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Carlos Condit: Made in Albuquerque

"Whether this was a fight on the prelims or a title eliminator...I would go out there, perform to the best of my
ability, and try to finish my opponent in spectacular fashion." - Carlos Condit

There might be no better example in mixed martial arts of how our environments and experiences shape us than Carlos Condit.

At 29 years old, the man known as “The Natural Born Killer” stands as one of the elite competitors in the sport. The final WEC welterweight champion and former interim UFC welterweight titleholder, Condit has amassed a 29-7 record over his 11-plus year career, his resume littered with veteran names and tough fights from the very beginning.

Born, raised, and still representing Albuquerque as a member of Team Jackson-Winkeljohn, Condit’s aggressive approach and perennial place at the top of the 170-pound rankings was forged in the rough terrain of his hometown and continues to be honed inside the walls of one of the best gyms in all the sport.

“I can’t really put my finger on it,” offers Condit when trying to pin down how the city he’s always called home helped mold him into the fighter he is today. “I grew up with a lot of tough kids and you always want to be the toughest. There’s always the pecking order, and to be one of the tougher kids with the guys that I grew up with, you had to get gritty fast, whether it was playing sandlot football or sparring with the boxing gloves in the backyard after school.

“(Then the) WEC and even some of my fights in other organizations earlier gave me a good place to grow, hone my skills, gain experience, which is super-important. If you take two guys of equal strength, athletic ability and talent, sometimes that experience factor is going to separate them and be the difference between winning and losing.

“I fought pretty good competition in those organizations, and I was young,” he adds, recalling early battles with the likes of Frank Trigg, Jake Shields, Pat Healy and John Alessio. “I was 22 I think when I got the WEC title - it was just a great place to grow. I think that was the perfect progression in my career before going to the UFC.” > Watch: Carlos Condit's UFC Breakthrough

Since arriving on the biggest stage in the sport, Condit has continued to flourish, cementing himself as one of the top welterweights in the sport with victories over Jake Ellenberger, Rory MacDonald, and Nick Diaz.

While his natural talents and innate ferocity are a part of what makes him such a dangerous competitor, the veteran finisher also gives a great deal of credit for his success and standing to the environment where he prepares and the people that help him sharpen his numerous weapons.

“Having a constant influx of new talent—guys with different backgrounds, different looks, new styles, but all world-class competitors and martial artists in their own right—we evolve real quick.

“Whether they’re coming from Russia, Colorado Springs or the East Coast - we’ve got guys from all over bringing a lot of different stuff and they’re learning, but also teaching. Throw that in with a couple of masterminds like Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn to guide the process and it’s a recipe for success.”

“We have incredible, world-class coaches, but the thing that really makes the environment great is that everybody - every one of the coaches, every one of the guys - are just good guys; a lot of positive energy.

“Brandon Gibson really epitomizes that,” he says of the man known as “Six Gun,” who can often be seen holding mitts for Condit and several others from Jackson’s atop the Sandia Mountains or in other picturesque locations around the city. > Watch: New Mexico True Stories with Carlos Condit

“He’s got a real job - he works for the City of Albuquerque; he’s got a nice, cushy desk job - but he comes and gets sweaty with us every day, gets roughed up holding pads for us because he loves martial arts. He grew up around martial arts and he’s got a passion for it, and it’s really cool to have somebody that does this because they love it, and we’ve got a big group of guys that do it for that reason.”

Saturday night, Condit returns to action for the first time in a six months, stepping into the cage with surging contender Tyron Woodley in the co-main event of UFC 171.

The fight card is a welterweight showcase of sorts, with five of the 13 scheduled bouts being contested in the 170-pound weight class, including three of the five main card pairings. Condit and Woodley will be the penultimate tandem in that trio, with Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler squaring off for the vacant division title in the night’s main event.

While he doesn’t deny that fighting before Hendricks and Lawler battle it out to become the next undisputed welterweight champion creates a slight increase in motivation, the reality is that the Albuquerque native is focused solely on Woodley and would approach this fight - or any fight - with the same intensity and ultimate goal no matter where it took place.

“Tyron is a great, great fighter with a lot of talent – he’s really hungry right now,” he says of the 12-2 former University of Missouri wrestler who enters the cage off a blistering first-round knockout win over veteran Josh Koscheck at UFC 167. “He’s very good at what he does, but I don’t think he has as diverse of a skill set as I do and I think being able to get in there, mix it up, and keep him guessing is what’s going to help me come out on top. > Watch: Countdown to Condit vs. Woodley

“Whether this was a fight on the prelims or a title eliminator like it could be for me, I would go out there, perform to the best of my ability, and try to finish my opponent in spectacular fashion.”

More than a decade after stepping into the cage for the first time, Condit is still a product of his environment and the people around him - the grittiness acquired coming up in a tough town shining through in his performances, the hours spent working with world-class coaches and training partners adding some polish to the aggressive and dangerous arsenal that earned him the nickname “The Natural Born Killer” a number of years ago.

“I’m a professional athlete right now,” he says of the changes from his early years to now. ”I do this day in, day out; I live it. Whether I’m in the gym training or at home, my focus is my healthy lifestyle and optimizing how I perform. Whether that’s my diet or my strength and conditioning regimen outside of camp. I’m more professional and I take this more seriously.

“As far as my skill set, I think I’m just a little bit more polished. I’ve brought a lot of things together - and that’s a constant process. As you improve in some aspects of this game, others can downgrade, so it’s a constant process of trying to keep everything sharp, and I’m at the right place to do that.”

Home in Albuquerque, at Jackson’s, surrounded by the people and the environment that make him who he is today.