As fighters go, Chris Lytle is uncommonly honest with himself. He’s one of the few guys in this sport who, when asked about his goals, doesn’t give you some boiler plate answer about a title shot. He’s in his mid-thirties, in one of the UFC’s deepest divisions, and he’s coming off a loss. He knows there probably isn’t much time left, so he wants to make the best of the opportunities he has to put on a show.
In this candid interview Lytle talks about some hard lessons learned in the fight game, why he’s perfectly content to fight a guy like Kevin Burns on a Spike TV TUF Finale card, and what advice he has for the new crop of fighters who will be just breaking into the UFC on Saturday night.
CagePotato.com: Thanks for talking with me, Chris. It seems like the past couple of years your focus has really shifted to being in good fights rather than racking up consecutive victories. Is the quality and entertainment value of your fights more important to you now than wins and losses?
Yeah, I mean, obviously I don’t want to say that I don’t care if I win or lose. It’s painful to me when I lose a fight. I go out there to do what I came to do and win, but I don’t want to win at any cost. I want to put on an exciting fight and win. When I do that, it’s great. When I lose, obviously I didn’t do what I wanted to do. But I’d rather go out there and fight the way I want and lose an exciting fight than win a boring decision. That’s my mentality. I want to fight my way. I want to win, but that’s not the only thing on my mind.
So when you lost a split decision to Marcus Davis in your last fight, did that feel like a loss? And would you still prefer that to winning a boring fight?
It felt like a loss to me. I was wanting to go in there and bang a little bit more than we did. I think the fight turned into more of a strategic battle, with him moving away from me a lot, and I just wanted us to try and knock each other out. But it was a good fight. I clipped him a few times and couldn’t follow up, so that was frustrating for me. I felt like I had him in a couple of bad spots and he did a good job of covering up and recovering and moving out of the way, so I looked at it as an opportunity lost. That hurts, but it was a good fight.
The UFC must have thought it was a good fight because they gave you a Fight of the Night bonus. That was your third Fight of the Night bonus in the last five fights. At any point do you start expecting to take home a bonus like that, or even depend on it financially?
Yeah, I’m always hoping to take it home. No matter how many you win though, you can’t start expecting to get it. There are so many good fighters on every card, it’s hard to compete with some of these guys. I’ve had a couple times when I thought I fought a really good fight but didn’t win the bonus award. I’d love to get that every time, but man, it’s really hard to do.
The bonus amounts are so different from pay-per-views to Spike TV cards. Would you rather fight on a pay-per-view because of that?
You know, not really. The bigger check would be nice, but I’m more interested in the fight they give me. If they give me someone who I think will be a good fight, but it’s on a Fight Night or whatever, that’s fine with me. I’d rather that than a boring fight against someone who just wants to win a decision on a pay-per-view. Here they’re giving me Kevin Burns, who I think will try and finish me and take me out, and I’d rather have that than a fight on a bigger venue.
What do you expect from Kevin Burns?
Well, I’ve seen his last three fights and he appears to me to be a guy who’s good at all aspects of fighting. First I saw him submit a good black belt on the ground and then he stood up his next couple of fights, so he’s obviously not one-dimensional. He really impressed me with the way he stood up with Anthony Johnson for three rounds. He’s a guy who’s in there trying to finish a fight and not to just win a decision. I like that. That’s the kind of fight I’m after.
One thing I never hear you mention, and which almost every other fighter constantly mentions, is working towards a title shot.
I know there are so many good guys in this division, it would take time to build up for a title shot. Not only that, guys who have that win-at-all-costs mentality and end up putting on boring fights because they want the title shot and can’t afford to risk losing, it’s actually harder for them to get title shots. They have to really earn it until you just can’t ignore them anymore.
But if you go out there and put on fantastic fights, they might make a push for you to get that title fight earlier. I don’t know if I really have the time left in this game to try and string six or seven wins together and get a title shot that way. That’s why I’m just trying to do something spectacular with the time I got left. That’s the only path I really have.
How much time do you think have left in this business?
I don’t really know. That kind of depends. Right now I’m feeling healthy, but I’ve had periods where I’ve had back problems, knee problems, and I just fought through it. But I know that at my age I could always be one or two key injuries away from being done. I’ll be thirty-five here soon and I’ve been fighting since I was about twenty-three. You just never know how long you have in this sport.
If it was all over for you after this fight, would you be okay with that?
You know what, I would. After I fought to a split decision and lost against Matt Serra, who’s a great dude and I’m happy for all he’s done, but that’s when I was really looking for that title shot and that money from it for my family, and losing that decision and losing it the way I did, that really crushed me. After that I went and rethought my whole strategy and decided, you know, I’m just going to go out there and fight and not worry about being so careful.
Since then I’ve been much happier with how I’ve fought and I think people have enjoyed my fights more. I feel like I proved something, if only to myself, that I could get knocked down really low and then come back and achieve something. That was really important to me.
You’re a veteran of this sport fighting on a card with a bunch of young guys just trying to break in. What advice would you give them that you wish somebody would have given you?
I would tell them not to let this be the only thing in your life. This has to be your main focus and it has to be important to you, and that’s great when you win but when you lose it’s devastating. If this is the only thing you have it will burn you out over time. You have to understand that there’s more to life than your fighting career. It has to be the main thing you spend your time on, but it can’t be the only thing you spend your time on. I would say that’s the main thing I’d tell these younger guys who have been looking up at this sport and looking up at where they want to be since they were young. It’s a great sport and I love it, but it’s not the only thing in life and you can’t forget that.
Thanks, Chris. Anything else you’d like to add?
I just want to say that I’m really looking forward to this fight and I hope everybody watches it. I think it will be a good one.