TORONTO – Chris Lytle is still happily retired. He went out on a high note against Dan Hardy back in 2011, and trailed off to the sound of violins. It was such a poetic exit from the grim trade of fighting that he’d hate to come back and make a hash of things.
But, of course, there are scenarios. Perhaps not very realistic ones, but fantastic scenarios that he and his wife half-envision where Joe Silva (or some deep-pocketed matchmaker) comes checking in on the old warhorse one more time, with a sack of money and no big requirements.
"[My wife] always goes, maybe you could do one more? We can get that lake house!" Lytle told MMA Fighting at the UFC 165 media day. "People always ask me in interviews, would you never ever fight? Obviously you can’t say never. What if somebody offered me a lot of money? I’m sorry, but I’ll punch you in the nose if somebody offers me a million dollars. But my career ended on such a positive that I can’t tarnish that. That was a storybook ending."
That was the time Lytle, in his 54th professional MMA fight, tapped Dan Hardy, who had been untappable beforehand. Georges St-Pierre had tried kimura Hardy at UFC 111 on a few different occasions but got nowhere against the Brit’s elasticity. Lytle sunk a guillotine choke that turned the room black very quickly for Hardy. He won five of his last six bouts. In his career he had nine different end of the night bonuses with the UFC -- six of them for fight of the night -- which is enough to insulate a retirement fund.
After Hardy, Lytle walked away from the fight game with a 31-18-5 record.
"My situation might be a little different than most, because my situation wasn’t one where I was injured, or where I couldn’t win any more, I felt like I was kind of on the top of my game when I decided to retire," he said. "Mine was more of an issue with time. I’ve been doing this for so long, I have other obligations with the family. I could foresee the future where I’d look back and think I wish I had spent more time with my kids. I recognized that and made the decision that I needed to spend more time at home.
"That makes it harder for me when I come to things like this, because I feel like I could still compete with somebody if I wanted to. And it’s not like I don’t want to, I just don’t want to put the time in it. When I first came back to a UFC event it hurt the most, but each time I come back it hurts a little less and a little less."
The thing that strikes you about the firefighter Lytle, who is in Toronto to corner Matt Mitrione in his heavyweight bout against Brendan Schaub on Saturday night, is that he’s still lean. He’s still in ridiculous shape. He looks fight-ready, because he still spends a fair amount of time in the gym sparring with the likes of Mitrione and company.
He was always that guy who would tell you he enjoyed getting punched in the face, because it let him know not only was he in a fight, but that he was alive. And he still erupts with that high-pitched cackle when he runs that punches feel good line by you today. It was that lunatic side that made the Indiana native a fan favorite for so long. The more a fight verged on becoming a brawl, the more the other guy was willing to play roulette with him, the giddier Lytle got.
"You can always tell the old school guys who were fighting in the 1990s when there was no money in it," he said. "If you were doing it back then you were either really stupid or bad at math. I still like being around it and sparring and helping people out. I’d [fight again] if the money were right, but it isn’t going to happen. They aren’t going to come to me with that. I think they like the way I retired. The thing is, I don’t want to invest the time to train. If they offered me a money like today, right now, Chris, we need you because somebody fell out, I’m in if you give me a lot of money.
"But I’m not willing to train everyday. So basically that’s never going to happen."
Probably never going to happen, although there’s that word again -- the never word that makes welchers of so many of us. But Lytle is content as a coach, and in that way he keeps his vicarious hold on the fight game. While reporters crowded around Mitrione at the Shangri-La Hotel, it felt like a good time to ask him if the bad blood that has been fostered between his guy and Brendan Schaub is real.
After all, Lytle is far too wholesome for such hype-mongering fibs (or any kind of shenanigans, really).
"At first I kind of thought it wasn’t, but after awhile you could kind of tell by the amount of things being said that it was," he said. "Some of it crossed the line a little bit. I know on one end, it’s real. That’s all I can verify, but on this end, yeah, it’s real."
So it’s real. And so is Lytle still in living "happily ever after" on the outskirts of the fight game.