clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

UFC Star Chris Lytle Blurred The Line Between Sport And Spectacle

New, 56 comments

UFC star Chris Lytle brought millions joy with his amazing performances in the cage. But his decision to put excitement above winning raised important questions about whether MMA is a real sport.

via <a href="http://cdn0.sbnation.com/imported_assets/780808/chris_lytle_ufc110.jpg">cdn0.sbnation.com</a>
via cdn0.sbnation.com

Chris Lytle ended his UFC career the same way he fought every bout after the loss to Matt Serra - recklessly throwing hands, inspiring audible breaths and yelps from the audience, and attempting (and finishing) slick submissions. If you needed a fight to epitomize what Lytle represented, last night was it. His bout with Dan Hardy was Chris Lytle in a nutshell - for better or worse.

Chris Lytle was not a world champion level fighter. He closed his career 10-10 inside the UFC Octagon. What's great about Lytle is that he recognized his limitations and put winning a title out of his mind. He found another route to fame and to big, fat checks signed by Lorenzo Fertitta: the post-fight bonus. With two final awards last night, Lytle brings his career bonus count to $515,000.

It was a brilliant way for a mid-tier fighter to make a living. Lytle invented the role of "bonus hunter" and took it to new levels when he and fellow striker Marcus Davis made a pact to keep their fight standing, both looking to take home a big check for Fight of the Night at UFC 93. The lads succeeded and Lytle had a template for how to approach his fights going forward.

Lytle's willingness to risk a win in order to satisfy the crowd's lust for violence was controversial in some circles. After all, it blurred the lines between sport and spectacle. Lytle didn't even try to hide that he was looking for bonus checks, sometimes at the expense of doing the smart thing in the cage.

Lytle told MMA Nation before the fight that he was confident he was better than Dan Hardy on the ground. Yet over the course of three whole rounds, he never tried to put the British striker there. Lytle wanted to go out with a bang, not necessarily with a win. It's the same approach he took in every bout after facing Serra at 'The Ultimate Fighter 4' finale. In mainstream sports, that attitude would be unacceptable.

The Minnesota Vikings aren't going to stop using Adrian Peterson when they play the Chargers because the fans in San Diego prefer an aerial attack. Roger Federer and Andy Roddick don't stop serving for aces at Roland Garros just because the French crowd enjoys a back and forth baseline game. Athletes try to win - first and foremost. As much as I loved his fights, Chris Lytle didn't represent that sporting tradition.

Lytle will be remembered for more than his awesome fights in the cage. His career and his choices opened a Pandora's Box. Lytle's decision to fight for more than just a win raised some important questions about MMA and what kind of sport we want it to be in the future.