The lives of professional fighters are filled with uncertainty; their successes and failures play out in the public eye for all to see.
When the cage door closes and the battle of wills begins, it becomes a matter of opportunity. One walks away victorious, the other defeated, the outcome sometimes determined by only the slightest of margins.
What happens under the bright lights is what the fans are left to debate, but rarely are they given a glimpse into what it takes to make the walk to the cage in the first place.
This is what the climb looks like. This is The Fighting Life.
There is a quiet intensity pulsing through Carlos Condit.
For a man who makes his living proving superiority inside a locked cage, the 29-year-old Albuquerque native is more prone to sit in passive silence than he is to raise a fuss about anything.
That being said, just because Condit doesn’t present abrasion doesn’t mean he’s not walking the razor’s edge. Underneath the still waters of his laid back exterior, the fires of primal instinct burn and Condit operates with an acute sense of awareness that show just how in tune he is to everything around him.
He is a man who doesn’t want to be tested unnecessarily, but he’s more than happy to answer the challenge when called upon.
On the other hand, if there is something in the distance which has caught his eye, there are no limits to how far he will push both his physical and mental capacity to achieve his goal.
Five minutes after we sit down to talk, those instincts are put to the test.
The waitress advertises the establishment’s world famous shrimp cocktail, but warns the horseradish-heavy sauce has proven too much to handle to the unawares.
She offers a milder version in her presentation and in that moment the instincts of Carlos Condit shine. He knows he can handle the easier route and probably find more fulfillment and enjoyment in the immediate forefront, but the challenge presented, even in the most non-confrontational of settings, evokes something inside of him.
While a sit-down dinner at a world-renown steak house is a far different plane from competing inside the rapid-fire environment of the UFC Octagon, what Condit brings to the table remains the same through and through.
He is a man forged out of the fibers of resilience and perpetually on a mission to discover more about himself. But those contrasts are the raging paradox inside of him and throughout his career, Condit has proven his resolve.
From his days wrecking shop inside the little blue cage of the WEC to trading leather with the elite of the UFC welterweight division, “The Natural Born Killer” has stepped up to every challenge thrown his way. In most cases he’s emerged victorious. But even in the instances where he’s come out on the short end of the action, the heart, sharp mind and fiery passion for the fight have always shone through.
Condit is a fierce competitor and willing to throw himself through the fire to find out what he’s made of. And it is that will and determination that has driven him to become one of the top fighters in mixed martial arts.
“I’ve come farther than I ever even imagined I would,” Condit told Bleacher Report. “I started in MMA because I love to fight. I walked into the gym the first day and knew this was my sh**. This is what I want to do. But there was no career. The top guys in the sport weren’t making a ton of money and most of them were working side jobs. From the mindset of doing it for the love and passion of the sport to being able to make a living—a damn good one at that—traveling the world and having the opportunities that I do, it’s incredible. It’s humbling to be honest.
“Thinking back to when I was a kid, I was never the fastest. I was never the most talented kid but I was always scrappy—always tough—and I was always willing to work the hardest at whatever I was doing. I’ve carried that mentality with me throughout my career and it’s something I’ll continue to have going forward.”
The Albuquerque-native brings a varied and dangerous skill set with him into the Octagon, and those weapons have made rough nights for a collection of the sport’s best. His unorthodox striking attacks and slick submission game have made him one of the most well-rounded fighters in MMA, but it is his killer instinct for the finish which sets him apart from the pack.
Throughout his career, Condit has amassed a highlight reel of brutal knockouts. In some cases, the Jackson’s MMA-trained fighter has snatched victory from the jaws of defeat as he’s capitalized on the smallest mistake or misstep to seize the moment. It is in those instances where Condit has refused to break and his opposition has found out just how resilient a fighter he is.
“I think it is an instinctual thing,” Condit said. “When I step into the cage, beneath all the fire and the technique there is some fear. There is fear that this person standing across from you is going to hurt you. It’s basic human instinct. It’s that fight or flight thing. In my mind, the quicker I put this guy out, the quicker I f****** end him, the quicker I am out of danger. That is really what it comes down to.
“You can train a guy who wants to stand in the pocket. You can train him to fight longer, to fight smarter, but it doesn’t work the other way around. A guy who doesn’t like to get on the fire line, you can’t train him to get in there to trade and take the risks. Being willing to fight where it is the most dangerous is something that comes from natural instinct—at least that is what I believe.”
When it comes to showing up to throw down, there is perhaps not a gamer fighter on the planet than Condit. Time and time again he has proven the ability to push aside the pressure and outside distractions and lock his focus on the task at hand.
Opponents are going to talk and the media is going to do their jobs trying to put title pictures into perspective, but the only thing on Condit’s mind is being prepared and more dangerous than what is coming at him.
He’s spent over a decade in mixed martial arts proving his mettle, and it has produced some memorable experiences along the way.
“It’s hard to pick one because there are definitely a few that come to mind, but my fight against Dan Hardy definitely stands out,” Condit said. “Dan was coming off a No. 1 contender spot and the fight was in his backyard at the O2 Arena.
“Dan Hardy loves to talk. He talked a ton of sh** about me before the fight. His fans and a lot of the English fans were obviously against me because I was fighting their hometown guy. I let him run his mouth. He talked and talked and talked and I just kept my mouth shut. I quietly nodded and smiled at him while he did his thing. Then stepping in there and f****** silencing him was great. I knew right off the bat, as soon as we engaged that he had nothing for me. Going out there and finishing him and silencing 20,000 people—basically in his backyard—is definitely something that stands out in my mind.”
“He did run his mouth after,” Condit added in regard to Hardy continuing to talk post-fight. “But that’s on him—at least I think so. Where I’m from, you put up or you shut up. If you get your ass kicked then you pick yourself up like a man, dust yourself off, look the other guy in the eyes and shake his hand. He’s the better man. You take your loss like a man. If you have something to say about it, you get back in the gym, work your way back up, and you try to avenge your loss. But talk is cheap.”
As one of the elite welterweights on the UFC roster, Condit has consistently faced the best of the 170-pound division. An electric run of victories where he put together five consecutive wins over the likes of Jake Ellenberger, Dong-Hyun Kim and Nick Diaz, earned the former WEC champion a long awaited showdown with one of the sport’s pound-for-pound best.
While it was a journey that came with an ample amount of twists and turns, at UFC 154, Condit finally stepped into the Octagon to face returning champion Georges St-Pierre. With a title unification on the line, Condit had the opportunity to make good on his long-desired goal of being recognized as the best 170-pound fighter on the planet. But after a five-round battle, the reigning king of the division exited the cage with his title. Although the fight didn’t produce the result Condit was hoping for, the scrappy New Mexico-based fighter came out on the other side a better fighter.
“I’ve definitely learned more from any of my losses than I have from my wins,” Condit said. “Knowing that I stepped into the cage with the best welterweight to ever compete inside the Octagon and gave him a hell of a fight gives you a different kind of confidence. I’ve felt and experienced the best of the best in the division. After my last fight, I’m sitting up there on stage at the post-fight press conference and every single one of those guys I had fought. Ellenberger, (Johny) Hendricks, every single one of those guys I had fought and beat a couple of them. There is great experience that comes from fighting those guys.
“One thing I can compare it to is when I was 19 years old, my first kickboxing match was against a guy named Andy Souwer. He was 91-3 at the time and I was 19 years old and had never done a kickboxing fight. I was 12-0 in MMA, but this was my first kickboxing match and I did a stand-up fight against Souwer. I went 17 seconds shy of five rounds with him and ended up getting leg kicked so many times I was falling through the ropes and they called the fight because of that.
“After having that experience, I came back to the gym and guys are giving me a hard time while we were training and I would kind of scoff at them. It’s like, ‘Do you know what I just did?’ You aren’t going to do sh** to me. And it’s kind of a similar feeling after having gone through the gauntlet with GSP.”
While the judge’s scorecards at the conclusion of the bout were lopsided in St-Pierre’s favor, Condit certainly had his moments throughout the 25-minute affair. The biggest of which came in the middle of the third round, when a perfectly timed head kick sent the pound-for-pound great rolling to the canvas. With St-Pierre hurt and the opportunity to end the fight just moments away, Condit rushed in looking to seal the deal.
Unfortunately for the former interim champion, St-Pierre was able to recover and went back to his game plan a short time later.
“The words 'I got him' went through my head,” Condit recalled about the moment the kick landed. “I landed that kick and rushed over there and tried to finish and kind of blew my wad at that point. I got so excited—emotionally so excited—at the prospect of everything happening and this dream coming true moment that I jumped in there and tried to finish the fight and I gassed out. I was holding my breath as I was throwing punches at him and wasn’t remembering to do what I always do and that is relax. There was just too much emotion.”
Following the loss to St-Pierre, Condit was set to rematch Rory MacDonald at UFC 158, but the Tri-Star product suffered an injury in training that forced him to withdraw from the bout. This left Condit temporarily without an opponent for the welterweight showcase, but when surging contender Johny Hendricks agreed to abandon his scheduled matchup with Jake Ellenberger to face the former No. 1 contender, a new fight was made.
When the two welterweights squared off in Montreal it was a rapid-fire, back-and-forth scrap where both men pushed the other to breaking point. In the early goings it was all Hendricks as “Bigg Rigg” landed heavy shots and scored a handful of takedowns. But in classic Condit fashion, he rebounded with vigor and began to put leather all over Hendricks as the fight wound down. Unfortunately for Condit, time would run out, and he was handed his second consecutive defeat.
“It’s kind of a cliché, but it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play,” Condit said. “I felt like I fought a good fight. I went out there and left everything in the cage. I didn’t get the decision that night. It didn’t go my way but I fought my ass off. That’s what I came to do and that is what I train to do. Other than getting a loss on my record, I see it as a good experience.”
In the aftermath of UFC 158, Condit now finds himself in an unusual position. While he’s spent the past three years in varied forms of title contention, his current two-fight skid has him on the verge of being pushed out of the title picture for the foreseeable future. The welterweight division has never been more competitive and Condit fully understands he needs to get back into the win column in order to keep his championship dreams alive.
In order to do that he will have to avenge his first loss under the UFC banner when he faces Martin Kampmann on August 28 at UFC on Fox Sports 1 in Indianapolis. The rematch is over four years in the making and will feature two fighters with everything to gain, but at the same time, everything to lose as well.
“I’m really pleased to have the opportunity to avenge that loss. It was a really close fight. I had some opportunities in that fight to end it and I didn’t. That night Martin was a better man and he won the fight. What’s exciting about this matchup is he’s improved so much as a fighter since then as have I. We are both hungry.
“This is kind of a ‘do or die’ fight for both of us. I’m coming off two losses in a row. He’s coming off a loss. This is a crazy sport and a crazy business. You never know when you are going to get that pink slip. We are both highly motivated to go in there and get the win.
“He’s a hungry guy and a hard worker. I have a lot of respect for him—and I know everybody says that—but Martin Kampmann is a guy I genuinely respect. I really do. He’s worked his ass off to come to the states and follow his dream. He’s trying to achieve his goals and so am I. That makes for a dangerous combination and an exciting formula to make a great fight for the fans.”
When the cage door closes at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse and it’s time for Condit to go to work, he’ll press forward looking to handle business and walk through the fire once again. He knows Kampmann will be looking to break him, and in some strange way he appreciates that because his intentions are coming from the worst place as well.
There is going to be a fight in Indianapolis and this pours a bit more gasoline on the already raging fire that burns inside of him.
Kampmann will present another test and an opportunity for Condit to dig down and find out what he’s made of. While that conflict is far from the definition of who Condit is as a man, it absolutely is the catalyst for his self-discovery.
But while that particular fight is still several weeks away, his current battle against horseradish-heavy cocktail sauce has already been won.
Where it has notoriously staggered many who have come before him, to Condit it was just one more little thing to find out.
The waitress returns to remove the plate and Condit politely nods to her for doing so. He doesn’t talk about the experience or the fact he got over in the moment, it was simply a task before him that he handled like a champion.
Condit will face plenty more challenges down the road and he’ll be looking forward to every one of them.
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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