Natural Selection

Some fighters are found, some fighters are forged, and some fighters—like Carlos Condit—are just meant to be.

It’s a hot, rainy day in Albuquerque, N.M. The rain is coming down in large droplets—the kind of precipitation that Forrest Gump would call “big ol’ fat rain.” It’s bouncing off the large Jackson and Winkeljohn Mixed Martial Arts sign with authority and pounding the roof. Fortunately, the inside of the gym is dry and yields far more appeal. On the surface, it looks much like any top-notch gym in America. There’s a cage, a ring, and plenty of grappling mats, as well as an area for strength training, which is cluttered with an assortment of dumbbells, medicine balls, and cardio machines. Upstairs, for the most devoted, is what amounts to the toughest dorm room in the country, a transient address for the out-of-town fighter.

Despite Albuquerque’s moderate population of approximately 500,000 residents, there may be no greater concentration of UFC talent anywhere in the world than the fighters in the confines of this building. From across the globe, fighters come to Albuquerque for the tutelage of Greg Jackson and striking coach Mike Winklejohn and for training partners worth their weight in gold. Fighters search out this camp for many reasons. Some look to rejuvenate stagnant careers. Others feel that this is the next and final step of progression to bring their skills to a peak—in goes a prospect, out comes a champion. However, for at least one fighter, this is home. He was born just minutes away from the building that was designed to create exactly what he wants to be. It’s as if the stork that delivered Carlos Condit had Joe Silva’s eye for budding talent and dropped him off where he would be certain to flourish.

< DESTINED FOR VIOLENCE <

Born and raised in Albuquerque, Condit was ostensibly destined for life in the cage. The UFC welterweight describes Albuquerque as a “fighting town” in which he built the foundation for his future career while most kids were still glued to Mario Brothers. “My dad had an old pair of boxing gloves,” he says. “My other friend had a cheap pair that you probably get at Disneyland or something. We used to go into the backyard and throw-down every day after school. That was for fun. Sometimes we’d get into real scraps and bust each other up pretty good.”

Condit’s path to the UFC is somewhat familiar. Like many, his first interaction with MMA came November 12, 1993, when the UFC debuted. He was hooked. This led to backyard fights with friends and his younger brother Andre. Eventually, the brawling evolved into more technical battles thanks to a childhood spent wrestling and later Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Condit would take what he learned in classes and teach his friends so they could, in turn, give him a better workout.

The prestigious Jackson’s MMA camp came later when Condit knew where he wanted to go as a fighter. “What’s really cool is that everyone comes here to learn,” Condit says. “Even if you’re the toughest guy, the UFC fucking champion, you gotta check your ego at the door. You’re here to teach—to show other people what you know and learn from guys with different styles. That’s the attitude.”

The rangy 6’2” fighter made his professional debut in 2002 and never looked back. The do-or-die attitude he developed in his backyard with his father’s boxing gloves served him well. He started out his career fighting in promotions mostly in the Southwest and recorded a 12-1 record, all finishes in the first round.

It didn’t take long for people to notice this young buck out in the desert, sporting a mean streak and distinct scowl. Japan, Hawaii and other locations called on Condit for his fighting services until World Extreme Cagefighting signed him just months after Zuffa purchased the company. Condit went undefeated—winning the WEC Welterweight Title—and finishing each opponent every time he entered the blue cage. When Zuffa finally merged the WEC into the UFC, they took one of their hottest products along with them. Carlos Condit had finally reached the biggest promotion in the world. While his freshman effort in the Octagon failed to net the desired results—he lost a split decision to Martin Kampmann—he is currently riding a four-fight winning streak, including victories over Jake Ellenberger, Rory MacDonald, Dan Hardy, and Dong Hyun Kim.

< FANATICAL FIGHTER <

“I don’t give a fuck if you’re 270 pounds or 170 pounds. You will not show me you’re tired.”

Greg Jackson’s words ring loudly throughout the entire building. About 20 fighters are at the tail-end of their wrestling practice—drilling, pummeling, and taking each other down for more than an hour.

After the first of two training sessions of the day, Condit walks around the gym getting his fellow teammates to sign a glove. “It’s for a fan—a kid,” he says. The lucky kid mailed Condit a glove in the hopes that his idol would sign it and send it back along with autographs from some of his teammates. On this morning, Condit gets Brian Stann, Andrei Arlovski, and Diego Sanchez to pen it just before we head off to lunch.

“When I began MMA, there was no making a career out of it,” he says. “Even the top guys had side jobs. I did it basically to be a badass.” He is equal parts fighter and fan, blurring the line between cageside seats and stepping on the canvas himself. “I’m a fan too. I understand why people are so fanatical for it. If I weren’t a fighter, I’d be the guy waiting two hours in line for Royce Gracie’s autograph.”

As we drive to one of his favorite restaurants in his home city, the telling signs of a fighter’s vehicle are immediately noticeable. Gym bag, empty sports drink bottles and fan mail are strewn about. Mixed into this array of fighter essentials—and securely strapped to the backseat—is a car seat for his nearly two-year-old son Owen. It is the first sign of Carlos Condit’s life as anything other than a fighter, and worth taking note.

For a man with the natural physique of a chimney sweep, Condit is a voracious eater. He recommends the Sante Fe Benedict but orders for himself something a little lighter, knowing his strength and conditioning is but a few hours away. In the meantime, he downs a pint of milk in one gulp.

“Would you like another?” asks the server.

“Yes please.”

Every topic of discussion at lunch comes back to two things, fighting and his family. It’s a correlation that makes perfect sense since they are inexplicably related. Six years ago, Condit met his future wife, Seager, through a mutual friend, WEC veteran Coty “Ox” Wheeler. Seager explains how Wheeler and her lived in the same apartment complex, and when Condit would visit his friend, their paths would cross. “She’s being nice,” Condit says with a smile on his face. “The truth is, I was living on his couch.”

Not unexpectedly, Seager is an MMA fan and practitioner, seemingly a prerequisite for anyone involved with the Condit family. She, like Carlos’ father Brian, makes it to as many of her husband’s fights as she can. She was in the O2 Arena in London, England, for UFC 120 to witness his knockout over Dan Hardy. Condit was facing an incredibly hostile crowd, known also for treating visiting soccer teams and their fans like invading armies. “The only people cheering in that whole arena were me, his dad, and Robert Downey Jr.,” Seager says. It is still the only knockout loss on the resilient British fighter’s ledger.

Married since December 31, 2010, Seager’s casual indifference to his lifestyle spent living in a gym and sharpening all physical tools highlights their unique relationship. Even Condit himself has a hard time explaining what he does when he is not focused on bettering his ability to separate other 170-pound fighters from consciousness.

It’s this resolute uniformity of focused energy on fighting that leaves the biggest impression. It seems that every breath, every meal, every minute, is dedicated to becoming the best professional fighter Condit can be. A steady and unending focus organically instilled in a man who knows no other way and prefers no other way. It is not an artificial drive put out on display for all to stare at in wonder, but his natural state of being. He calmly approaches sparring sessions, fights, and photo shoots with the same stoic veneer—another day at the office, where the office happens to be filled with a dozen or so trained badasses.

That is not to say that he is an emotionless robot. The Carlos Condit who fans recognize on television is no act, but there is more behind his trademark scowl. A self-described goofball, he is quick with witty quips between workouts. His subtle, dry humor is just often overshadowed by a focused demeanor towards the task at hand.

< STEPPING UP <

During Condit’s strength and conditioning sessions with trainer Adrian Gonzales at the Jewish Community Center, sometimes a sense of humor is required to get through the rigorous workouts. Condit is hustling back and forth from the pool to the grassy field, alternating workouts. Amid mothers and children playing Marco Polo in the water, Condit rotates through the swimming strokes, jumping in and out of the water with weights, and pushing his body to the limit. In the open field, Condit is sprinting with parachutes strapped to his back and swinging a 10-foot PVC pipe full of sand. Although it’s 90 degrees outside, the thunder and lightning in the distance bring an early ending to the pool workout, and he transitions to fieldwork only.

“Not a good idea to be training in a pool in a thunder storm,” Gonzales says. “But neither is an open field.”

“You’re right. I’ll have to outrun it.” Condit says.

Condit continues his workout, weather be damned. The welterweight division of the UFC is chalked full of powerful wrestlers. Josh Koscheck, Jon Fitch, and the alpha male Georges St-Pierre all make their mark by grinding opponents into submission. Condit’s lanky build does not fit that mold, but his workouts would disagree. He attacks his workouts like he did his sparring session just a few hours before. Visibly frustrated when he starts to tire, he slaps his legs and yells out his displeasure. It’s still more than 90 degrees outside, but Condit carries on until his workout is finished.

He slumps calmly down on the truck tire he was just smashing with a sledge hammer. All the torture is directed toward one goal. After his Knockout of the Night performance—his second in a row—over the undefeated Dong Hyun Kim at UFC 132, Condit was all but promised a title shot. Unfortunately, the logistical realities of the prize fighting business do not always pan out the way one would hope. Condit’s win at UFC 132 in July meant that, if he wanted the next shot at the title, he would have to wait until long after Georges St-Pierre and Nick Diaz fought for the belt. Their contest at UFC 137 on October 29 would put Condit on the shelf until well into 2012—far too long for a fighter entering his prime.

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. With no fights on the horizon and no contenders to speak of, Condit took to the latest and greatest platform to get the fight he wanted: Twitter. After a surprisingly respectful banter between Condit and BJ Penn, “The Prodigy” responded affirmatively. He wanted a piece of Condit, and the fight was set—UFC 137 in Las Vegas and the co-main event to Georges St-Pierre vs. Nick Diaz. However, the MMA gods had other ideas.

In the UFC, where the biggest fights and smallest matches are in constant flux, all a fighter can do is hope the tide turns in his favor. Injuries, suspensions, and an assortment of issues can keep fights from coming to fruition. In this case, someone was smiling down on Condit.

Nick Diaz was never known as a fighter that clamored for media attention. But when he dismissed two media press conferences for his main event title fight at UFC 137, UFC president Dana White laid down the hammer. He immediately took Diaz off the card and asked Carlos Condit if he would step in and challenge for the 170-pound belt. For Condit, it was a no brainer. “I was pretty floored, honestly. It’s been a dream of mine for a very long time. It was a pretty intense moment. I got pretty emotional. I was having lunch, and I broke down. I started crying a little bit.”

The real work, however, had just begun. GSP is arguably the best fighter in the world and certainly the best welterweight. The French-Canadian has run roughshod over UFC welterweights since he began fighting for the organization, sporting an overall record of 22-2 and avenging his two losses to Matt Serra and Matt Hughes. He is a master at maximizing his advantages and minimizing his deficiencies. Against powerful strikers, GSP takes them down with his stellar wrestling, looking for submissions or ground-and-pound. Against jiu-jitsu experts, he stands and kickboxes, never allowing his foe to initiate his ground game. Against the powerful puncher and NCAA Wrestling Champion Josh Koscheck, St-Pierre jabbed incessantly, breaking Koscheck’s orbital bone and staying clear of his takedowns and powerful hooks.

Condit has seen it all in his career and knows what to expect from the welterweight champion. “Georges is well rounded. He has dangerous striking, but mostly he utilizes his wrestling. He has a great top game. I’m a striker and I have some good jiu-jitsu. I’ve fought a lot of guys whose gameplan was to put me on my back and hold me down. I’ve done that, maybe not against as talented of a guy as Georges, but it’s going to be a similar gameplan to a lot of guys I’ve fought. You’ll see a hell of a fight, and I’ll walk away with the title belt. I’ll walk away with the gold around my waist and carry it back with me to Albuquerque, New Mexico.”

St-Pierre’s planning and execution are second to none. But he will be without the anchor of his gameplans for this one. St-Pierre also trains under Greg Jackson once he’s completed his work with primary trainer Firas Zahabi at Tristar Gym in Montreal. Jackson takes all the elements of the training camp, puts them together, and concocts the formula that we all see in the cage—sort of like an automobile assembly plant taking all the parts from other manufacturers and putting them together to make the perfect Cadillac.

Jackson, however, is a staunch believer in teammates not fighting teammates, and he will not be involved in either fighter’s preparations. Condit had the foresight to make other provisions. “It doesn’t throw me off at all,” he says, referring to not having the services of Greg Jackson. “I had seen this coming before and I kind of came up with a contingency plan on who would train me. I completely understand. If I were in Greg’s shoes, I would probably do the same thing.”

Instead, Condit will get the help of striking coach Mike Winklejohn and camp founder Chris Luttrell. Winklejohn’s eyes immediately light up when talking about the fight. It’s Winklejohn’s job to set up the striking and clinches to complement Luttrell’s ground strategy and vice versa—the Winklejohn ying to the Lutrell yang.

“Yes, it’s going to be fun. Carlos is that kind of guy. Carlos, Melvin Guillard, Jon Jones, and Brian Stann— those guys are like video games and they allow me to play it that way,” says Winklejohn. “Carlos is the same way. He’s starting to attack at so many angles with his stand-up that people don’t know what’s coming at them. We saw that in his last fight with Kim. [Kim] just didn’t know when to shoot and try to take him down.”

< WITHIN STRIKING DISTANCE <

Carlos has been taking steps up for the last decade, maturing both as a man and a fighter. Making the welterweight limit was never a difficult challenge for him, although it gets tougher and tougher, as his dedication to strength and conditioning have transformed his body. That dedication is paying off. Scoring as many wins (27) in his professional career as he has years on this earth, some of his biggest steps have come recently.

Condit has signed a contract extension with the UFC, indicating that the days of tiny paychecks in return for weeks of strenuous training are behind him. To Condit, however, the monetary rewards yielded from success in the UFC are more of a pleasant symptom than anything else. “When I first started to get paid more, big checks and stuff, I went and bought all kinds of things, because I never really had money before,” he says. “These days, man, I like to take trips and stuff like that. But, buying things, material things—it’s just stuff. I’d rather save it and have it when I’m done fighting.”

Even at 27 years old, Condit is already planning his retirement. He is committed to not fighting after he reaches 30 years old if his body and mind are not 100 percent dedicated. He has seen the final years of many fighters and knows that dragging his body through more than it can handle is not the way of a father and husband. Seager even hinted at a shot at culinary school. What would Carlos Condit look like in an apron and baking mittens?

But that is all so far away. It seems that Condit is just getting started in an MMA career that’s a lifetime in the making. A rare combination of youth, experience, and inherent drive has chiseled this man into a mold of what a fighter can be. All aspects of his life intersect flawlessly to produce what everyone sees on pay-perview on Saturday nights. Condit will step into the cage against one of the most gifted fighters of any generation. Live, in front of more than 14,000 people, and viewed by millions of fans around the world, he will put his health and reputation on the line, vying for the UFC welterweight title. Yet, in Condit’s strange way, it does not seem extraordinary, it just seems right.

“Even if you’re the toughest guy, the UFC fucking champion, you gotta check your ego at the door.”

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