It is a rare occurrence in mixed martial arts to see a fighter walk away on his own terms. Far too many times in the past, things have gone in the complete opposite direction. Competitors who were once iron-chinned warriors, left crumpled on the canvas, are caught in a strange paradox where the spirit still lives for the fight but the body can no longer hold up.
Just like that, a fighter people couldn't wait to see step into the cage is the person fans hope to never see compete again.
Chris Lytle refused to travel that route.
After making a career out of trading leather at all costs and becoming one of the most exciting fighters in the sport, the Indianapolis native knew it was time to call it quits. It wasn't an easy decision to make by any means, but when the 38-year-old weighed his MMA career against the life he had beyond the lights, Lytle knew without question where his full attention belonged.
Once that decision was made, the full-time fireman poured every ounce of his energy into one final curtain call. The fight came against British slugger Dan Hardy in the main event of UFC on Versus 5 in Milwaukee, Wisc.
Leading up to the fight, both men showed a tremendous amount of respect and agreed to settle business on the feet. For three rounds, that is exactly how the action played out. Then, Lytle caught Hardy in a guillotine choke to end the fight late in the third round.
To cap it all off in proper fashion, Lytle was also awarded "Submission of the Night" and "Fight of the Night" honors, which brought his fight night bonus total to 10 and became the perfect platform for him to make his exit.
"It was hard to get away, but for me, the last fight against Hardy was about as good as it gets," Lytle told Bleacher Report. "It never was a factor of me wanting to quit the sport. But I started to realize more and more that I was neglecting a lot of my family duties.
"Being out with surgeries and spending more time at home, these became clear to me. I wasn't around my kids like I wanted to be and I felt guilty about it.
"I started training for the Dan Hardy fight, and I just couldn't shake the feeling that I should not be training and should be spending my time with my family. You can't fight in this sport like that. I sat down with my wife and we talked.
"I decided it was going to be my last fight, and after that decision, I allowed myself to dedicate every second of my life to that fight because I knew it was going to be my last. After that fight and the way it ended, it couldn't have been better. I got to go out there and bang it out for three rounds and submit him at the end. It was a perfect ending to my career.
"I knew going in that I had put everything I possibly could into the sport. I was never going to move my family and me staying here, working a full-time job while I was training, I did everything I could to be successful. I knew I was going to be satisfied when I left the sport, but the way it ended was just perfect.
"I definitely look back at my time in the sport and I'm satisfied. If I had gotten knocked out in my last four or five fights, I'm sure it would have been different. If those things happen, I'm sure you think the way it ended sucks and you won't have good memories of it coming to a close. That's not what I have here, and I'm very happy how it all played out.
"Now I'm looking to start the next thing. Too many keep fighting, thinking it is a good thing for them, and that is when things get bad. They hang around too long, and that wasn't going to happen with me. I wanted to go out on my terms, not when the UFC told me to leave."
The Future of Indy MMA
For the majority of his career, Lytle was one of a handful of fighters competing out of Indianapolis. While other areas around the country were experiencing the MMA boom and gyms began popping up out of nowhere, Indiana's capital remained in the shadows.
Lytle saw great potential in his training partners and other fighters from the area. He knew his name would help put the city on the map in mixed martial arts, but the next wave of fighters coming up, like UFC heavyweight Matt Mitrione and TUF alum Shamar Bailey, have what it takes to push Indianapolis MMA to the next level.
"It's fantastic," Lytle said. "I never wanted to be a big fish in a small pond. You get better when you have better people around you. The more people trained together, everyone got better, and more of our people started making it to the UFC level. It's definitely good to see how much it is progressing and rewarding to see something you helped start take off like it has.
"I was just the first fighter to get out there and put our name on the map, and then it blossomed from there. When you get people training together who all want the same things, you are going to see some success. I'm glad for what for what everybody is doing. Even though I'm not out there doing it as much anymore, it still makes me very happy."
The Next Chapter
On the night of this interview, I came out to support Lytle's latest endeavor as the head of an upstart promotion called Midwest Fighting Series. With his time competing in the sport behind him, Lytle has turned his efforts toward further helping the mixed martial arts scene in Indianapolis blossom.
When I walk through the doors, I catch a glimpse of Lytle in full-on promoter mode. It's a great crowd and the man himself is looking presidential: shaking hands, taking pictures and operating with the general politeness and ease Lytle has always carried himself with.
As a longtime Indiana resident, it makes me proud to see fans turn out. It's great to know Lytle did his part to help bring the show to them.
Many promoters get into the sport looking for the cash grab, but this just isn't the way Lytle does business. For him, what matters most is presenting young fighters with an opportunity to develop the right way, and he believes it is something that has been missing for years.
"Even though I retired, I have still been involved in the sport," Lytle said. "I've still been training people. The guys who helped me get ready for my fights, I like to help them get ready for theirs. One thing I learned in the boxing realm, if you don't have a place to put on fights, to help take care of you and develop you as a fighter, you are going to be going into other people's backyards.
"You are going to have to go into other people's promotions where you are the guy who is not supposed to win. You might be able to eke out a few wins, but it is much easier to develop a good fighter if you have somewhere to develop your skills in the right way.
"I don't want the guys from Indianapolis being brought over to Cincinnati to get beat up on. I want them to fight right here and be brought along the right way. Then when they are ready to take the next step, they can get out there and get after it.
"This promotion is more or less me trying to do my part for the next generation of fighters coming out of Indianapolis. We have a great venue here, and I'm not giving these guys easy fights. I'm giving them fights that make sense. We may have guys who will be 5-5, but it will be because they fought 10 tough guys.
"Being brought along the right way makes a world of difference in this sport now. I want to put guys in there who have the same amount of experience, and that is all we are trying to do."
Over the course of my career covering MMA, I've had the pleasure of interviewing Lytle on numerous occasions. Anyone who has ever done so understands it is never much of an actual interview as it is sitting and talking to a man who loves being a part of the sport.
At one point in our conversation, we talked about a recent interview I had done with middleweight prospect Chris Camozzi. In the interview, the Colorado native described Lytle's style and love for the scrap as something he greatly admired.
For the surging 185-pound fighter, wins and losses didn't matter. Only showing up to fight your heart out did, and it is the only thing Lytle ever knew how to do.
"That is the biggest compliment I can get," he said. "I want more people to fight like that because I believe that is the way the sport should be. What is going to destroy the sport is point fighting. It happens all the time in boxing where guys land a few jabs and go on the defensive. I don't want to watch that.
"I want to see two guys go in there and try to take each other out. That was my mentality and the way I believe the sport should be. When people recognize, appreciate and model that, there isn't a bigger compliment in the world."
While Lytle insisted our interview could carry on a bit longer, it wasn't difficult to see how much the night's event required him elsewhere. The crowd wanted to see him. The fans wanted pictures and the fighter/politician/promoter is never one to disappoint.
That being said, I knew I had to launch one final "Hail Mary" towards the end zone, hoping he'd go up and get it.
Since his retirement in August 2011, Lytle has been asked countless times if he would ever be willing to return to the UFC. He's always left the door slightly ajar, because even if it's only open a crack, it is still technically open. Knowing the space was there to get something through, I played fantasy matchmaker.
With Lytle having 10 fight night bonuses and lightweight Joe Lauzon recently claiming his 12th, I put together a hypothetical catch weight matchup between the two ruckus-loving veterans, with the winner having the fight night bonus named in their honor. I wanted to see if this would be enough to get his interest, but in proper Lytle fashion, he went about it on his terms.
"I like it," Lytle laughed. "You're an ideas guy and that is a good one. Here is the only thing: I'm not willing to train very much. I've always told people who have asked me if I'd come back, it would only happen if somebody like Nick Diaz, B.J. Penn or Carlos Condit, guys I'd love to fight, if their opponents got hurt last minute, I'd step in.
"But it couldn't be three weeks out from the fight. It would have to be the last week where there was no training. Oh no training? I'm in. Then Dana can call me up. Hey, can you fight tomorrow? I'm there.
"If those circumstances were there in a fight against Lauzon, then I'd do it. I'd be like 'C'mon Joe, let's do it and it would be fun'. I like Joe a lot. I'll be the guy who only fights when they need something tomorrow. If that were the case, I'd have to change my nickname from Lights Out to Last Minute Lytle. You need something last minute? I'm your man."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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