Chris Lytle was the recipient of what most fighters strive for and are ultimately unsuccessful in doing. He left the sport at the top of his game, and he left on his own terms.
It was an incredible storybook ending for the 36 year old Indiana native known as “Lights Out”, going through a three round war with a game Dan Hardy before ending the fight with a guillotine choke in the final minute of the fight. He then gave an emotional post-fight interview with Joe Rogan with his children by his side to an adoring crowd. It even happened three days before his birthday. Hollywood writers wish they could write an ending that well.
A Look Back At The Career Of Chris Lytle
It was a long journey for Lytle, a journey that saw him become one of only six men to fight twenty times or more in the UFC and record holder of the most Fight of the Night bonuses in company history. His UFC record wound up a modest 10-10, but like another legend by the name of Randy Couture, one has to look beyond his record to see the true greatness of the fighter.
Lytle started training MMA in 1998 “because it looked like fun” and had his first pro fight the next year. He was thrown right into the deep-end of competition, fighting in the renowned Pancrase and Hook N’ Shoot promotions among others and facing stiff competition in the way of Jason DeLucia, Dave Menne, Ikuhisa Minowa, and Shonie Carter. He then made his UFC debut at UFC 28, in a decision loss against Ben Earwood.
He then went back to the independent promotions, capturing titles in Hook N’ Shoot, Absolute Fighting Championships and Cage Rage while facing off with the likes of Dave Strasser, Nick Diaz and Kazuo Misaki. He also competed in professional boxing, compiling a 13-1-1 record and earning consideration for the Sylvester Stallone/Sugar Ray Leonard reality show “The Contender”.
The UFC came calling once again, this time to face dangerous striker Robbie Lawler at UFC 45. It was at that event that Lytle introduced the UFC fans to his relentless, hyper-kinetic style of fighting. He attacked Lawler from bell to bell, slugging it out with the heavily-hyped Miletich trainee. Lytle wound up on the wrong end of a decision, but the message was loud and clear: Chris Lytle was a fighter to watch. Lytle wound up going 2-3 in that stint with the UFC, before being brought back for ‘The Ultimate Fighter 4: The Comeback”.
That season of TUF was dedicated to offering veterans who had been in the company previous to the TUF boom and offering them a way back into the promotion. It also gave UFC fans a weekly opportunity to get to know Lytle both as a fighter and a person. He won his preliminary round fights against Pete Spratt and Din Thomas and earned a place in the finale against Matt “The Terror” Serra, with a shot at the welterweight championship on the line.
In quite possibly the biggest fight of his career to that point, Lytle looked surprisingly tentative. He fought a sound, technical fight but gone was the reckless abandon and aggressive style that had endeared him to both fans and the UFC brass in the first place. He wound up losing a decision to Serra, who got the title shot and upset Georges St. Pierre to become welterweight champion. It had to crush Lytle to see what could have been.
That performance served as a turning point for Lytle. He felt that he was overly cautious and fought not to lose, and he vowed to never have that happen again. Win or lose, he said, he was going to go out swinging and leave everything he had in the octagon. So began the era of “The Bonus Collector”.
He went 3-3 in his next six trips into the octagon and each of his wins over Jason Gilliam, Kyle Bradley and Paul Taylor were rewarded with a post-fight bonus (Submission of the night, KO of the night and Fight of the night respectively). The losses came against the top names of the division in Matt Hughes, Thiago Alves and Josh Koscheck but were showcases for Lytle’s guts, heart and ability to withstand punishment and keep pushing forward.
His next fight came in the form of “The Irish Hand Grenade” Marcus Davis. Both men competed as pro boxers and openly joked that win or lose they would win fight of the night. That is exactly what they proceeded to do, with Davis eking out a razor-close split decision. He then rattled off three straight victories and two more bonuses, one for submission and one for fight of the night.
Then came the opportunity to right the wrongs and exorcise the demons of four years earlier. He was being granted the change to face Matt Serra once again and do what he failed to do in their first go-around, he could now leave it all in the octagon and win or lose give a performance he could be proud of.
The two squared off for the second time at UFC 119 in front of a roaring crowd in Lytle’s hometown of Indianapolis. This time Lytle let everything fly as the two went three rounds in a stand-up war. When the dust had settled, Serra left the fight exhausted with his face a mess of cuts and bruises while the relatively unmarked Lytle grinned ear to ear and celebrated his victory.
Riding a four fight win streak, Lytle appeared to be headed back to the top of the division and was set to face off against Carlos Condit at UFC 127 in Australia. Unfortunately Condit was injured and Brian Ebersole came in as a late replacement, defeating Lytle by decision in another Fight of the night winning performance. It came out after the fight that Lytle had had the meniscus in his right knee removed just four weeks before the fight, a further testament to Lytle’s heart.
Then came the Dan Hardy bout. Hardy was frustrated at his last performance against Anthony “Rumble” Johnson and frustrated at the way in which he lost, with the superior wrestler Johnson keeping Hardy on his back and not allowing Hardy to employ his trademark stand and bang style. He pleaded openly for the Zuffa brass to give him an welterweight “who would come ready to fight”. No one fit that description better than Lytle.
Lytle came into the weigh-ins holding a note which he handed to Dana White. He was telling his boss he was retiring. While his body and mind were still sharp, the pangs of guilt he was feeling from not spending enough time around his family and seeing his children grow up grew heavy. In addition to all the MMA fights and boxing he had done over the years, he remained a full-time member of the Indianapolis Fire Department. That kind of crazy schedule doesn’t leave a lot for quality time with family. Lytle made his decision and was at peace with it.
Before ending his career, Lytle gave us one last balls-to-the-wall performance, one last victory, and two last bonuses as he collected both Fight and Submission of the night. He also took home a new motorcycle courtesy of event sponsor Harley-Davidson. He leaves the sport with ten total post-fight bonus awards and the reputation of one of the most exciting fighters in company history. He is now possibly looking at a run at the Indiana state legislature. Something tells me he’ll miss the honesty and lower rhetoric level of mixed martial arts. But on the upside, anyone attempting a filibuster may get choked out. Best wishes in everything he does from here and thanks for the memories Chris.