Stay on Central Avenue long enough and you will get a true sense of the eclectic artistry and hard-knock reality that is Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The thoroughfare serves as an unofficial Main Street of sorts (the actual Main Street is located a few blocks over) that runs east-west throughout the city. After a long run through the high desert it’s as if Route 66 wanted to rejoin society and needed to personalize itself for conversational purposes. And in doing so realized just how versatile and downright strange it could be.
It doesn’t take long to realize grit isn’t the only intangible in large supply floating around the city as there is plenty of weirdness to go around as well. Pockets of culture pop up out of nowhere and this keeps the city moving at an awkward but effective step as if UFC veteran Keith Jardine’s fighting style were the the physical embodiment.
Graffiti decorates shuttered storefronts on one block and a posh organic eatery anchors the next, but it is the spaces in between that feel unforced and genuine. The scene is juxtaposition in live time, and Carlos Condit digs the duality of it all.
Condit digs it because he lives it, but even with that profoundly being the case, it doesn’t mean he’s ever come close to understanding it.
The Knob Hill District is one of the aforementioned pockets and has served as the backdrop for many of our conversations over the years. No matter the preference, Condit knows a place. Condit also knows the person behind the place and it’s a solid bet there will be a story to accompany the meal. “The Natural Born Killer” is a local legend, and the ruckus-fueled mayhem of his formative years has grown to folklore status.
Back in 2015, exactly one week and several hours before Holly Holm pasted Ronda Rousey to become a legend in her own right, I stopped in at a tiny brewhouse to sample the local pilsner and made the acquaintance of a local by the name of Gary. He was the proprietor of a screen printing company named “I Am Duke City” and we quickly fell into small talk about our mutual professions.
The former WEC and UFC interim title holder was preparing to clash with Robbie Lawler at UFC 195, and had granted me full access to his life and camp in the lead up. One quick mention of Condit’s name sent this gentleman into a passionate frenzy and he wasted no time recounting a story of how his older sister had thrown a party in high school and the end result is something their mother still gives her shit about damn near 20 years on.
As Gary told the tale there was a group of ne’er do wells lurking about and putting out harsh vibes. Eventually they would pack up and the target of their angst just so happened to be a mutual friend of Condit and Diego Sanchez, both of which were in attendance at the party. According to Gary’s sister things didn’t take long to escalate and when they did bodies began hitting the floor at a rapid rate.
Although Sanchez was pushed to the back of the crowded room it didn’t stop “The Nightmare” from pulling some Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon moves as he ran from the opposite side of the house and flying sidekicked some poor schmuck in the face. No wires necessary for stuntman Sanchez, and Gary’s sister was damn near positive Diego actually flew in their living room.
Condit on the other hand, squared up with the biggest of the group because, well...he’s Carlos Condit and those are the types of things he does. The hulking frat boy attempted to go mono a mono with Condit but a perfectly placed push kick to the chest sent the large man crashing through the wall. That’s right THE WALL.
One would figure the wooden studs behind said wall would have been enough to prevent the big man from clean passage, but that wasn’t the case. The poor bastard was ushered from the living room to the great room by a push-kick that must have felt like time travel, and any urge to fight that remained was left among the rubble of painted gypsum board.
Gary said his mother had a “F*cking Stage 5 nuclear meltdown” when she got home the next day, but the kids begged her not to fix the damage because they were certain Condit would someday go on to be famous. Apparently their mother didn’t agree and found the gaping hole in their living room to be unappealing. We each have our own appreciation and interpretation for art I suppose.
Six months after the rounds with Gary and Condit’s war with Lawler come and gone, I was back in Knob Hill walking to meet up with NBK for dinner. A project had brought me into New Mexico for a brief stay, and I wanted to catch up with the man I’d spent so much time with in the not too distant past.
As I shuffled up the sidewalk I pulled my hood up over my head as the Spring air at elevation cut cold. It had been a good bit since I’d spoken to Condit, and my mind replayed flashes of his now legendary bout with Lawler. The five-round tilt became an instant classic in the minds of fight fans as both men turned in performances that left their signatures in blood across the Octagon.
Condit stunned and hurt the champion early as he took the opening frames with range and precision. Yet, Lawler had become the very definition of resurgence in recent years and much like the bouts with Johny Hendricks and Rory MacDonald, bounced back strong to turn the tide in the third and fourth rounds.
Going into the final frame it was anyone’s fight and both men left everything they had to offer inside the cage. And while many felt Condit won the bout (myself included) it was Lawler who retained his title that night in Las Vegas. Rather than show an ounce of disappointment in the post-fight interview, Condit wore a wry smile and thanked the fans for always showing gratitude for his offerings.
There definitely seemed to be something more going on in Condit’s mind in the immediate aftermath, and he explained the smile during a phone conversation several weeks after the fight.
“Don’t get me wrong having the title would have been a great thing, but that’s not the end all be all of what this is about for me,” Condit said. “I wanted to give the fans something visceral, something they could feel and I believe I did that. Championships come and go, but if you put on a fight like Lawler and I did, it has the chance to f*cking live on forever. That’s immortality in a sense and that’s pretty f*cking cool if you ask me.”
In addition to Condit’s strange comfort post-UFC 195, there was also the uncertainty as to whether or not he would ever fight again. Even though Condit never addressed retirement, the bout against Lawler had the feeling of an unofficial curtain call. It was the type of situation MMA insiders on Twitter prone to making such statements would say, “I knew it but didn’t say anything,” or better yet the “I knew this before anyone else but it wasn’t my place,” type of take.
On a personal level, I had no clue as to what his next step would be. Our conversations had very little--if anything--to do with MMA because who wants to talk about their job all the time? Instead we would talk about our mutual love for Hunter S. Thompson, existential philosophies and plenty of lighter fare.
Never once did I press him about his next step, but had a feeling the topic would hit the tabletop during dinner. And it sure enough did shortly after we sat down.
“[The UFC] is talking about a fight with [Demian] Maia,” Condit said. “The only thing that really interests me at this point are big challenges and that fight would definitely meet the criteria. I don’t know though. We’ll see.”
As the story would go Condit would indeed face Maia in what would go down as one of the most lackluster showings of his career. The Albuquerque native’s path to victory involved keeping the fight standing and at range, but that was quickly eclipsed when the Brazilian grappling ace scored an early takedown and set about his business.
While Maia would secure the fight-ending choke a short time later, there was a much larger tell that happened before the tap out. There was a particular exchange when Maia was in top position and dropped a hard elbow that forced Condit into a panic situation. What a strange sight to see it was as a man who had forged a stellar career on blood and guts performances where he crossed over physical and mental boundaries most men would not dare to cross, pulling up from a short shot from the top.
It was a moment that resonated within Condit as well, and he addressed the situation following the fight in Vancouver.
"I don't know man. I'm not sure I have any business fighting at this level anymore," Condit said at the post-fight press conference for UFC on Fox 21. I've been at this for a really long time and had the pressure of being one of the top guys for almost a decade. It's been awesome to be involved in the sport at the time I have and get to do what I love for a living, but I don't know man. I don't know if I belong here anymore. We'll see."
Hearing those words signaled to something he’d said in the lead up to his fight with Lawler as well. Condit has always taken a stark and honest perspective when it comes to the hurt business and his viewpoint seemed to be more stripped down than ever before.
“This isn’t (expletive) racquetball we are playing out there,” Condit told MMAJunkie.com back in 2015. “It’s blood for blood. Can I go out there and end you before you get the chance to do that to me? I know people talk about gladiator mentalities, but fighting is something we are wired to avoid and just so happens to come naturally to me.”
And the moment it no longer felt natural to him was the moment he decided to step away for a bit. The 33-year-old welterweight immersed himself in endeavors that didn’t involve fisticuffs as he looked to find a groove that would help to shape his life beyond the cage.
Condit did a brief stint in medical equipment sales, and while his time taking notes in operating rooms didn’t last, the jump did pair him with the people he’d eventually team up with to launch the Hundred Hands Coffee Company. Condit has long held a strong interest in both coffee and the culinary arts, and the chance to explore his passion for coffee in a new light was precisely the avenue he’d been looking to travel.
The new coffee business became his focus, but somewhere along the way the fires of combat began to stir within once more. Condit began to resurface around the gym at Jackson/Winkeljohn’s more frequently, and it wasn’t long before talk of taking another fight became a serious conversation.
In the way these processes work it would take a few phone calls back and forth to the UFC, and before long a bout with Neil Magny was booked for UFC 219 on Dec. 30 in Las Vegas. Shortly after the bout was officially announced Condit poked his head out on the media circuit to update a passionate fan base, only to discover his presence in the 170-pound mix had been missed considerably.
When you fight the way Carlos Condit fights you are going to forge a diehard contingency, and the love received when his return was announced was something he found truly moving.
“The fan response has been awesome since I made it clear I want to do this thing again,” Condit said. “It’s flattering and humbling people enjoy watching me fight. It’s something I love to do and have been doing it forever. I’ve grown up in this game and it’s grown alongside me. For one thing, when I started fighting it really wasn’t what it is now. It was emerging, but MMA and the UFC weren’t what they are now.
“It was the dark ages and people didn’t give a damn. Now, it’s a big thing and it is cool to see. Getting the accolades and the love from the fans it’s cool, man, but ultimately I like the idea I can inspire someone to do different things. Hopefully it’s more of a macro-story of someone going out, doing what they love and pursuing their dreams. Someone going out and applying that inspiration toward whatever they do in their life.
“I wouldn’t necessarily recommend everyone trying to go out and become a f*cking savage MMA fighter,” he added.
And while Condit could very well step into the Octagon Saturday night in Las Vegas and put on the type of performance that re-ignites talk of title runs and the like, the fighter himself isn’t all too willing to open the scope all too far on the road ahead. All he knows for sure is his love for fighting is still very much there, and his coffee endeavor is experiencing rapid growth that has him very excited about the future of the company.
Furthermore, with two young children at home and plenty on his plate that doesn’t involve technical violence, Condit’s future is currently shining just as bright as the lights he’ll fight underneath in Las Vegas. Compared to where things stood one year ago that’s a pretty amazing rebound, but resilience has always been one of Condit’s greatest strengths.
Condit will show up and fight his ass off on Saturday night because that’s the only way he knows how to operate. Depending on the outcome against Magny, options will be weighed in regard to his fighting future, but so will bulk hand-selected coffee beans all the same. No matter what Condit does or continues to do he’ll do so with passion and drive, and in the hopes of giving fight fans and consumers alike something that matters.
He’ll look to give them something lasting because that is something he’s now starting to understand. There is sure enough a duality to all things, and when the light overpowers the dark, that’s when genuine happiness can be obtained.
Condit could very well be close to achieving it, but then again could be further away than he’s ever been.
That’s simply the way this game of life plays out, and I’m sure we’ll talk about it all the next time we sit down to chat.
Somewhere on Central Avenue….somewhere in the city that he calls home.