Gladiator Spirit

By Brian Knapp Aug 11, 2011
Chris Lytle has made a fine living by consistently delivering exciting fights. | Photo: Mike Fridley

Chris Lytle has carved a career out of the give and take.

An accomplished Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner whose resume includes more than one innovative submission, Lytle often abandons his considerable ground skills in favor of the more entertaining and memorable blood-and-guts stand-up encounter. There is method to his madness, as the approach has netted him a staggering five “Fight of the Night” bonuses in his last 10 appearances, totaling nearly a quarter of a million dollars. That figure does not include the $150,000 in bonus money Lytle has pocketed for two “Submissions of the Night” and a “Knockout of the Night.” For someone with mouths to feed and bills to pay, it seems a welcomed windfall.

His willingness to throw caution to the wind has left him in good standing with fans and the powers that be within the Ultimate Fighting Championship, despite an otherwise pedestrian 9-10 mark inside the Octagon. Those 10 defeats tie him with David “Tank” Abbott for most on the all-time list. From the sound of it, Lytle has no plans to deviate from his approach when he meets former welterweight title contender Dan Hardy in the UFC Live 5 main event on Sunday at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee.

“I’m very honored to actually be put in [the main event]. They picked Dan and I to be [in] the main event, and let me tell you something, they didn’t pick me and Dan to be there to put on a boring fight,” Lytle says. “So if you think I’m going to try to sit there and get him on the ground and hold him down for 15 minutes and then dry hump him, that’s not going to happen. So you’re going to get what you pay [for]. You’re going to get a good fight out of it. That’s all I can guarantee.”

There is much more to Lytle than the brawler persona he has crafted for himself through years of competition. A married father of four, he still works as a fulltime firefighter with the Indianapolis Fire Department. That hectic schedule leaves little room for free time. However, Lytle revealed in July that he was considering a run for the Indiana State House or Senate in 2012.

“This is kind of something that’s important to me and something that I’ve been looking into for a long time. I don’t just jump into something on a whim,” Lytle says. “I’ve thought about this a lot, and it’s something that I care about. I’d like to try and help out and make a difference, if possible. I guess I’m going to have to just take it [on] after the fight. I’m going to re-evaluate and see what I want to do. That’s kind of how I feel about it right now.

Dan Hardy File Photo

Hardy has his back against the wall.
“I have a lot going on,” he adds. “I’m trying to train for this [fight]. I haven’t done anything with [my political ambitions] lately just because I’ve been trying to plan for this fight every day. So, it’s just me talking about the fact that I have formed an exploratory committee and I’d like to look into the possibility of me running for state senator [or] state legislator. I definitely take it seriously. It was thought out, and I’m serious about it.”

In addition to his responsibilities elsewhere, Lytle remains a dedicated and loyal teammate. Few people in mixed martial arts know him any better than Integrated Fighting Academy stablemate Shamar Bailey. “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 13 alum readily admits Lytle has had an enduring impact on his life and career.

“I’ve been training with him since day one,” Bailey tells “The first day I walked in an MMA gym, he was there. I had no desire to fight. I was training with him and helping him with his wrestling, and he kept saying, ‘Hey, you need to try this.’”

Bailey made his professional debut in 2006, fought twice in Strikeforce and has won 12 of his first 15 bouts, earning a coveted roster spot alongside Lytle in the UFC’s welterweight division. None of it, he concedes, would have been possible had Lytle not been persistent in urging him to put down the headgear and pick up the gloves.

“Chris is a real down-to-earth guy, a family man,” Bailey says, his voice brimming with respect. “There’s nothing bad to say about the guy.”

Lytle has not competed since February, when he came out on the wrong end of a unanimous decision to Brian Ebersole at UFC 127 in Australia. The defeat halted his four-fight winning streak, equaling the longest of his career. It was later revealed that Lytle had remained in the bout despite undergoing knee surgery just four weeks earlier. He reportedly kept the procedure secret, so as not to dull the shine of Ebersole’s victory.

“In hindsight, he probably shouldn’t have fought,” Bailey says, “but he just loves to fight. He didn’t regret it. He just went in there, made the most of it and moved forward.”

In facing Hardy, Lytle will have no easy task in front of him. The charismatic Brit will enter the cage on a three-fight losing streak, his spot in the UFC perhaps on the line. Lytle intends to put his boxing skills to use, though he admits to a past tendency of casting aside game plans once the fists fly and the leather lands.

“In my mind, I’m real slick,” he says. “I’m going to hit him, and he’s not going to hit me, so you always plan for that. I get out there and that game plan usually lasts until he punches me once, and then I start going nuts just trying to hit him. I’ve seen Dan fight many times. I really love the idea of the fight [between us] because he comes to bring it.”

Much like Lytle, Hardy, a 29-year-old tae kwon do black belt, has proven difficult to finish throughout his career, which dates back to 2004. His knockout loss to former WEC welterweight champion Carlos Condit at UFC 120 was the first of his career. Hardy has not been submitted in more than six years.

“I know he’s going to come out there with a very good left hook, so I’ve been working on keeping my right hand up a lot; just certain things like that,” Lytle says. “You know, I’m just going to go out there and try to do what I do and be awkward and try to be a little harder to hit than people think and try to take glancing blows instead of clean shots.”

Bailey expects to see fireworks.

“They’re both heavy handed, and they both like to stand and bang,” he says. “I really think it’s a matter of who imposes their will, not who comes out throwing haymakers. I think if Chris can get inside, he’ll knock Dan out. It’s going to be a fun fight.”

I’ve seen Dan fight many
times. I really love the idea
of the fight [between us]
because he comes to bring it.

-- Chris Lytle, on Dan Hardy

A second-degree Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt with 21 submissions to his credit, Lytle has not lost consecutive fights since falling to former UFC welterweight champions Matt Serra in November 2006 and Matt Hughes in March 2007. To prepare for Hardy, he surrounded himself with familiar faces.

“The training camp right now is all about me and they’re trying to give me exactly what I need,” Lytle says. “It’s a lot of fun. I feel a good sense of loyalty to these people for helping me out at all times, and I try to help them out if they have fights coming up. It’s a good camp, and I feel like I’m going to be ready as usual to go.”

Even after the disappointing setback to Ebersole -- which came at a most inopportune time, when Lytle was being discussed as a potential title contender -- Bailey saw no noticeable change in his longtime teammate. He remained true to his character.

“He’s the same old Chris,” Bailey says. “He’s all about business, but at the same time, he has fun with the people he trains with. He’s very confident in his skills and in the outcome of this fight.”


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