|Chris Lytle and Gregg Doyel sparring at Kingdom Martial Arts, February 3, 2012. (Ryan Wilson, CBSSports.com)|
GREENFIELD, Ind. -- Chris Lytle doesn't hit like a politician. No shots below the belt, in other words. All to the face -- specifically, my face. We sparred six rounds on Friday, the former UFC fighter and me, and he punches like the professional boxer and cage fighter he used to be ... not like the state senator he's trying to become.
Fascinating guy, Chris Lytle. This is not a political column, so don't read this as an endorsement for Lytle's state senate campaign. Don't read it as the opposite, either. It's neither. But it's recognition of a guy who has always been willing to put his money, as they say, where his mouth is.
That's what he's doing now as he runs for state senator at a time in his life when, frankly, he didn't think he'd be doing such a thing. He's a full-time fireman, husband and father who always fought on the side, first as a pro boxer who built up a 13-1-1 record before switching to mixed martial arts, and then as an MMA guy who went 31-18-5 overall and fought 21 times in the UFC -- taking on the best welterweights in the world, guys like Matt Hughes and Dan Hardy and Josh Koscheck and Matt Serra and Thiago Alves. And Robbie Lawler and Marcus Davis and Nick Diaz. He fought the best of the best and he gave as good as he took, going 11-10 in the UFC with six "fight of the night" awards.
But anyway, those days ended with Lytle's submission victory against Dan Hardy in August, and when his fight career ended he started to think about the bigger picture.
"I've been watching local politics, and I don't see people in it for the right reasons," Lytle told me before our sparring session. "They're not in there to help people in the region or state -- they're in it to help themselves and their friends. It's the good old boys' network, and I decided to stop complaining about it and get in there myself and help fix it."
The state legislature is a part-time job, so Lytle plans to maintain his job as a firefighter. But he says he's finished fighting professionally. More and more, fighters are "retiring" two or three times before finally, irrevocably, being finished. Lytle says that won't be him.
"I got into fighting because I liked the fight game, and wanted to actually do it and not just talk about it," Lytle said. "But you have to have 100 percent focus to do it right, and my focus is on other things."
And now, a little about our sparring session, which took place at Steve Guinn's Kingdom Martial Arts about 20 miles east of Indianapolis. It was my idea, not a tit-for-tat thing but just a chance to get in a workout while I'm town for the Super Bowl. I knew Lytle was from here, so I tweeted him a request to spar. He said yes.
Lytle's savvy campaign manager Beth Dockins turned it into an impromptu campaign stop, mentioning the sparring session on Lytle's campaign twitter and Facebook accounts. Although we were sparring at 2 p.m. on a work day, there were 20 or so people there to watch.
What did they see? The same thing millions of UFC fans have seen over the years: Chris Lytle kicking someone's ass. Problem is, this was my ass. Well, my face. Lytle gave me the option of MMA, but seeing how he has blackbelt-level submissions and I, um, do not ... we stayed with boxing. Unlike almost every other cage fighter I've sparred with, though, Lytle came up as a boxer -- which means he's always comfortable, fluid even, when limited to using "just" his hands as weapons.
And what weapons they are. He's a strong guy -- I didn't ask him, but I bet he benches 300 pounds or so -- and he throws short punches. He especially loves the uppercut, or at least he loved the uppercut against me. I felt like the loser in a game of Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots, my chin getting popped time and again. But he must have hit me in other spots, because when it was over I was bleeding from both lips, the nose and (slightly) from the forehead. My face, never pretty after a sparring session, was a pulpy mess. It was so ugly, Lytle was apologizing to me when the session ended.
No need for that, of course. Lytle beat me up even as he was taking it easy on me. Fighters -- good ones, anyway -- have a code of honor in sparring: The better fighter will go only as hard as the lesser fighter. I went hard after Lytle, and he allowed me to do so, but popped me just enough to make it clear that there was only one alpha dog in the ring, and it wasn't the sportswriter.
Fine by me. It was an honor to be in the ring at all with such a good fighter, and a good man, as (possibly) the future state senator from Indiana, Chris Lytle.
P.S. The video is of our first round, a warm-up round. It got much more painful intense as the rounds mounted.