Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Chris Lytle retired from the UFC and MMA, but has hasn't stopped fighting.
Yes, the former UFC welterweight retired from professional mixed martial arts competition in August of 2011 after submitting Dan Hardy in the main event of UFC on Versus 5. And sure, he isn't physically throwing punches in exchange for dollars anymore. But that doesn't mean he's not slugging it out against a new kind of opposition. If anything has come true since retirement, it's that the fight Lytle's got on his hands as he runs in the Republican primary for state Senate in Indiana is the toughest one of his career.
Lytle is currently vying to win the primary election for Indiana Senate District 28, a Republican stronghold in the central eastern portion of the state with approximately 130,000 residents. Lytle believes he's doing the right thing by running for office and that retiring to be around his family was the right call. What's been surprising to him, however, is just how different this fight is than the one in the Octagon.
For starters, he's been forced to recognize being a UFC fighter has limits in terms of general recognition. Despite being a fan favorite in MMA, it turns out his constituency don't necessarily fit the demographics of the typical fight fan. "I used to go out there thinking everybody out here knows me," Lytle said candidly, "but when you get that list of people who I'm going to walk towards, who's going to actually vote in the primaries everybody's 60, 70, 80 years old. They don't know me. They don't watch MMA, so not really my demographic so it was a lot harder than I thought to get my name recognition out there. I gotta hustle. I gotta be out there doing it every day."
And then there's the opposition. For an athlete like Lytle who is accustomed to competing in a space with tight regulation and overtures at fairness - weight classes, commission-approved fights, etc. - the cutthroat world of politics has been an eye opener. "The thing I don't like about the one I'm doing now, the campaigning, is that fighting is more pure," Lytle maintained. "At the end of the day you're gonna be going in there and it's gonna be one on one and you can't talk and you can't lie. The truth is gonna come out at some point."
Politics doesn't offer the same guarantees and that's frustrating for the would-be public servant.
"That's not the case here. The truth never comes out and that's why these people who've usually been there for so long are usually the dirtiest, the rottenest of the bunch. They're the ones who are the best at it and there's never a time when you have to prove yourself. it's just the bigger the lie, the more people want to believe in it. It's kind of a very depressing reality that I'm faced with right now. This is who's running things and this is why and that's the truth of the matter."
Much to Lytle's surprise, there's also the problematic matter of his background. Despite his proud professional history as a firefighter and highly-accomplished MMA fighter - one that financially enables him to put all of his children through college - some have underscored the sport's violence to undermine his credibility. "One of the ladies that does not like me was walking around with a picture of me when I was fighting Koscheck and there's blood everywhere and she's showing this to people. 'Are you going to vote for this guy to be the next state senator? Really? Would you really want this guy to be the next state senator?' She's trying to use my fight career against me obviously."
Lytle admits to being naively unaware of the rot and shocked by the shameless grabs for power. "I would say 90 percent don't care about you or me. It's all about power. It's all about being in control and very little to do with wanting to do the right thing to help anybody out and that's depressing"
While that saddened the former welterweight, it's also steeled his resolve to see his campaign to victory.
"That's why we're heading down this path and that's kind of one of the reasons why I wanted to run because I don't want power. I don't want to be in charge just so I have an identity so I can tell people what to do so I can feel important about myself."
Lytle will know if his first efforts to fix the problems facing his home state have paid off on May 8th. That's the date of the Indiana Republican primary. Lytle is in a tough race against two other strong candidates: former Indiana Department of Natural Resources executive Mike Crider and local attorney and business owner John Merlau. Lytle initially planned to run against six-term incumbent Beverly Gard, but she now plans to retire at the end of her term.
For an outsider like Lytle, politics won't be forever. He isn't built for the demands and doesn't want to be career politician. The question on every UFC fan's mind, then, is whether or not Lytle still has the itch to compete. As it turns out, the fighter-turned-candidate misses the thrill of the fist fight.
"It was a never really a case of me getting tired of fighting, not wanting to compete, or anything like that," Lytle confessed. "It was just a case of me feeling like I needed to be more of a dad, so it's painful. I'm still watching the fights, I'm still wanting to train, I'm wanting to be in there still doing this."
"That feeling didn't go away. It's not going to. It's just something I've done for so long. I think it's just ingrained in my mentality, so yeah, there's obviously a part of me that would enjoy that."
"Right now I'm just dedicated to trying to do this thing, this campaign and I'm really trying to do that and I'm not thinking of anything besides that."
Fair enough, and most of those who admire what Lytle achieved in the cage would like to see him accomplish his goals in this new chapter of his life. But Lytle admits to thinking about what's next should his electoral efforts fail. Could 'Lights Out' strap up the gloves and bite down on the mouthpiece one more time?
"Call me May 9th and we'll talk."
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