Fitch targets title; 'Ace' nears retirement


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Jon Fitch felt UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre would be too much for Carlos Condit. And the American expects the same of himself when he meets Demian Maia on Super Bowl weekend in Las Vegas.

"It will be an interesting matchup," Fitch told ESPN.com after verbally agreeing to the fight last week. "I haven't created too much of a game plan, but I think I'll overwhelm him with everything that I bring to the table."

The bout will likely suffer from a lack of headlines leading up to UFC 156, in large part because the card, as it unofficially stacks up, is loaded. Then again, like the stone-grinding that follows Fitch from fight to fight, a weak spotlight is normal. While Maia isn't a particularly powerful draw either, his recent conversion down to welterweight has revitalized the Brazilian jiu-jitsu wizard's prospects of fighting for a UFC championship.

Maia looks every bit a serious, well-rounded mixed martial arts contender, and Fitch is the perfect guy to test that.

"He's really a monster at 170," Fitch said. "I was surprised at how big he was down in Rio [at UFC 153]."

Despite Maia's size -- along with everything else the 35-year-old Brazilian brings into the cage -- Fitch believes his own work rate and pressure will prove too much. That's how the wrestler unwound the tornado that is Erick Silva in mid-October, when he and Maia were tremendous at UFC 153.

Fitch, 34, has been a fixture at the top of the welterweight class for the past five years, and it's hard to argue a win over Maia wouldn't put him in prime position to fight for the belt again.

"I think as far as depth, 170 has always been the best weight class," Fitch said.

The assessment sounds fair to me. Welterweight has long been a marquee moneymaking division for the UFC because of its competitive strength and dominant champions. These days, St-Pierre has no shortage of potent threats to cope with, and Fitch-Maia should do the job of producing yet another.

Franklin to fulfill his end

Nearly three weeks after Cung Le knocked him cold in Macau, Rich Franklin sounds prepared to soldier on and honor the last fight of his contract with the UFC.

Franklin met Thursday with his manager, JT Stewart. The former UFC middleweight champion expects to take a fight at 185 pounds, Stewart said, though Franklin doesn’t have an opponent in mind.

“Doesn’t matter,” Stewart said.

If indeed it’s Franklin’s last rumble -- Stewart would only commit to “we will see” -- you can understand why middleweight is the destination. Franklin, now 38, reached his peak at the weight before Anderson Silva arrived and produced many moments since turning pro in 1999.

An odd one I was glad to see in person came in January 2001 in far-flung Friant, Calif. Fighting at 220 pounds, Franklin’s sixth pro bout came against Aaron Brink and turned out to be the only no-contest of his career.

Brink, a brawler, was a couple months removed from an armbar loss to Andrei Arlovski (the Belarusian’s first fight in the Octagon). Managed by Monte Cox at the time, Franklin was unbeaten in five fights, all stoppages, and undoubtedly a talent to watch.

Competing on an "IFC: Warriors Challenge" event meant this was the first time a promoter had flown Franklin out from Ohio to fight. He really shouldn’t have shown up. (I remember Cox saying Franklin’s fever was as high as 104 a couple hours before the event, but this was a long time ago.) Anyhow, “Ace” stepped in the cage to battle for IFC’s illustrious United States light heavyweight title. Crazily, midway through the first round of a slugfest, Brink’s right leg wedged between the cage and the canvas.

I’ve never seen anything like that again.

All together now?

Promoting UFC 154 at ESPN in Bristol a couple weeks back, Dana White’s many stops included a SportsNation chat with fans.

Leo from Salt Lake wondered when we’ll see a fighters union in the UFC.

This was White’s response:

“I doubt it. The thing about fighting is, fighting is not a team sport, it's an individual sport. It's going to be tough to see a day with Silva or GSP is giving up big chunks of their money to guys who won't make two fights in the UFC. Different sports. But if it happens, it happens. I have to negotiate with somebody on the fight contracts.”

Why would creating a union require Silva or GSP or any fighter to give up a chunk of money, let alone a big one? That doesn’t make sense based on the inroads unions and associations made in other sports.

I wonder how Marvin Miller would have reacted to White’s comment. Miller transformed Major League Baseball by organizing its players into one of the country’s strongest unions. His death Tuesday spawned widespread admiration, including this tweet from 28-year-old energy broker/UFC lightweight John Cholish:

“Very sad to hear of the loss of Marvin Miller, wish #MMA and #MMAFighters had a man like him #Greatness”.