Photo via Sherdog
*Note this interview was conducted before news of Carlos Condit's knee injury.
Chris Lytle is a warrior. A blue collar, tough as nails MMA veteran with knockout power in his hands and an engineer's precision on the ground, Lytle is one of the most dangerous fighters in the welterweight division. The Indianapolis native has put together four consecutive wins, going undefeated in a 2010 campaign that saw "Lights Out" make a run towards the top of the division. Included in his recent tear was redemption personified as he defeated Matt Serra in front of a home town crowd at UFC 119. For Lytle the victory was more than just besting a former champion. Due to the history between the two men, defeating Serra helped Lytle put away his past and focus on the challenges ahead.
Both fighters are know for bringing a tenacious style to the cage and the bout is an early "Fight of the Night" favorite for UFC 127 in Sydney Australia. The winner of this welterweight collision will move one step closer to title contention and while Lytle has expressed interest in only facing competition that is willing to go out and put all on the line, UFC gold remains a high priority on his list. I recently caught up with Chris as he prepares to leave for Sydney and in his Bloody Elbow Exclusive interview he looked ahead to Carlos Condit and reflected on his long awaited homecoming at UFC 119.
"It was awesome," Lytle stated. "There's never been a scene here (Indianapolis) up until about the last five years where the sport became really popular. It was a good deal especially for all of those people who really became fans over the past five years. They are always coming up to me asking, "when can I watch you fight live?" and I would always have to tell them they'd have to go to Las Vegas or like this next fight they would have to go to Australia. Of course people were never able to do that so when they were able to come here to see the fights it was pretty cool."
While the UFC has made a huge push to expand their reaches internationally, domestically there are still emerging markets to be discovered. Judging by all major indicators the city of Indianapolis and its MMA fans made UFC 119 a success and only time will tell if the UFC plans on putting the "Circle City" on it's list of regular stops.
"I would think so," Lytle answered. "I know the UFC liked the crowds and they liked Indianapolis so I imagine they will come back to Indy in a year or two. I can foresee them putting Indy somewhere in the rotation and hopefully it won't be all too long before they come back."
There is no doubt UFC 119 meant a lot to Chris Lytle but more than just the opportunity to fight in front of a hometown crowd was the chance for him to find redemption. Several years back Lytle faced Matt Serra in the finale for "The Comebacks" season of "The Ultimate Fighter". Serra walked away in a close, hard fought decision and went on from there to pull off the biggest upset in UFC history by defeating Georges. St. Pierre. Left to wonder "what if" the fight would haunt Chris Lytle for years.
More from Lytle after the jump.
"The only thing on my mind, probably on both of our minds was the way that last fight went," Lytle stated. "I don't think he liked how it all went down between me and him and neither did I. In our first fight neither of us went out there an really laid it all on the line and when it went to the judge's it went his way. He's been the champ since that time so he's kind of accomplished what he's wanted to in this sport where I'm still working to reach my goal. But at the same time, this last fight with Serra was about me killing off my past where I didn't fight like I wanted to. Now I am going out there and trying to take people out and that's how I want to fight. Granted, I wasn't able to do that against Matt because he's a really tough guy but this fight was about me trying to make a difference from the first time we fought."
In the world of MMA there are only a handful of places where a fighter can go to develop his skills. Las Vegas holds the flag as the fight capital but outside of "Sin City" the options to develop young talent are scattered. Lytle has mostly held court on his own in Indianapolis but over the past year and a half he's had company in the form of TUF alum and rising heavyweight Matt Mitrione. In a recent interview I had with Mitrione he expressed that Lytle is not only his mentor, but one of the toughest men he has ever seen. In turn, Lytle shared his thoughts his friend and training partner.
"He's probably the most physically talented guy in that division," Lytle answered when asked about Mitrione. "Really, it's hard to tell where he could go. The potential is there and he continues to progress and get better. Matt moves like a guy who is 160 lbs. so anytime you have a guy who moves that way it will make it difficult for the bigger heavyweights in his division. Plus, that's just on the feet. Matt does a lot of work on the ground too and the good thing is Matt isn't like a lot of other guys where if they are good on their feet they won't practice on the ground. Either that or they'll just work on certain aspects. Matt isn't like that. He'll work off of his back. He'll work on top and he'll try to do certain submissions, whatever he needs to learn to become a complete fighter. The main aspect of that is attitude. When you take these big strong guys and somebody puts them on the ground it's humbling for them to be on their backs getting choked. You have to be willing to accept it and learn from it. Matt is willing to do whatever it takes so I think that's a big part of why he is going to be successful."
In addition to the classic battles inside of the cage, Lytle is also well known for keeping his full-time job as a fireman outside of it, which at the level he competes at, can be somewhat of a difficult thing to wrap your mind around.
"I think it baffles people because training is a full-time job," Lytle said. "Anyone who knows about the fight business is aware that it takes full dedication to prepare for a fight. I think it baffles them because they know I work 48 hours each week and I'm still training full time. Don't get me wrong I know there is a limited amount of time for me to do both things but I'm not willing give either one of them up and I've just had to give up other aspects of my life now. I'm not willing to give up my fighting so I can take up something else...this is pretty much it. I work at the firehouse, I train for fights and I spend time with my family. That's my life right now and I don't have time for anything else. When I get done fighting then I'll have time for some hobbies until then, this is what I want to do and this is what I'm going to do."
Up next for Chris Lytle is a matchup with former WEC welterweight champion Carlos Condit. They were originally scheduled to meet at UFC Fight Night 19 but Lytle suffered an injury to his knee and was forced to withdraw.
"The first time around with Condit it was about five or six weeks out, I had just started the camp when I got hurt," Lytle explained. "I blew out my ACL and had surgery on my meniscus so I was out for about six months. It was horrible and it was the only time I've ever had to have surgery for anything like that. But as far as the camp, I had just gotten into it before I got hurt so this is the first real camp I've ever had for Condit. "
Condit is quickly becoming known for his unique brand of "controlled aggression" a fighting style Chris Lytle basically wrote the book on. When the fighters are compared on paper the similarities are hard to miss but it may be the intangible qualities that determine the victor at UFC 127.
"The main thing with Carlos is his tenacity," Lytle stated. "He is always going to be coming after you, always in your face trying to take you out. That's the kind of fight that I'm looking for. I don't want a guy who is going to go out there and try to out point me or take me down. I want to fight somebody who is going to come out there and be a man and try to take me out from the beginning to the end because honestly that's the way I'm coming out to fight him. The way I see it, when you have two guys who fight like that there is no way it's going to be a bad fight and I feel like when I usually encounter someone who fights like that I come out on top. I couldn't ask for a better style of matchup. I know he is good in every aspect of the game but so am I so this is exactly the type of fight I like."
Outside of his first round knockout of Dan Hardy, in three out of four bouts in the UFC Condit has gotten off to a slow start. In his bouts against Jake Ellenberger and Rory MacDonald he found himself rocked and in trouble but was able to battle back to claim victories. Lytle on the other hand, has proven to take an opposite approach and has historically brought the action from opening bell.
"I sure hope so," Lytle laughed when asked if his ability to start strong will be a factor. "Hopefully there won't be a second or third round come into play. It's going to be a tough fight and if you look at his four fights in the UFC he's been hurt a couple of times but by God he's never been stopped. He's proven that he's tough and that he can bounce back from being in trouble so he does a good job of fighting that off. His tenacity takes over and he does well so it should be an interesting fight."
A win over Condit in Sydney would make it five straight for Chris Lytle and it would be a difficult argument to keep him from the top of the heap. Despite his demand to only face opponents that are looking for a real fight, earning a shot at the UFC welterweight title is something he definitely has in his sights.
"In my opinion if you're not working to be the best then you don't have a place in the sport," Lytle answered when asked about title aspirations. "I'm really enjoying making a title run but I'm not willing to compromise making changes for the sake of it. I'm not going to switch things up and say "well this fight I'm going out there with a win at all cost mentality. It's not going to be like that. If I'm going to reach that level it's going to be on my terms and by using my style. I'm trying to not fight guys who have the opposite mentality and fortunately the UFC has learned that if they give me good fighters with a similar mentality they get great fights out of it. I'm not expecting to get all of the exact type of fights I want on the road to getting a title shot...I'll fight whoever they put in front of me but I always want the highest ranked guy who is going to get in there and fight me. Whoever that may be I'll gladly take it."
A title shot in the welterweight division over the past few years meant a meeting with one of the pound for pound best in Georges St. Pierre. After Anderson Silva's victory over Vitor Belfort at UFC 126, Dana White is now setting the stage for a "super fight" matchup between the welterweight and middleweight champions. With that being said, St. Pierre will still have to get past Jake Shields at UFC 129, and regardless of what transpires, Lytle still wants what he feels is the biggest test of all.
"Without a doubt I want to fight St. Pierre," Lytle declared. "I don't think it's going to happen but if Georges gets beat by Jake Shields...if he slips and falls on his way into the cage, hits his head and gets beat by him I'd still like to fight St. Pierre. I'd love the title but in my opinion Georges St. Pierre is the best fighter right now and I'd like to fight the best. I want to test myself and I'd like to see how I would do against him because in my opinion he's the best and that's who I want to fight. I really hope he doesn't go up to 185 lbs. so I'll get that chance."
Outside of his MMA experience, Chris Lytle has also notched an impressive record as a professional boxer. For years the two were associated anytime Lytle's name was mentioned but over the past two years, the Indianapolis native has shown some severe skills when the fight hits the canvas, including two "Submission of the Night" finishes in bouts with Matt Brown and H.I.T. Squad's Brian Foster.
"I truly think the biggest compliment you can receive is when people realize you can end the fight anywhere," Lytle replied. "I don't want to be known as anything in particular just wherever the fight goes with me you know that you're in danger. That's a good compliment to me because this isn't boxing, this isn't jiu-jitsu, it's mixed martial arts so you better be well versed. The worst kind of guy to fight in my opinion is the type of guy that no matter where the action goes it could all be over in the next couple of seconds. That's the kind of fighter I'm trying to be and I think that's the best type of fighter you can aspire to be."
At the current time Chris Lytle holds the record for the most fight night bonuses awarded with 7. As versatile as they come, the amount of honors earned is further proof that Chris Lytle is a guaranteed show. With the interview coming to a close I asked if he thought it would be appropriate, after his fighting days were behind him, if the UFC would officially name the fight night bonus award after him.
"That'd be awesome," Lytle laughed. "They can call it whatever they want but I've been pretty fortunate. It takes two to make a good fight and I've had some fights where the other guy has made it difficult to put on a good fight and I've had others where guys have come out and just gotten to it. It takes two to tango and I've been fortunate to take home the award on a few occasions. But if they ever want to change the name, I'm there for them and I'll support it."