Friday, July 04, 2008

Determined Lytle still aiming for the top

by John Buhl, and see on

Whether it's been a close decision on the scorecards or an untimely cut stoppage, Chris "Lights Out" Lytle has had to deal with more than his fair share of bad luck.
But despite the setbacks, Lytle is more determined than ever to get his chance at the UFC welterweight championship, and he'll have a chance to take a huge step in that direction on July 5 against top contender Josh Koscheck (13-2) at UFC 86 in Las Vegas.

Lytle made his UFC debut in 2000 and has picked up four wins in the Octagon. A strong grappler and an excellent boxer — Lytle has a 13-1 record as a professional boxer — he's always had the skills to hang with the best in mixed martial arts, but he's never managed to take that final step and set himself up for a title shot.

While his UFC record stands at just 4-7, Lytle has gone the distance with Karo Parisyan and Matt Hughes. The only two stoppage losses in his career — against Joe Riggs at UFC 55 and Thiago Alves at UFC 78 — were the result of a cut, and Lytle was competitive in both fights.

"I've lost some close fights...split decisions, majority decisions," Lytle says. "A couple of times I've had cuts stop fights that I thought I had a pretty good chance in."

The biggest letdown came at the finale of The Ultimate Fighter: Season Four. Having battled to get to the finals of the reality show competition, Lytle faced Matt Serra in a close fight that went the full 15 minutes. Some spectators thought Lytle pulled off the win and some sided with Serra. With a title fight against Georges St. Pierre going to the winner, two of the three judges favored Serra.

Serra went on to pull off the upset at UFC 69, knocking out St. Pierre in the first round. Lytle admits that he couldn't help but wonder, what if? What if that had been him fighting St. Pierre instead of Serra?

"Of course I thought about that for a while," Lytle says. "But I'm just focusing on what I need to do. If I'm able to get [into title contention] after some of the things I've been through, it would be even sweeter."

He easily could have become discouraged, but Lytle has continued to work on his game. As a result, while most people might start to lose a step at 33 years of age after dozens of professional MMA and boxing matches, Lytle feels better than ever. When asked about his long term goals at this stage of his career, he doesn't even hesitate to express his desire to fight the best in his division.

"Right now, I feel like I'm better than I've ever been," Lytle says. "I think a couple of wins would put me right up there. Josh is definitely one of the best around right now, so that'd put me where I want to be. But whoever the UFC wants to put in front of me, you know, that's fine with me."

A win over Koscheck — whose only recent loss came via decision against current titleholder St. Pierre — would certainly put Lytle near the top of the division, but it won't be easy.

Already a decorated collegiate wrestler and impressive athlete, Koscheck's striking has improved substantially since his UFC debut. While Lytle says he feels confident standing with Koscheck, he knows Koscheck still poses a threat on the feet.

"He has a lot of athletic ability," Lytle says. "A lot of the guys you see knocking people out these days, they don't necessarily have great technique, but they're really fast and strong, and they get a lot of power behind their strikes" Lytle says. "He's definitely a threat on the feet."

Of course Koscheck also has some of the best takedowns in the sport, but Lytle has worked to improve his takedown defense over the years.

"That's definitely something I've worked on," Lytle says. "I think my hands are better than most guys. I'm used to guys trying to push me up against the cage or shoot in to try and take me down. I want the other guy to fight my type of fight, so that's something I've worked to improve."

Lytle's also confident that he can avoid any serious damage if the fight goes to the mat.

"I've never had anyone submit me, so I'm not worried about him doing that," Lytle says. "And in the fights where I've been taken down, I haven't really [sustained] a lot of damage, either."

Going into his showdown with Koscheck, Lytle's best weapon might be his relaxed demeanor. As important as a win would be for Lytle to get to the next level, a loss could be equally as damaging, given the UFC's recent roster cuts. However, Lytle isn't nervous or anxious about what could happen with a win or a loss.

"I probably used to think about that kind of stuff," he says, referring to his earlier days in the sport. "Right now, I'm just going to try and fight my style of fight and make it exciting for the fans. If it's an entertaining fight, then I don't think I'll have to worry about getting an offer to fight somewhere."



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