VANCOUVER – If Saturday night was the last time we see Carlos Condit in a cage, there’s no shame in any of it. Condit didn’t fare well against Demian Maia. He lasted just a minute and 52 seconds. He took at least one jarring shot on the ground, he admitted, before succumbing to a rear-naked choke. After he took Robbie Lawler the distance back in January at UFC 195, a fight that plenty of people thought he won, there was a feeling he might feast on the 38-year-old Maia. It didn’t work out that way. It was the first time he’d been submitted in a decade.
Afterwards in the post-fight press conference, Condit sat among the four victors from the UFC on FOX 21 main card, and he stared a million miles into something not in the room. When the questions came around to him, he gave honest answers, shrugging his shoulders while acknowledging the cruel nature of the fight game, before unpacking the burden as plainly as possible. He said he didn’t know if he belonged at this level anymore. It was all very real, his answers, nothing to do with typical fight game delusion. It was just Carlos telling a roomful of winners and their smiling factions that the storm clouds — the same that would one day surely gather over all of them — were now hovering over his head.
That was a dose of reality, the kind that snaps you into consciousness and makes you remember exactly what it is you’re looking at. The battles have caught up to him. Condit has publicly searched out his limits for years, and now here he was airing his discoveries with such frank poignancy. I don’t know if I belong here anymore.
Hard not to appreciate a man so devoid of excuses.
The truth is, Lawler may have taken his share of the "Natural Born Killer" — and just as likely, Condit may have taken a significant piece of Lawler. Sometimes the most celebrated bouts are the ones where portions of each fighter get confiscated for good. More likely it’s cumulative. Condit had wars with Martin Kampmann and Johny Hendricks. He went five rounds with Georges St-Pierre at the other end of Canada, and left St-Pierre’s face a pulp. He and Nick Diaz had a good fight, which earned him the interim title back at UFC 143. He chin-checked with Dan Hardy, and won that game of wheelhouse roulette by a split second. The last time he was in Vancouver, back at UFC 115, he’d all but lost to Rory MacDonald. Then, with seven seconds left, he won.
Condit has always been about pushing the threshold. It’s a dangerous occupation, and it’s one he’s been doing for nearly 15 years, since he was a teenager, spanning 40 fights.
The fight game has left Condit brutally honest with himself. He may have taken a shot from Maia, and the residuals kicked in. The fear of further damage is enough by itself, but it’s also that he has a family he wants to grow old with. Introspection of that kind can't help but push out the hunger. Fight camps are not meant to be spent in states of foreboding.
Only Carlos knows for sure if he’s done or not, but you get the sense he understands, on some level, what’s best for himself. Between January and now, Condit’s clearly been doing his share of thinking about how much longer he wants to keep his chin open for business.
"You know honestly, it’s definitely been in the back of my mind for a while now," he said, when asked about it. "It’s been a long career. There comes a point in every fighter’s career where they have to question how long they’re going to continue to do that. And I’ve been doing that for a little while.
"So it wasn’t my night tonight. I don’t know if that’s going to be the swan song for me. Hopefully not. I would hate to go out on a loss like this. I would have liked to have gone in there and put on a show like I usually do. But, I don’t know what’s in the cards. I’m leaning towards probably…possibly, being done."
If that is it, Condit will go down as a damn good one. He has always been a class act. Even in defeat on Saturday night, he praised Maia both as a man and a professional. He said that when he got around to talking to his Albuquerque coaches Mike Winkeljohn and Greg Jackson after tapping out, he apologized to them. Why? Because he didn’t want to waste their time, even if everybody understands on the most rational level that south is the long-term direction.
"That’s what this sport is," he said. "You win and you lose and ultimately it’s about going in there and testing your skills. And it doesn’t always turn out in your favor. Tonight it didn’t for me, and they’re aware of that, and that’s just how it goes."
That’s the way it goes. Condit had a hell of a career, and, at 32, it seems to be nearing its end. That’s the way it goes. It takes as big a man as he is to admit, that’s just the way it goes.