There are guys in the UFC who fight with absolute predictability. Chris Lytle is one of those guys. Whenever he steps in the Octagon, his game plan is clear to everyone in the room—it’s to stand and trade leather, to bang on the feet until somebody drops, even if it’s himself. A trademark image of Lytle would be a grin and a stream of blood running down his face. We’ve all seen it; he ends up that way almost every time he steps in the cage.
In the way there were Mike Tyson Fights distinctive enough to become a certain “kind,” there are Chris Lytle Fights. They’re fun to watch, painful to engage, and even a little bit (read: quite a whole lot) incautious. From a fan’s perspective, there will never be a boring moment in a Chris Lytle Fight unless the opponent insists.
And you know something? That’s what the 35-year-old veteran of 50 wars digs most. Excitement. That’s why he’s won six end-of-the-night honors in his last eight bouts in the UFC.
“I’m going to go out there and fight as hard as I can whether I win or lose,” he says. “That way I’ll at least feel good that I went out there and fought the way I wanted to and did what I could. I know there are probably smarter ways to fight and I don’t even care about that.”
What Lytle has long ago figured out is that he wants what everybody wants, and that’s a good fight. The free-swinging welterweight’s not without technique, as people remember from his stint on The Ultimate Fighter 4—in fact, besides his pro boxing pedigree he’s excellent on the ground if that’s where things must go. But it was the show’s finale, the narrow split decision loss to a foot-stomping Matt Serra back in November of 2006, that remains a pivotal moment for “Lights Out” Lytle.
In that bout he fought not to lose, and it irked him enough to switch philosophies.
“Yeah, that totally changed the way I view things,” he says. “I look at it like, there are guys up there who are close to getting a title shot or have the title, and they’re always fighting to not lose it seems to me. They’re not going out there throwing caution to the wind and just going after it. They’re very calculated and try to be very smart, and I don’t like fighting like that. I did it once and I don’t want to do it again.”
Such talk might get him crossed off of Greg Jackson’s Christmas card list, but it sure sits well with people who like back-and-forth white-knuckle action. The truth is Lytle hasn’t fought not to lose since then, but, sometimes by default, he showcases his fight acumen and it's those smarts that end up propelling him to victory.
Just ask Brian Foster.
Reluctant to engage in a slugfest, Foster got a taste of the Lytle reserves when he fell prey to a second-round kneebar in Australia at UFC 110 this past February. Being tapped by an insistent boxer is one of those damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenarios, but Lytle—who took home submission of the night honors—points to it like a cautionary tale for those who don’t know.
“If a guy’s going to totally give me something, I’m going to take it,” says Lytle, who still doubles as a fireman in Indianapolis. “If a guy’s going to take something away from me, it opens another door. So, if you’re giving me a submission or an easy takedown, I have to take that just to make you fight honest. Every time you close one door, you open up another one for me and I feel like I’ve been training too long and I’m pretty well-rounded in every area that if you open up something I’m going to exploit that and do what I want to do.”
And that’s land punches, in flurries and in volume. Lytle (38-17-4) will get a chance to swing (and happily be swung at) when he squares off with “The Immortal” Matt Brown (13-8) at UFC 116 in Las Vegas on July 3. The two met before in a UFL tussle back in 2007 when Brown was still a virtually unknown up-and-comer fighting on regional cards. Lytle admits he knew nothing about Brown going in, but the thing he learned in a hurry was that he was in for a dogfight, that it wasn’t going to be a smooth ride.
“The first time I fought Matt there wasn’t much upside for me other than it was in my hometown, and he came out there and really came after me,” he says. “I didn’t know who this guy was, but I immediately thought ‘I’m taking this guy down and finishing him on the ground.’ He was harder to take down than I thought, but I eventually did and submitted him in the second round.
“He’s much improved since then, especially on the ground. I do like the way he attacks people. His attitude is to attack and get in your face and say ‘you can’t hurt me.’ I like to fight the same way, so I’m looking forward to it.”
It has all the makings of a quintessential Chris Lytle Fight, another potential fight of the night for the man aptly called “Lights Out.” Which brings us to another contention, this business about a second “Lights Out” entering the UFC in the form of crossover boxer/MMA fighter James “Lights Out” Toney.
The obvious question needs to be raised—is this street big enough for two Lights Out’s?
“No,” Lytle laughs. “I told Toney if he could get his weight down to 185 pounds, I’d come up to that weight class and we could fight for the name, and the loser would have to think of a new one. I would come up to 185 for that.”
He’s not exactly kidding, but he also knows the chances of a 41-year-old Toney making 185 are as comical as they are astronomical. But when Lytle was coming up as a boxer, turns out he emulated the champion Toney to the consternation of his trainers.
“That’s kind of funny because, I loved the way he boxed,” he says. “When I got started boxing, I would watch one of his fights and I’d go to the gym and I’d be fighting like him. My left hand would be down on my hip and my right hand would be guarding my chin, sideways style, and my coach would be like ‘alright, enough James Toney—don’t do the James Toney.’”
The saturation of Lights Outs in the UFC aside, there’s still the tough task Lytle has coming up come Fourth of July weekend, and he sees the usual fireworks.
“Matt has a lot more experience now, he just looks like he’s improved his overall fighting style,” Lytle says, dismissing the first match as distant history. “I know that if that’s my whole game plan [to take him down] I can essentially do that—but I can assure you, that’s not my game plan. If that opportunity presents itself, like in the last fight, I’ll take it. But it’s not my goal.”