There’s a school of thought in the fight game that to fight, you have to fight often. The fighters who subscribe to this school have an insane number of fights to their records such as Jeremy Horn (79-18-5) and Travis "Iron Man" Fulton (186-45-9). These are the guys who seem to fight every month of the year.
This kind of fighting takes a toll on a fighter. But if they’re lucky, they’ll make a name for themselves and get scooped up by top tier promotions, like the UFC, where they don’t have to fight as often to make coin and allow their bodies to heal between fights.
Chris "Lights Out" Lytle (25-15-5) has made a career fighting guys like these. His opponents have a ludicrous combined record of 810 wins, 470 losses and 105 draws.
With 45 credited professional fights (he says there’s about 15 additional fights that aren’t listed on his record), Lytle’s got the experience of a truly seasoned veteran. And at 33, he’s still got a lot of fight left in him.
He’s gone toe-to-toe with some of the most accomplished mixed martial artists in the world, including Matt Hughes, Thiago Alves, Matt Serra, Karo Parisyan, Nick Diaz, Robbie Lawler and Kazuo Misaki. He’s got knockout power and 17 submissions to his credit — and he’s never been knocked out or submitted.
Lytle doesn’t fight 10 times a year like he used to, but that’s because he’s made the big show in the UFC and can now focus on the one thing that’s been thus far out of reach: that big win that’s going to propel him to the upper echelon of top welterweight contenders.
He’ll get his chance when he faces Top 5 ranked Josh Koscheck (10-2) this Saturday night at UFC 86: "Jackson vs. Griffin" at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
We caught up with the always laid back Lytle to see how he plans to tackle this next obstacle.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): You’ve got a crazy record, having been in 45 professional fights and faced some of the top names in MMA. One statistic that I think is completely off the charts, considering the sheer number of fights you’ve had, is that you’ve never been stopped in your professional career, except by doctor stoppage due to cuts (which happened twice). You’ve never been submitted and have never been knocked out. Do you think a lot of people underestimate you? Do you think that they know this about you?
Chris Lytle: Well I think the people who actually are looking to fight me, I think that they know that they’re going to be in for a long fight. I haven’t been submitted or knocked out, so no matter what, it’s going to be a long, tough fight.
Lots of times I think some people probably don’t want to do certain fights. I’ve been fighting long enough where I have enough knowledge that sometimes I can make people look bad, even if they’re winning. If they win the fight against me, usually it’s not going to be an impressive victory. They might grind it out and win, but it’s not going to be on your highlight reels. It’s not going to be, "Wow, he looked great." I think when people are going to fight me, they know it’s going to be a pretty long and tough fight.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): When most people think of you, they think about your heavy hands and solid chin. They might not realize that you’ve choked out a ton of opponents. In your fight with Jason Gilliam at UFC 73, that was just a crazy armbar — hell, I think it was an armbar, I couldn’t exactly tell from the footage…
Chris Lytle: (Laughs)
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): …you had him in like a triangle as well. Needless to say, it was sick. How much of your training is dedicated to ground work?
Chris Lytle: A lot of it. Probably about half of it. Probably just as much as anything else. I spend a lot of time working on the ground and on takedowns and takedown defense. I spend a lot of time on different strikes. If you look at my record, I’ve had over 40 fights — and that’s just recorded. I’ve had a lot more fights than that, actually. I’ve been fighting since ’98.
Hell, I think they have my first fight as one in Japan, or something like that. That’s like the first one recorded … or it used to be. But I wasn’t 0-0 when they sent me to Japan. I was like 10-0. But they didn’t record stuff on the Internet back in the day. But I probably had … I guarantee I had 15 more fights. Unfortunately for me they were all wins that they didn’t record. (Laughs)
But I’ve been around for a long time. Back in the day, I was more of just a ground guy. I learned that if I couldn’t take people down, and they could keep me on my feet, I was in trouble. So that’s when I started boxing all the time, and I pretty much did that exclusively for a while … for a couple years. People now look at me as a boxer.
I think it’s funny that I was a ground guy first. Then I started boxing to compensate for my weakness at it, and I felt like I got pretty good at it. Now, people look at me more for that than as a ground guy. But it helps me get submissions, you know? If they’re just trying to get me to the ground, they give me a lot of openings, and I’m going to finish them if I get an opening.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Recently, you’ve seen some bonus cash, including your UFC 78 fight with Thiago Alves earning Fight of the Night, and your 33 second UFC 81 win over Kyle Bradley earning Knock Out of the Night. As a fighter, when you’re in the heat of the moment, is that something that’s at the back of your mind — giving a good show for the crowd?
Chris Lytle: Well I’ve always wanted to put on a good fight for the crowd and everything, but really honestly, when you’re out there — and maybe I’m just not to that level yet — but I can’t change what’s going on. Fighters are so good at this level that I can’t be like, "I’m going to try and do this to get that bonus."
Beforehand in your mental preparation and in your game plan training, that’s the time when you’re thinking about that kind of stuff. Right now I’ve been thinking to just go out and try and finish the guy as soon as possible, try to hit him as hard as I can, submit him in whatever I do. That’s my mindset right now.
There were a couple of fights, like when I fought Matt Serra and a couple other times, where I was like, "Okay, this is my game plan: I’m trying not to get taken down, I’m trying to do this." Well, you know, I didn’t really fight as well. I felt like I held back a little bit because I was just trying to stick with that game plan. Even though I felt like my game plan might have been right on, it just didn’t translate into a good fight.
I don’t do that any more. I’m like, "I’m going to go out there and be super aggressive and try to end the fight," and see what happens that way. My mental preparation before the fight is when I’m deciding if I’m going to be in the position to win Fight of the Night, or Knock Out, or whatever.
At the same time, it takes two guys to make that happen. If I’m out there trying to do everything I can to put on a good fight, and the other guy doesn’t, then there’s nothing that can happen. It takes two guys to make a good fight.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Let’s talk about this Saturday’s fight with Josh Koscheck at UFC 86. You’ve won three of your last four. Koscheck is coming off a win against Dustin Hazelett. How important is a win here for you?
Chris Lytle: Well, I’m 33 now. I’ve been fighting for over 10 years. I feel like, at this point, I’ve been flirting around with the top level for a long time. You only get so long to do that — your window’s only so big. I felt like last time I was at this place I thought it was my last chance at it. So to be up here again I feel like for sure this is it. (Laughs)
So I feel it’s a must win for me to obtain my goal. It’s now or never. I’m sure (Koscheck)’s probably thinking the same way, so that’s what makes for a good fight, hopefully.
There’s two different ways to go. You both can be trying to not lose, or — and I think with him and I know with me — you can be looking to win. I’m not looking to not lose.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): When I look at this fight, I think a lot depends on the Josh Koscheck we’re going to see. Will he try and stand with you, or will he try to take you down. From a fan perspective, I think a lot of people don’t want to see a similar strategy from Koscheck that Matt Hughes implemented against you. No offense to Hughes, I just don’t think that he wanted to stand with you—
Chris Lytle: No, he didn’t want anything to do with it.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): No, he really didn’t. I was actually lucky enough to be at that fight, and it was unfortunate that it went that way for you, but—
Chris Lytle: Well my whole game plan was … I figured he would try and take me down, but if I kinda stalemated him then the ref would stand it up, and I’d get five or six chances to knock him out. Well, he got his takedown each round, and they never stood it up one time, so I got three chances to try and hit him, and that was it. I was hoping for a few more. But it kind of threw me off. I definitely didn’t think they’d keep us on the ground the whole time.
But now — as I said, that was kind of my strategy (against Hughes) to go for that and kind of stalemate him out — but now I’m not trying that anymore. I’ll pretend there’s no ref, I don’t care. If I’m on the ground, I’m trying to get up. I’m not going to sit there and wait for them to stand us up.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Well how do you see this fight going — do you expect Koscheck will try to stand and trade with you?
Chris Lytle: Well here’s the thing, he’s been getting a lot better on his standup, and I think he likes the way it’s been going over his last couple fights. But I think what’s going to happen is I’m going to go out there, and he’s going to try and stand up for a while. And I think eventually, I’ll hit him a few times, and he’ll think, "This is stupid. Why stay up on this guy when I can take him down?"
He’ll look to take me down. I don’t believe he’s going to sit there and trade punches with me the whole fight. I think eventually he’ll think he can take me down and hold me down, and he’ll get in the mindset of "I can’t lose this fight," and that’s the route it’s going to eventually take. I don’t think it’ll happen right away, but eventually it’ll be his mindset.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Well that’s the other thing: once he has you on the ground, you do have an underrated submission game. So it’s going to be interesting to see what he has once he does take you down, and if the refs are going to stand it up, unlike they did with the Hughes fight.
Chris Lytle: Well like I said, I’m not going to leave it in their hands. I’ve learned. If you look at my record — especially in Japan — I’ve lost a ton of split decisions and a ton of majority decisions, and just a ton of decisions.
I don’t want to put it in (my opponent’s) hands either, and I don’t want to put it in the ref’s hands. You just don’t know how the ref’s going to feel that day and if he’s going to decide to stand it up. So I’m looking at it like, "Hey, I’m not going to look to this guy for help, I’m looking to get back to my feet on my own."
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Koscheck has said in the past that he trains the same for every opponent. But I’ve read that you don’t do that — that you have a more specific training regimen, depending on the opponent. Do you watch tape of your opponent? What all goes into planning your strategy?
Chris Lytle: Oh yeah. Depends on the opponent, but Koscheck’s pretty easy ‘cause he’s fought on T.V. so many times, there’s so much footage available.
But I’m trying not to look at anything old. I know that back in the day what he did, he was going to try and take you down and try and sit on you. Now days, he’s up and he tries to throw a lot more punches, and he’s trying to do a lot more. His offense is a lot broader.
So I’m just trying to look at it and pick out a few things, like, when he’s doing this, I think he’s going to shoot. When he’s doing that, I think he’s going to throw a kick. So I’m just trying to looking for little things so I can pick up on it and be ready for it.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Who have you brought in from a coaching or training partner perspective to help you prepare for this fight?
Chris Lytle: I’ve just basically had a couple wrestlers come in ... a couple different wrestlers who are higher caliber than I’m used to dealing with … We’ll start with them having the double leg in and go from there — Boom — you know, that’s difficult to get out of. Just working on stuff like that. How to react when they got me in a bad situation — things like that.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): One question I wanted to ask that’s not about Koscheck is that doctor stoppage during the Thiago Alves fight. I know a lot of fans want to see that rematch. Do you?
Chris Lytle: Oh yeah. My thought is here, if I’m fortunate enough to get the win against Koscheck, I figured they would rematch the two of us — me and Thiago — ‘cause he’s on a tear right now.
Honestly, after that fight, I thought for sure that was going to be my next fight, I thought we were going to rematch immediately. But it didn’t happen.
I’d definitely like to do that one again, and it’s nothing against Thiago. To be honest with ya, I like the way he fights. I can’t see me and him fighting, and it not being a fantastic fight and a fun fight.
There are some fights when you are actually in ‘em where I just can’t think of any place I’d rather be or anything I’d rather be doing — even if I’m taking a lot of shots and I’m delivering a lot of shots. It’s one of the reasons right there that I got into this sport. And one of the reasons I enjoy doing it is to be in a fight like that, where he’s hitting me and I’m hitting him, and I’m smiling in between, and so is he, and we’re just toe-to-toe just seeing who is gonna come out on top.
One thing I really liked about that fight was, at the end of it, they stopped it, I didn’t really understand why … they even asked him if he thought the fight should have been stopped, and he said, "No, I don’t think it should have been." I thought that was real cool, ‘cause most guys would have been like, "Yep, yep, he was hurt real bad." But he was a real cool guy about it, so I liked that.
I can’t think of any time when they would ask me to take a fight with someone like (Thiago Alves) that I would turn it down. So I’d love to do it again.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Do you know how many fights you have remaining on your contract?
Chris Lytle: Yeah I got two.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Does that include this fight?
Chris Lytle: Yeah, that includes this fight.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Well hey, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us. Lastly, would you like to thank any sponsors, and do you have any parting words for your fans?
Chris Lytle: Yeah, to my fans, I just want to tell you all that I’m bringing it like I have the last three or four fights, and just expect a lot more of that. I’m coming to hurt somebody and end the fight in the first round. That’s what to look for.
I’d like to thank my sponsors TapOut and Contract Killers.
Just expect some great things here in the future, some real good fights. There’s a lot of guys I’d like to fight just because I like their style. I want to fight anybody who’s gonna come out and try to hurt me, try to knock me out or submit me. I don’t want a guy who’s gonna try and win a decision. If your goal’s to win a decision against me, I don’t even want the fight. Come out and try to hurt me, I’m gonna hurt you, and that’ll put the fans in the seats, man.