The last time Carlos Condit vied for the undisputed UFC welterweight strap, he did so against a man who many believed to be unstoppable.
That was back in 2012, and up to that point, the UFC title had been defended six consecutive times by Georges St-Pierre, all with relative ease. It is easy to forget now, through the haze of memory, how close Condit came to snapping that streak. A dazzling head kick midway through the bout's third frame put St-Pierre on ice skates, nearly sending the all-time great home early, before the fighting pride of Canada rallied like champions do and took a decision on the scorecards.
Three years later, Condit finds himself again knocking on the door of greatness against a man whose powers are beginning to be revered as near-supernatural. Fresh off one of the most ferocious runs in welterweight history, Robbie Lawler will look to defend his title against Condit at UFC 195. And just like last time, Condit knows well the challenge he faces on Jan. 2.
"I've been the underdog throughout my career, and I've made a career and I've taken a lot of pleasure out of proving doubters wrong," Condit said on Monday. "You do that enough times and you start to believe in your abilities. It's not always that way. I go through different phases, there's times of self-doubt. But when the bell rings and it's time to throw down, and I get another opponent in my face, I just go to war. That's how I fight, and usually it turns out well for me."
Clawing back into the title picture was always the goal for Condit, though for a while it seemed hopelessly far away. He dropped a close decision to Johny Hendricks after the St-Pierre fight, then one year later suffered a nasty ACL tear against Tyron Woodley. The injury relegated him to the shelf for over 15 months, but Condit ultimately looked like a man reborn when he made his return in May with a 10-minute romp over Thiago Alves.
Such a destructive win allowed Condit to leapfrog the line to contention, and now the 31-year-old Jackson-Winkeljohn product says he feels like a different athlete than the one who came agonizingly close to capturing gold in 2012.
"I think that my fight IQ has increased (since fighting St-Pierre)," Condit said. "I dropped that close decision to Hendricks, and I feel like I could've won that fight if I had fought a little bit smarter, so that's definitely one takeaway. The fight with Georges, my camp was a little bit different. It was kind of turned upside-down because I didn't have Greg Jackson, my head coach, in my corner, kind of guiding me. This time around, I do have him. So there's a lot of different things, but things have come together very, very well in this camp."
Chief among those changes is the work Condit has been doing with movement coach Erwan Le Corre of MovNat.
The focus on movement in MMA took center stage earlier this month in Las Vegas, when Ido Portal emerged as a prominent figure in Conor McGregor's camp ahead of McGregor's stunning 13-second knockout of Jose Aldo at UFC 194. Condit saw the work McGregor did with Portal, and although his involvement with Le Corre predates it -- Condit began working with Le Corre in 2014 after ACL surgery -- he sees similarities between the two situations, and he espoused several of the same training virtues McGregor now swears by.
"It's a little bit different, but I think the point is the same," Condit said. "Getting you to move better, flow better, be in better position. I think it's great. It worked out for him (McGregor), probably in addition to other things, but it probably helped quite a bit. I like what it's doing for me and what it's done for my body, my rehab for my knee, and my overall agility and athleticism.
"I think it's helped me just really getting back to the fundamentals of positioning and balance," Condit added. "A lot of times we work for strength and intensity, and we maybe bypass some more simple technical things. So it's basically taking a step back and really tuning up different positions, different patterns.
"Even when I a kid, a lot of my wrestling practices were agility. My best seasons were the seasons when we would spend 45 minutes or an hour each practice doing agility drills, making you a better athlete. And then you can plug those skills into whatever athletic endeavor you end up pursuing."
Condit will need that movement on Jan. 2, as Lawler is a man who embodies the same philosophies of aggression and killer instinct that have made Condit such a fan-favorite.
Combined, the two welterweights have ended 49 out of their 56 career wins via either knockout or submission, making for a ridiculous 87.5% finishing rate. And neither would be surprised if UFC 195 added to that total.
"I think that he's definitely probably the most dangerous guy that I've ever faced," Condit said. "He's super skilled, but he's also got the power and he's got experience and he's a smart fighter, so I'm going to have to be on my A-game.
"You lock me in there with a fighter like Robbie and I'm going to have to rise to the occasion, or it's not going to go well for me. He's not backing down and neither am I, so I feel like it's going to be a great fight."