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Fighting as a Father: Walking Away on Top Shows Chris Lytle's Devotion to his Family

Eric Kowal
17 August 2011
Fighting as a Father: Walking Away on Top Shows Chris Lytle&...

Chris Lytle's retirement from MMA could have only been more cliché had he done it on Father’s Day. "Lights Out" chose to walk away from the sport fans on top after his fight with Dan “The Outlaw” Hardy. And as a father, I understand why. 

Revealing that he wanted to spend more time with his family, the same way Kurt “Batman” Pellegrino did just months ago, Lytle did what nearly all before him have been unable to do in the sport of mixed martial arts - leave at the pinnacle of his career. 

"I've never really seen anybody leave this sport on good terms, with wins," Lytle said at the UFC pos-fight press conference. "Everybody leaves when they get knocked out three times in a row. It's like, 'Well, that's it.' That wasn't the case. I wanted to be the only guy to ever go out on a good streak. I feel hopefully I did that.

Since losing to Matt Serra in the finale of the Ultimate Fighter Season 4 back in 2006, Lytle has seen his career make a drastic change due to a more aggressive fight style and change in mentality. The Indiana native won nine of his last 14 bouts wrapping up fight of the performance bonuses nearly every time out, while also endearing himself to a legion of fans.   

Although Lytle never got the opportunity to challenge for a major world title, he exits the UFC holding the records for most “Fight Night” awards, receiving six Fight of the Night awards, three Submission of the Night awards, and one Knockout of the Night award.

And the funny thing about his retirement timing is that his his stock was still continuing to rise.

At 37 years of age it was uncertain how much longer Lytle could maintain his high competition level, yet it seemed as if he was aging like a fine wine and getting better as the years passed by.

With a record of 31 wins, 18 losses and five draws, Lytle has seen his fair share of battles.  He trains part-time outside of his regular job as a firefighter, attending single-discipline gyms rather than MMA camps. He had dedicated his life to both being a firefighter and to fighting.  He felt it was time to serve the role of “father” to his four children and walk away from the sport.

"I've been fighting since January of 1998," said Lytle, who headlined UFC on Versus 5 at Milwaukee's Bradley Center. "It's all I know, I think. It's over a third of my life. My kids, that's all they've ever seen – me fighting. It's going to be real weird. I know that, and I know it's going to be very hard for me. What would have been more hard is if I didn't do this."

But was it at the right time?  With a win over Hardy and several other standouts in the welterweight division, Lytle could have been in line for a title shot sometime within the next two years.

Obviously a battle with Georges St. Pierre, should he still be champion in that time period, would have required Lytle to spend even more time away from his family as he would have had to increase his training regimen. 

If spending time with his family is a priority he should reconsider his other future endeavor at all costs. Lytle is looking to run in 2012 as a state representative in his home state of Indiana.  Should he be elected there is a possibility he will spend even less time at home.

Likewise, Pellegrino also chose to make a career move to spend more time with his children as well.  In May, "Batman" opted not to renew his contact with the UFC so that he focus on being a father to his two kids.

On his website Batman wrote "I want to have fun training again, bottom line," Pellegrino wrote. "Most importantly I want to spend more time with my family. My daughter is four years old and I can't tell you how much of her life I've missed dedicating my life to training for fights. I did so willingly and I've made a lucrative career with the UFC, but I'm not sure I could ever say any amount of money was worth it. My wife and I just welcomed a baby boy and I can't bear the thought of missing as much of his 'firsts' as I did my daughters."

Again, Pellegrino was never at the championship level however he was an entertaining fighter who brought his “A” game every time he stepped into the octagon.

Both Lytle and Pellegrino are not the only fighters to feel the effects and strain of spending a great deal of time away from wife and children.

After his fight with Rashad Evans, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson said “It’s not always about me. My kids miss me and when you spend a lot of time away from your kids, they get used to not seeing you, and I just want to be close to my kids.”

Rampage said that he spent so much time overseas training at Wolfslair that his kids didn’t recognize him when he came home.

Matt Hughes, a UFC Hall-of-Famer and former welterweight champion has limited his time so that he can spend time on his farm with his family.

Fighters are going to continue to have children this is nothing new; that part of the game will never change.  But what does change is the landscape of the fighting scene.  One shift in the pecking order can rattle an entire division.

Imagine if Frankie Edgar walked away right now from fighting to focus on being a father.  The rubber match with Gray Maynard has not yet taken place thus the division would be left without a champion. 

Besides the fact that Dana White would be pretty upset, the entire division would be in chaos.  Do they crown a new champion? Do they hold a Grand Prix and crown a winner?

Fighters like Lytle and Pellegrino opted to go out before they ever achieved the stature of champion, but these younger fighters need to take a look at their lives and decide whether they want to truly dedicate their life to the sport and deal with the hardships of being away during training camps, tours and fights or do they want to lead the life of a family man?

Either is completely fine and everyone respects these fighters for their choices but the life of a fighter is not easy and these up and comers need to realize the sacrifices that need to be made.

Once a fighter starts worrying about his family while in the middle of training for a fight you can almost guarantee mental instability during the camp which ultimately leads to sloppy decisions which can cost him the fight.

Both Pellegrino and Lytle had the potential to continue fighting but they took a step back from the fight world to take a look at the big picture and realize who was most important - family.

To you gentlemen, I take my cap off to you and applaud you on your decision.

Photo courtesy of Tracy Lee
Last Modified:
18 August 2011

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