(photo courtesy Josh Hedges/Zuffa)
In a time where Mixed Martial Arts is still presumed to be barbaric by far too many people, it would be difficult to find someone, fan or otherwise, who didn’t consider fighting in a cage one of the most difficult jobs. For Chris Lytle, fighting in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s Welterweight division is his part-time job. When he’s not stepping into the cage to fight other would-be contenders, Lytle fights fires with the Indianapolis Fire Department.
Lytle isn’t the first Mixed Martial Artist to have a grueling day job on top of a career in MMA, but few fighters have reached Lytle’s level of success in MMA and still maintained their day jobs. While having brushes with title contention, Lytle has become known as one of the most exciting fighters in the UFC. It would be easy for Lytle to focus solely on his career as a professional athlete, but in reality, Lytle feels that his work fighting fires is more rewarding than fighting in a cage.
“There are aspects of MMA that are really rewarding on a personal level and for the fans, but I’d have to say being a fire fighter is more rewarding. You’re going in there and saving lives and when you get back to the station the other guys are there to pat you on the back and tell you what a great job you did, so even though there are aspects of MMA that are really rewarding, I’d say that it’s more rewarding being a fire fighter.”
For most people, saving lives while risking your own would be enough activity for one lifetime. Chris Lytle isn’t most people. After earning a professional boxing record of 13-1-1, Lytle took up MMA in 1998 because it was, as Lytle explained it, “something to keep me active.” Now preparing for his 50th MMA bout, Lytle admits that his part-time job is more difficult even than fighting fires.
“I’d say MMA is harder. There are parts of being a fire fighter that I don’t think a normal person could handle, but I still feel that people don’t understand how difficult MMA is, the training and everything.”
Fortunately for Lytle, he feels that his work as a firefighter provides a unique experience that translates into a level of preparedness that few other fighters will ever enjoy.
“When you’re getting ready for a fight, you pretty much know exactly what’s going to happen, and at least for me, I’m not afraid that I’m going to die. When you’re fighting a fire, you have no idea what’s going on or what’s going to happen. Every call is different and things can change in a second, so you’ve got to be able to deal with change really well and be able to put your life on the line and do what needs to be done. So, like with this fight, they change my opponent and it’s no big deal because I’m used to change. They could change my opponent at the very last second and it wouldn’t bother me.”
While not a last second switch, Lytle’s opponent for Saturday’s UFC 110 event in Sydney, Australia has been changed. Brian Foster (13-4-0) will replace the injured Dong Hyun Kim.
According to Lytle, “Foster has a lot of power in his hands and he’s an aggressive striker…I think that’s the most dangerous thing about him.”
Foster trains with the HIT Squad, led by former UFC Welterweight champion Matt Hughes. Hughes and Lytle fought at UFC 68, a match that saw Hughes keep Lytle pinned to the canvas for the majority of the three-round contest, en route to a unanimous decision victory. For Lytle, the fact that Foster is a protégé of Hughes means little.
“For me, it’s not about [revenge]. When I’m in there, he’s just the other guy in the cage that I have to fight. I’m not going to be thinking about, and he’s probably not going to be thinking about, Matt Hughes being in his corner. I’m sure Matt will be there, but it’s not something that I really think about.”
Instead, what Lytle has found himself thinking about from time to time are his brushes with title contention. Coming off of season four of The Ultimate Fighter, Lytle lost a razor-thin split-decision to Matt Serra. Following the match, Serra went on to defeat current UFC Welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre in an unthinkable upset. A later match against title contender Thiago Alves saw Lytle win the first two rounds of the fight before the doctor’s determined that an early cut was dangerous enough to halt the fight. Alves went on to earn a title shot. Lytle was left wondering “what if?”
“I was on my way up, and then I’d get knocked back down. Rise back up, get knocked down. I was very close to being in the mix, so it’s something that I’d love to have gone another way, but I can tell you, I’ll never fight for a decision again. After the Serra fight, where I was looking to stay ahead of him on points, I learned my lesson. I’ll never fight like that again. I’m just going to go out there and try to knock the guy out as best I can and hopefully everything will work out.”
That strategy has shone through in Lytle’s subsequent fights. While Lytle is still looking to cement himself as a legitimate title contender, he’s wowed fans with his all-out style, which has lead to earning four Fight of the Night bonuses (as well as one Submission of the Night and one Knockout of the Night). While the results prove the wisdom of his new strategy, the bonuses aren’t something that Lytle thinks about going into his fights.
“I just go in there looking to throw hands and I’m trying to finish the fight and trying to avoid having whoever I’m fighting catch me and knock me out. But when you’re in there, I don’t see how anyone could be thinking about trying to win Fight of the Night. That’s just something that happens.”
As successful as Lytle’s gameplan may be, having exciting, back-and-forth stand up battles take its toll on a fighter’s body. When he steps into the cage with Foster, it will not only be Lytle’s 50th career match, but also his first in eight months. Lytle is coming off of a torn meniscus and injured ACL. Though Lytle says that his knee is now healed and that he only has minor bumps and bruises heading into the fight with Foster, injuries like the one to his knee have led Lytle, who is 35 years old, to at least consider life after MMA.
“You know, I’ve been doing this a long time, for about 12 years now, and I’m at the point now where if I suffer a major injury or if the recovery from an injury becomes too difficult to rehab from, then I’ll know it’s time to retire. I don’t have any plans to retire, but when the time comes, I’m fortunate because I have a good group of guys around me, so when they think I can’t go anymore, they’ll tell me “Chris, it’s time,” and I’ll know that’s it.”
When the cage door opens and Lytle leaves for the final time, don’t expect his final MMA match to be his last fight. As long as he’s capable and as long as there are fires in Indianapolis, Lytle will continue to fight.
“Being a fire fighter is something I really enjoy. I think I’ll be doing that for a long time until I retire from [firefighting] and that’s not going to be until who knows when. When you have a job that you go to every day and you really enjoy, there’s really no reason to stop doing it.”
Chris Lytle would “…like to thank Tapout for all the support over the years.”