Uncrowned Kings of MMA is a series where we take you through seven fighters – each one at a different weight class – who never achieved a belt in any major promotion. There are a few rules – they can still be competing but must be out of the title picture. Major promotions are the UFC, Pride, Bellator, Strikeforce, the WEC’s featherweight and bantamweight divisions, and RIZIN’s bantamweight division. Interim championships do not count unless the bearer is later promoted to undisputed champion. Today we will be looking at the welterweight Carlos Condit – “The Natural Born Killer”.
“Manic depressive, narcissistic, disco, existentialism… ”
The opening strains of Manchester Orchestra’s song “Virgin” play over the finishing sequence of the Primetime special created to advertise UFC 143: Diaz vs. Condit. Carlos Condit and Nick Diaz were both some of the biggest action fighters on the UFC’s vaunted roster at the time, and would be duking it out for the interim welterweight title – and a guaranteed shot at unification.
The fight, notoriously, was not the non-stop ultrabrawl promised by every scrap of marketing. But that it was not shows the difference between a good fighter and a great one.
Condit began the fight determinedly hacking away at Diaz’s legs. Condit was hardly the sort of fighter suited for such an outfighting strategy. Often he would retreat on straight lines and get caught against the cage by Diaz. But as the fight progressed and the leg kicks took their toll, Condit began getting the upper hand and was free to let loose with his full arsenal: spinning backfists, Brazilian kicks, high kicks, a flying knee that connected flush. Soon when Diaz cornered Condit, he would frame off immediately and circled out. He was getting caught against the cage less often.
It was in the fifth that Condit, who had become less and less hesitant, made a mistake, getting too wild and creating an opening for Diaz to drag him down with a bodylock. From this Diaz went for a kimura to draw Condit’s arms away then pounced on the opportunity for a rear naked choke.
But Condit was no slouch on the ground himself and managed to break free of the choke. He had survived, and won the unanimous decision resoundingly. Except perhaps in the eyes of Diaz’s vocal fanbase, for whom “1, 2, 5” became a frequent refrain.
It would be one of only two decision wins in Condit’s career. But the difference between a good fighter like Diaz and a great one like Condit was the willingness and ability to fight in multiple ways as the situation required.
But his next opponent would show the difference between the great and the greatest ever.
The only controversy about saying that in regards to Georges “Rush” St-Pierre is if it means “greatest ever welterweight” or “greatest ever period”. He had gone through a murderer’s row and many questioned whether he would be able to recover from a serious knee injury that had put him out of action. But at his full strength St-Pierre was a true great of the sport, strong in every phrase with a merciless jab and a dominating double leg takedown that worked in tandem.
Even worse for Condit, not only was he dealing with an all-time great, but a stylistic disadvantage. Before out-striking Diaz handily, Condit had run through competent strikers in the form of Dan Hardy and “Stun Gun” Dong Hyun Kim with little effort. But it was the grinding wrestlers who were the hardest matchups for Condit.
Carlos Condit – All Terrain Threat
Carlos Condit’s quirks generally involved how willing he was to abandon his base and attack from any position. In many ways this made him more dangerous. Few were as relentlessly aggressive as Condit was from the guard. Condit was also content to throw himself totally out of position for headkicks. However, this recklessness meant that Condit’s defence against both striking and takedowns was poor. While Condit’s iron chin could bail him out of his mistakes with striking defence, he had no such natural advantage when it came down to his defensive wrestling.
Not only had he lost against Martin Kampmann, Jake Ellenberger had nearly finished Condit multiple times before Condit’s tenacity and offence from the guard allowed him to scrape a decision win. Rory MacDonald had used a combination of conservative striking and takedown threats to take the fight close to a decision loss for Condit before Condit was able to reverse a takedown and start unloading ground and pound for a last minute finish.
Carlos Condit – First Title Attempt
Certainly, St-Pierre took Condit down early and pushed through Condit’s strikes from the ground to start unleashing his trademark ground and pound. In the second round St-Pierre’s more disciplined jab came out ahead against Condit’s wild attacks. Another takedown. More gratuitous pounding. But it was half a minute after they came out for the third round that Condit found what he had been looking for all along.
Condit’s wild strikes had many downsides- he would throw himself out of position. He was easy to hit for someone like St-Pierre. But it also meant he would see ways to throw strikes that other men would not. After a jab and a shifting overhand that left his feet almost level and himself nearly totally off balance, Condit tossed up another headkick that caught the champion completely off guard. St-Pierre was sent tumbling back to the ground.
Brink of Victory
For a lesser fighter that would have been the end. A lesser St-Pierre even. When Matt Serra had dropped him multiple times in their first encounter so many years before St-Pierre had risen to his feet quickly, furious that he had been caught by a challenger so widely regarded as beneath him. Serra had of course taken advantage of the rocked St-Pierre and finished him. But that very fight burnt away St-Pierre’s arrogance. Now, instead of fighting for pride, St-Pierre fought to win, and stayed on the ground to buy precious seconds to recover.
Though Condit assailed him with his own vicious ground and pound, St-Pierre inexorably rose to his feet and took him down again. It was like the universe had snapped back to normal. The rest of the round concluded as the previous ones had.
Condit kept hunting for headkicks in later rounds as well as pumping out combinations, but after so much time spent on the bottom he no longer had the energy to threaten St-Pierre.
So, Condit wasn’t up to the challenge, despite a close call for St-Pierre. But fate would hand Condit a final shot at UFC gold, and he would make the most of this chance when it came.
Robbie Lawler‘s career resurrection was nothing short of astonishing. After many years of fighting at a medium-elite level at middleweight, he dropped to welterweight. The result was a ferocious counter-puncher who only dropped a loss to Johny Hendricks before tearing through the ranks and capturing the belt from Hendricks in a controversial rematch. Lawler was fresh off of leaving MacDonald crumpled on the canvas after one of the most violent fights in UFC history.
It’s pretty fair to say that Condit getting another shot was a product more of luck than anything else. Since his previous title loss to St-Pierre he had avenged his loss to Kampmann but conceded losses to Hendricks and Tyron Woodley. Critically, in the latter, he had blown out his own knee for a doctor’s stoppage, which threatened to mark the end of Condit’s physical prime. A hard fought victory over Thaigo Alves seemed to show a Condit who was slowing down.
Lawler would look to be almost as dangerous a matchup for Condit as St-Pierre had been. Not only were Lawler’s power and chin a match for Condit’s, he had proven to be a savvy counter-puncher; whereas Condit often left himself vulnerable during his marching combinations.
Carlos Condit – Second Title Attempt
Despite Lawler’s ascendancy and Condit’s post-GSP performances, the fight would be bitterly fought. Condit would knock down Lawler in the first round, Lawler would get his own knockdown in the second. Though Condit would land a nasty knee in the third, Lawler’s sharper counter-punching exploited Condit’s wild combinations.
But then in the fourth Condit started to turn the fight around distinctly in his favour. Rather than his headkicks which Lawler was diligently defending, Condit started finding the mark with body kicks and drawing on the full breadth of his striking versatility. Since Lawler was focused on counter-punching it allowed Condit to engage on his own terms. Instead of gifting Lawler his chin to fire at, Condit mixed it up. He wove his kicks into his punches and fired off punches right after kicks. Lawler was finding it harder and harder to get opportunities to counter. By the end of the fourth Lawler was shelling up against the cage. It looked like Condit had the momentum going into the fifth.
Fifth Round Lawler
But just as against MacDonald in his previous fight, the critical nature of the situation gave Lawler a second wind. Rather than pressuring but hanging back to counter-punch, Lawler began initiating the exchanges. Rather than letting Condit fight him on his own terms Lawler began forcing him back to the cage and unloading. Condit would not go down easily, firing back and giving as good as he got. But with around a minute and a half to go Condit tried to get Lawler in a Thai clinch and was torn apart with hooks for his trouble. From then on, it was all he could do to keep his head above water.
Condit was able to make it to the bell – barely – but the decision would not favour him. Many believe then and now that Condit should have gotten the decision. It generally rests on the result of the third; Condit’s activity and flying knee against Lawler’s fearsome barrage and polished counters. The only clear winner from this fight was ultimately the audience.
Carlos Condit would emerge from that cage. But the Natural Born Killer would not; after too many wars and too many injuries, the final mortal wound of the decision was too much. Condit has not won a single fight since then and went on a four fight slump.
Lawler would similarly find that fight the last truly great performance of his career. Since then, he has had only one win, over Donald Cerrone, and is on a three fight losing streak. Both men gave a lot in that encounter, one of the most thrilling in the long rich history of the welterweight division.
Carlos Condit – the conclusion
So, what to think of Carlos Condit? A rare combination of frustrating wildness – Condit far too often relied on his iron chin alongside his strength and cardio – and admirable intelligence, able to draw from an astonishing repertoire of strikes and able to make adjustments. Condit would throw everything he had at the wall to see what stuck, and thus was able to not only survive but thrive in a division chock-full of horrific stylistic matchups. Certainly, Condit makes a case for being an all-time great of the division.
Why did he not become champion then? It’s tempting to blame fate. But simply put Condit was not the better man on the night than either of the champions he fought. He deserves much credit for giving GSP his first truly scary moment in years. He pushed Lawler to the brink of defeat while Condit himself was likely past his prime. But he ultimately never could do enough to seal the deal. Against GSP his weak takedown defence left him easy prey for one of the most dominant ground-and-pounders of all time. Against Lawler his sloppy defence left him open for counters. The very qualities – the unorthodoxy, the scrappiness, the wildness – that brought him so close to the belt, left him unable to win it.
But the story of MMA is not the story of champions alone. It’s the story of those who didn’t make it as well. For those who gave us unforgettable moments and stunning performances, even if it wasn’t enough to win gold.
And there were none better at putting on a show for fans, new and old alike, than the Natural Born Killer.
Embed from Getty Images