Nothing is ever as simple as winning or losing, and this is the mantra that’s driving welterweight title challenger Carlos Condit, who faces Robbie Lawler for the 170-pound crown this Saturday in the main event at UFC 195.
The overall journey of discovery is what matters the most to Condit. His is one decade in the making and that couldn’t be made without honest self-assessment.
“When I first got started, it was because I simply loved to fight and was motivated by the competition and challenge of it all,” Condit said. “Testing yourself in hand-to-hand combat against another man is as primal as it gets, but within that I found something else entirely – almost an art form in a manner of speaking.
“Over the years I’ve pushed myself to continuously develop in all areas because the mental aspect is just as important – if not more so – than the physical part of fighting. The idea that the warrior spirit or mentality comes to an individual just because they fight is ridiculous. It has to be studied, learned and understood. Emotions can inhibit your performance if they are not understood and controlled, but once you learn how to use that energy, it becomes a strength rather than a weakness.”
"Testing yourself in hand-to-hand combat against another man is as primal as it gets, but within that I found something else entirely – almost an art form in a manner of speaking." -- Carlos Condit
The trajectory of Condit’s rise from the hard knock Albuquerque fight scene to standing on the precipice of potential greatness certainly proves the 31-year-old striker is one of the elite welterweights in the world, but his arrival to the place where he currently resides is the result of steps taken long before Condit ever entered into the Octagon.
The career of “The Natural Born Killer” has been filled with one inspired performance after the next, but he didn’t come to possess those traits by accident.
While aggression and tenacity have always come easily to the Jackson/Winkeljohn representative, the resilience and determination that have become Condit’s signature traits were forged long before the letters “UFC” or “MMA” were ever locked into his consciousness.
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The former WEC and UFC interim champion was in elementary school when he discovered his unique desire to win at all costs, which was right about the same time he was hit with the reality that other kids possessed more refined athletic skills than what he brought to the table.
Whether it was a race at a swim meet or a match on the wrestling mats where his earliest lessons were learned, it was in those places that he found something inside of him none of the other kids could lay claim.
The son of a career electrician who would one day go on to become the Chief of Staff to the Governor of New Mexico discovered that although he may bend, he never broke.
“Carlos was always a good athlete but he wasn’t athletic in the way other kids his age were,” his father, Brian Condit, recalled. “Early on in sports, most kids rely strictly on their natural talent because that’s typically enough to get the win. Although there were areas Carlos lacked in from an athletic standpoint, he had this sense of drive you just can’t teach.
“He hated to lose – still does – but when it happened, rather than fold up and look for comfort he would take his knocks then go charging back and go after it like he was an entirely different kid. There would be wrestling tournaments where he’d lose the first match then come back and win 10 straight in the same afternoon to place.
Those experiences helped shape Condit’s tenacity as a fighter, his father said.
“Early on in his career he’d come out with these wild eyes and it would just be chaos. Now it’s the exact opposite. His eyes are locked and focused sharply and there is a scary calm there,” Brian Condit said of his son. “It’s been amazing to see that transformation.”
“Early on in his career he’d come out with these wild eyes and it would just be chaos. Now it’s the exact opposite. His eyes are locked and focused sharply and there is a scary calm there,” -- Brian Condit on his son, Carlos
The experiences of Condit’s youth would yield benefits due to his ability to weather the proverbial storm and find understanding in what made his refusal to lose so powerful.
Strangely enough, his career as a mixed martial artist has run almost parallel to his early days in the world of competitive sports, and his time in the UFC has provided numerous examples of Condit’s learning curve in motion.
The title challenger-in-waiting battled back from the brink of defeat on multiple occasions to overcome some of the best fighters in his division, thus proving Condit is a fighter who can, and will, remain dangerous every second he’s in the fight.
Although he may bend, breaking is not an option.
“In one way or another I’ve been battling back my entire life,” Condit said. “Whether it was in sports or life in general, I’ve always found myself in positions where perseverance is necessary for me to get where I’m looking to go. When it comes to fighting, and there is another flesh and bone human being standing between me and my goal, then we are going to find out who is willing to go the furthest.
“I know they are coming out to try to take my head off and that’s something I can’t allow to happen so it’s on me to f------ end him before he ever gets the chance. “
Experience has taught Condit how to react to adversity.
“There are going to be times when things don’t go your way and that’s when you have a choice to make. You can either shell up and try to find a way out of there or you tap into every ounce of what you have to fight your way back,” he said. “As long as there is breath in my lungs then I’m going to keep fighting and I’m going to keep pushing until the end.”
Despite his status as a perennial contender in what is arguably the most talent-stacked division under the UFC banner, Condit’s future became suddenly uncertain following a freak injury sustained in his bout with Tyron Woodley at UFC 171 in March 2014.
The surgery to repair his knee was successful, but it put him on the sidelines for more than a year and forced the versatile veteran to undergo a grueling rehabilitation process in order to keep his career alive.
Condit knew he was standing at a critical juncture of his life. A year out of the fast-moving welterweight scene could easily cost him his relevancy in the grand scheme of a lights-out division, and if that happened, it would all but destroy his hopes of ever getting his hands on an undisputed title.
On the physical side, if complications were to arise and his body was to reject the cadaver tissue inserted in his knee, he’d never regain the mobility that made his striking game so dangerous. With such weighted hypotheticals looming, it would have been easy for Condit to give in to depression and drift off course, but that’s simply not the way he’s wired.
In fact, rather than just do the work to ensure a full recovery, Condit set about expanding into new areas of training as well. He followed a strict rehab program to bring his strength back, and once things became stable, the welterweight knockout artist began working a natural movement program under the guidance of MoveNat guru Erwan Le Corre.
The end of that harrowing chapter came when the resurgent striker leveled former title challenger Thiago Alves in the second round of their tilt in Brazil. Condit emerged from a 14-month layoff with what was arguably one of the most impressive performances of his career.
While many fighters suffer ring rust after being out of action for lengthy stints, Condit proved to be the exception. He picked apart the powerful Brazilian before he dusted “The Pitbull” with a short elbow to get the finish.
Not only was Condit back to form, but the way he handled business earned him the next shot at the welterweight title held by Lawler.
With everything he’s been through just to earn the opportunity to compete for what he sees as the ultimate prize, Condit believes everything has aligned to present the chance to get his hands on the 12 pounds of gold he’s been chasing since entering the UFC.
He’s quick to acknowledge the dangers Lawler will present once things get underway at UFC 195, but he’s a man who will not be denied.
“Robbie is as powerful of a fighter as you are going to find in this division and he certainly has some very dangerous tools at his disposal,” Condit said. “He’s had some great fights in recent years and he earned that title. There’s no denying that, but this is my time now. I’ve come through a lot and fought my way back to the top and this is my chance to prove I’m the best welterweight fighter in the world. It’s been one hell of a journey and I’ve learned so much about myself as a man and as a fighter along the way.
“The ultimate goal is right there for the taking and that’s exactly what I’m going to do – take it.”