertitta’s father, senior.
Sonny: There’s that connection.
Jon: There’s a, “Hey buddy”, connection between all of them.
Sonny: Now there’s another source of something big with them and the Culinary Workers Union or-?
Jon: That’s just the Culinary Union. They’ve been trying to unionize their hotel for a really long time. Most of Vegas is unionized. If you sponsor it or not, the Fertitta’s hotel is not. They tried a lot of tactics to try to do it, including manipulating the Mixed Martial Arts Fighters Association and some other UFC fighters. Trying to get them to sign up and unionized under the UFC, because they’re trying to damage them to gain leverage with what they’re doing. We stopped working with them because we don’t like how they’re operating.
Sonny: The idea of a union and a fighters union, I know you’ve got the antitrust lawsuit, I believe, going on.
Jon: We are awaiting a decision from the judge. We had a pretty evidentiary hearing back in August. The judge listen to UFC’s experts who listen to our experts. He has a year from that time to write a decision on it. I think there’s two things relating to the decision. One of them is class certification, that’s the important one. A class certification, we’re going to trial.
Sonny: Are you then hoping to develop a fighters union or for a fighters union to come out of this?
Jon: We have Mixed Martial Arts Association that has been around for over 10 years. We’re here, fighters just need to sign on the dotted line and we can move forward. But people are scaredy cats, I guess. They’re okay, these fighters are okay. With the UFC, their estimated made like $45 million on pay per view on Saturday. 45 million and they paid the fighters 3.5 million.
Jon: 12% split by all those fighters. You’re kidding, right? The fact that those guys, Justin Gaethje and Tony were making five to $15 million for that fight, that is insulting.
Sonny: What would you say then to the idea then of a fighters union or just a union in general?
Jon: You can’t do a union. A union is in one organization, one owner. That means you have no leverage. You need an association like SAG, Screen Actors Guild, so you can look at the promoters like production companies like Fox, or Pixar, or whatever, those production companies. The actors can all be under the same roof of an association that way, you can do insurance and all that stuff. That way, you don’t have to worry about losing your union stuff because you lost your job at one promotion, we’re all under one umbrella, we need to set an industry-wide standard. That’s the best way to do it.
Sonny: That makes sense. Maybe finishing up, to get people to jump on board with that to join the association, what would you say to fighters who might be reluctant to be looking at things like getting a larger revenue split, distributing income to the fighters, when that idea to a lot of people might be seen as soil, socialism or something like that?
Jon: No, it’s a free market because right now the way I look at it is the MMA market is communism, it’s communist. You have one oligarch who takes up, sucks up all the money and it redistributes it as they see fit. It’s not decided by the market. If you wanted a free market, the fighters should be able to, when they win a title, let them be free agents. You need cross-promotions, so fighters can fight other fighters from different promotions to get their titles. The titles need other titles with their rankings. The rankings need to be independently done worldwide. Fighters need to be able to keep their ranking regardless of what promoter they fight for. I was ninth in the UFC when they cut me, I went to zero when I was released. Your notoriety is tied to a lot of these things. It’s not a production, it’s a sport, it needs to be around like a sport.
Sonny: You’re thinking-?
Jon: They are putting restrictions on a market, that’s what I’m saying. Ben Askren fighting for ONE FC should have been able to fight because he was undefeated champion, he was number one in the world contender, he should have been able to fight whoever was the champ at the time in the UFC, but he was restricted as an independent contractor. As an independent business, as a sole business, he was restricted from doing business because of the UFC’s business model, that is on American.
Sonny: Yes, I think I have heard it described as monopsony?
Jon: They use monopsony .That’s making people wear uniforms and basically treating them like an employee, even though they’re independent contractors.
Sonny: Basically, if it was a free market in your mind, if it was just pure capitalism, your workers would be getting more and you’d have more rights. Is that what you’re saying?
Jon: You’d have more opportunities to fight, you’d have more promotion, you’d have more promoters have more money coming into the market to compete. One of the big things with the UFC’s businesses, it’s almost impossible to get into the market. You saw affliction and some other people years ago with big money. Billionaires who wanted to get into the market and start their promotion, but they realized that they can’t compete because all the contracts are already monopolized, all the top contracts are monopolized by the UFC. They have 90% of the top 10 guys in every weight class. You’re not going to be able to have enough notoriety to pull people’s eyeballs in to start a new business. That’s a limitation on the market also, that’s illegal. Anybody should have the right to open a business and compete, but you can’t compete because of the illegal contracts that the UFC uses.
Sonny: If that was all, your lawsuit can change that then, right?
Jon: Possibly. After we win, then they would have to change their business model or some other group of fighters could sue them again.
Sonny: That’s going to be a very interesting thing to pay attention to into the future and see what evolves from that. I guess my last question here today, I really appreciate the time that you’ve given me, is, what advice then would you give to a fighter just getting into the game? Maybe then in dealing with that business side of things.
Jon: I wrote a blog, Five Things a Beginning Fighter Should Know. You got to jump my channel and check that out, I got a blog there. Sign up for the newsletter, it came out in the newsletter first and now it’s up on the website for the own blog. But the one of number of things I say in there the most important thing to do right now is you have to promote yourself. Promoters are not promoting you anymore. They are going to take a guy who already has a certain level of notoriety and they’re going to squeeze the juice out of them. They’re going to check a pre-juiced, they’re not going to grow the orange or whatever. They’re going to find a ripe one, pick it and squeeze it. You’ve got to build your own notoriety. You got through social media, email lists, videos, YouTube, podcasts. It sucks, but that’s what you have to do now. You have to get your own sponsors. You’re going to build your own affiliate sales, all that type of stuff. You need outside funding besides the promoter because that’s going to have to pay for your training and you’re not going to be able to just live from fight to fight. That’s my big thing, is self-promotion. Y, you have to build your social media, you just have to. It’s necessary. If you can’t afford somebody to do it for you, you’re going to have to do it yourself, have some type of app or some kind of thing that lets you post or set pre-set posts. You just have to do it, you have to figure out a way to use the market to sell yourself. Because if you have 200,000 Instagram followers, guess what? You’re going to get a hell of a lot bigger fight contract. You’re going to get a lot more exposure. You’re a big fat juicy orange when you got that type of credit. They’re going to come squeeze you up. Otherwise, they’re not going bother with you. There are promoters out there right now that will require fighters to have a certain follower account on social media just to get in the fight.
Sonny: Which is wild to think about, but probably all that stuff now I guess it’s a good skill for anyone in any industry to get a handle of because that’s just the world [crosstalk]
Jon: Just the way it’s going, yes. Everything’s going online.
Sonny: No one’s looking up the Yellow Pages anymore. Unfortunately, sorry, Mr. Yellow Pages, but you’re going [laughs] . I’d love to have you back in the future, maybe just talk social media promoting, that’d be interesting.
Jon: I’m still trying to figure it out, but yes.
Sonny: Me too, mate, me too. It’s all a process. What was the title of your book again?
Jon: I have Failing Upward/Death by Ego, that’s my journals and stuff, the beginning days. Then I have The Weight Cut Bible, for anybody in a weight class sport, but also, if you just do the meal plan stuff, if you don’t do the weight cut part, you’re going to get jacked and be ripped. It’s good for you.
Sonny: That’s what I’m doing with the social media at the moment, filing and let’s just hope it goes upward. You know what I’m saying? Let’s just keep going up.
Jon: It’s keep going. It’s like playing a video game. You play the first time, the monster kills you, but then you learn the pattern, you figure it out, you beat it, and you get to the next level. That’s what you should be focusing on doing with your life. Don’t get frustrated and smash the console because you died the first time.
Sonny: That’s it, I love that. One last thing, I’ve got a text here from a Brian Ebersole.
Jon: Yes, Ebersole.
Sonny: [laughs] And he says, “Do you remember who has your Chappelle show DVD?”
Jon: Does he still have my Chappelle show DVD? Man, he’s going to sell that on eBay.
Sonny: [laughs] I think he said he’s lost it, and he’s very sorry about that.
Jon: No worries.
Sonny: Is there a message I pass along to Brian?
Jon: That’s funny. No, I love Brian, he’s awesome. He was basically my first manager because Tom Erickson set up my first fight and I went out by myself to the fights and I didn’t have a corner, didn’t wear a [unintelligible 01:00:41] cup. Just met Ebersole out there, talk to him, and then he fought somebody, I fought somebody, and we went out to bars and strip clubs afterwards. He was in Illinois, I was in Indiana Purdue, and were like two hours apart. He was the first person I got the train with that ever had any real MMA experience. He knew some of the Midwest circuit promoters, so he would call and see where the shows were and we’d drive out to Minnesota, or Iowa, or whatever. Jump into a show and it’s good times
Sonny: Happy guys. I’ll pass that along. I’ve had a great chat, I really appreciate it, Jon, and people should check out the books, check out your podcast, Jon Fitch Knows Nothing, and your Instagram and your Roku as well, is that?
Jon: Rock fan. Just go to jonfitch.net, everything I’ve got is on jonfitch.net. See the books, podcast, blogs, lots of stuff.
Sonny: Excellent. Jon, thanks so much for your time.
Jon: Thank you, it’s good talking.