Chris Lytle: Fireman, Father, UFC Star

Chris Lytle will step into the Octagon on Saturday night for his 49th professional mixed martial arts fight. But as busy as he's been fighting dozens of times, Lytle has done a lot more than just that: Lytle is also a full-time firefighter with the Indianapolis Fire Department, in addition to being a husband and father of four, and doing some professional boxing on the side as well.

In an interview with FanHouse, Lytle told me how he balances it all, why he expects his fight with Kevin Burns at Saturday night's Ultimate Fighter Finale on Spike to be a barn burner, and why he never wants fighting to feel like just a job that delivers a paycheck. The full interview is below.

Michael David Smith: It's getting close to fight time. How are you feeling and what kind of fight do you expect from Kevin Burns?
Chris Lytle: I'm feeling fantastic. I've taken some time off, five months between fights, which is a lot from me, so I'm all healed up and ready to go. I expect Kevin to try to come out and try to take me out, and that's what I like. I don't want to fight a guy who thinks he can beat me in a decision. Don't try to beat me in a decision, try to take me out. That's how I am. I'm going to try to take you out, so you should try to take me out. I think that's the kind of fight we'll have.

You're known for having that kind of fight. In your last six UFC fights you've gotten a bonus check five times: One Knockout of the Night, one Submission of the Night and three Fight of the Night bonuses. Are those bonus checks something you consciously try for?
I'm not really thinking about the bonus checks, but the last time I didn't fight like that was against Matt Serra. Against him I went into it thinking I could win the fight on the judges' cards, and that's not how I usually fight, and when that happened I lost the decision and I didn't feel like I fought like I wanted to. So since then I vowed that I would aggressively try to finish the fight. I hardly ever win by decision. I want to finish a fight. So when that happens I win in spectacular fashion, or else I put on a great fight. I'm not going to lie, I love the bonus -- the extra money -- but even if they weren't giving me extra money I'd want to fight that way.

But that bonus check must be significant. I think you've made more money for bonuses than you have for your purses.

The bonuses are huge. I'm making more in my bonuses than I would for winning a decision. I make a lot more money for making exciting fights. That's great because when I went for a decision, against Matt Serra, I ended up losing. So it's great that when I fight the way I want to fight, they take care of me.

With almost 50 pro MMA fights, is the Serra fight the one you look back on and regret?
Well, there are things that have happened in several fights I regret, times I've been cut or times I've made a mistake and I feel like I lost a fight I could have won, but the Serra fight, that's the one fight I can think of where I regret my mentality going into the fight. I don't want to say things happen for a reason, but I feel like I've made the best of my career and I'm happy where I am now.

You've also been a professional boxer and you have a 13-1-1 record. What made you decide you'd focus full-time on MMA and not boxing?
Well, I enjoy boxing and I wouldn't mind having more boxing matches, but I signed on for The Ultimate Fighter, and that got me a UFC contract, and when you're under contract to the UFC you can't box. It's kind of regrettable because I enjoy boxing, but this is where I'd rather be.

With your background as a boxer you obviously have the ability to stand and trade punches with your opponent, but you're also very good on the ground: You've won 17 fights by submission and you've never been submitted yourself. What do you view as your strength as a fighter, your stand-up or your ground game?

I think as a fighter my strength is that I train equally in both. I try to focus on every aspect of fighting. If you're great on your feet your opponent will try to take you down. If you're great on the ground he'll try to keep it standing. I want to make it to where I always have an advantage, no matter if I'm on my back, if I'm on top or if I'm on my feet. I want to be able to fight everywhere. One of my greatest strengths is there's no bad spot for me, so my opponent can never feel comfortable.

In addition to being an MMA fighter, you're also a firefighter as well right?
Yes. I'm a firefighter for Indianapolis.

What makes you keep doing that while you also have a UFC career?
I've been a professional MMA fighter for 11 years and I've been a fireman for a little over eight years, and I enjoy both. I really enjoy being a fireman. People are always surprised that I do it -- even some of the guys on the fire department are like, "You made five times as much money last year fighting as you did for the fire department. Why are you still here?" But I look forward to going to the fire department. I like the people I work with. I feel good about what I do when I go to bed at night. Any time you have that, why give it up? Especially because that's going to be around when fighting is done. You can only fight for so long. I can be a fireman for a long time.

Are you full-time with the Indianapolis Fire Department?
Yes. I work 48 hours a week.

And you're also married and you have kids?
Yeah. I have four kids, so it's real tough. I want to give my family more time than anything.

How do you make it all work? How do you find the balance with firefighting, the UFC and your family?
That's a tough thing, but there are only so many hours in a day and I just try to spend my time doing what's important to me. I've given up just about every other aspect of my life. I don't have any hobbies and I don't go fishing or anything. I spend time with my kids, I train and I work. You find time to do the things you really want to do, and that's what I really want to do. Maybe when I'm done fighting I'll find other things, but for now I'm doing what I want to do.

How much longer do you think you'll be a UFC fighter?
As long as I'm healthy. If I start feeling like I don't have any chance to do anything in the cage, and I'm just taking fights for the money, at that point I'd be done. But right now I enjoy it and I feel like I have a lot to offer. Right now my goal is basically just to put on the best fights I can.

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