In the sport of mixed martial arts, or in any sport for that matter, they don’t come any nicer than Chris Lytle. Always quick with a smile, a laugh, or a handshake, the fireman and family man is a perfect ambassador for MMA wherever he goes, and that’s the way he likes it.
His opponent this weekend in Indianapolis, Matt Serra, can be described much in the same way – although raised by a decibel or two - and in the lead-up to their rematch at UFC 119, there have been nothing but kind words thrown by the two veteran welterweights to each other across the internet and newspapers.
Which begs the question, through 60 MMA matches and 15 pro boxing bouts, hasn’t there been someone, anyone, that Lytle had a little bad blood with before the bell rang?
Suddenly, Lytle grows quiet, stumped by the query. After a few seconds, he responds with a chuckle.
“I’m sure there’s had to be. I can’t think of anybody I’ve intensely disliked. There have been some who may have rubbed me the wrong way or I didn’t like the way they carried themselves, but I can’t really think of any I really disliked. I don’t necessarily know too much about these people and I think I’ve had a reputation for a long time as being a pretty respectful guy, so everybody usually treats me pretty respectfully. Even a lot of guys who I’ve heard bad things about, they tend to treat me pretty good, so if that’s all I know about them, I try not to judge them on what I hear. So if they treat me good, I have a hard time disliking them.”
And the great part is, he’s telling the truth. For the 36-year old Indiana native, fighting is simply another competition, a way to test himself against another man trained to beat him. So there’s no issue of friends or no friends for “Lights Out”; as far as he’s concerned, the more he likes you, the harder he’ll try to beat you.
“I’ve had some of my best times fighting and sparring with people I’m good friends with,” he said. “I like to test myself, and if a guy overcomes some adversity and if he’s hitting me and doing good things and I can overcome that and outlast the guy, that’s a good feeling and I feel really good about myself afterwards. And it’s the same thing here (against Serra). I like it when it’s a good competitive fight better than if I just go out there and beat somebody real quick. I don’t feel good about that and it didn’t prove anything to me. This is a competition and I want the best that somebody has to offer. I want to overcome something in order to win a fight. That way I feel like I truly accomplished something and I go out there with the mentality that I’m excited because I know that certain people are gonna give me that type of fight and I think this is gonna be one of them. He (Serra) has been knocking out a lot of people and I welcome that – that’s what I want, somebody who’s gonna try and knock me out or submit me and not try to win a decision.”
That attitude has been a Lytle trademark for years, and he’s got the four Fight of the Night, one KO of the Night, and two Submission of the Night awards to prove it. But oddly enough, the night he began living by the adage that the journey is more important than the destination was November 11, 2006, when he engaged in what was to that point the biggest fight of his career.
Against Matt Serra.
That night in Las Vegas, Lytle and Serra were competing for The Ultimate Fighter season four crown, and more importantly, a shot at the UFC welterweight title. And we all know what happened: Serra won a three round split decision and went on to shock the world by knocking out Georges St-Pierre for the 170-pound belt five months later. As for Lytle, he was forced back to the drawing board, and to this day, he counts that night as the pivotal one of his 11+ year MMA career.
“I don’t think people can understand the amount of pressure, though I don’t know if that’s the right word,” he said, recalling the first Serra bout. “I trained for a long time and there was a lot of money on the line and a title shot and I spent six weeks on that show for one reason – to make a lot of money for my family and to get a title shot. A lot was on the line and the same thing goes for Matt. So going into that fight, I never thought anything besides stop the takedown and don’t lose. If you stop the takedown, he can’t beat you. It was all about me not losing the fight, instead of me saying I was gonna try to knock him out or submit him and win. And it was the same thing for him. Neither one of us went out there to win; we went out there to not lose. And it was a close fight, a split decision, and it was hard to score because nobody went out there to win. After that fight, I said not only does the loss really hurt me, but it felt even worse because I didn’t even go out there and fight the way I wanted to fight. I said no matter what, I’m gonna fight the way I like; if I win, if I lose, whatever, at least I can go out and say I fought my way. And since I started fighting that way, I feel like I’m fighting better, it’s been more exciting, people like it, and I don’t feel as if there’s as much pressure on me.”
The results have been evident. In addition to his stack of post-fight bonus checks, Lytle has won seven fights (against four losses), including three in a row. And even more impressive is that in his most recent two wins over Matt Brown and Brian Foster, Lytle has brought back his submission game, showing that he can not only knock you out but make you tap out. And in fights that were expected to be standup wars, he turned the tables. But don’t call him sneaky.
“If you notice, it’s not me initiating these takedowns,” he laughs, referring to the Brown and Foster bouts. “I train on the ground probably as much as I train on my feet, and I’m always trying to improve in all areas. When I fought Foster (at UFC 110 in February) I threw a couple punches and he picked me up and slammed me down. I got back up and I was like ‘all right, I see how we’re gonna do this.’ Then he shot again and got double underhooks and he kinda left me no option. Same thing with Matt Brown (at UFC 116 in July); he did all these trips in there and took me down once. I was like ‘okay.’ I hit him with an uppercut and he shot in on my legs, and I said I’m gonna try and finish the fight in any way possible. I want a guy who’s gonna stand toe-to-toe with me and throw bombs. That’s kinda what I’m looking to do. And if I can’t find somebody to do that, I’m gonna try and win in any way possible.”
And after emerging unscathed from his second round win over Brown, he was right on time for a homecoming bout against Serra this weekend, his first in Indy since beating Brown in their first bout in 2007. But despite having family and friends and an arena full of supporters on hand, it’s still just another fight for Chris Lytle. Not a sporting event, but a fight. And win or lose, expect just that.
“Right now, if you said ‘Chris, you can win this fight in a boring decision, or you could lose this fight in the best fight of your life,’ I’d definitely want the best fight of my life,” he said. “If people could come up to me in five years and talk to me about that fight, I would easily pick that. It can’t be all about winning and losing. The best fight of my life is what I’m looking for right now. We’ll see if it happens.”
Everybody Loves Lytle
"I like it when it’s a good competitive fight better than if I just go out there and beat somebody real quick. I don’t feel good about that and it didn’t prove anything to me. This is a competition and I want the best that somebody has to offer."