The long seconds that separate Demian Maia snaking his left arm underneath Carlos Condit's chin and Condit telegraphing two small taps are a length of time that became an accidental metaphor. These moments, the end of the spirited and hard-fought main card of UFC on Fox 21 that led up to Condit-Maia, were full of deflation and inevitability. Condit was stuck on a mat in Vancouver, British Columbia, with nowhere to go and a choice to make: to surrender, or to let his consciousness drain out on live TV.
And today, Condit has another choice to make: whether or not to retire. He already raised the possibility after losing a close title fight against then-champion Robbie Lawler back in January—before getting lured back for a contenders' bout against Maia—and his decision will ultimately be made in private. But shortly after this most recent loss, Condit set to processing his thoughts and feelings about not fighting again in public.
"Honestly, it's definitely been in the back of my mind for a while now," the 32-year-old Condit said at the post-fight press conference. "It's been a long career, and I think there comes a point in every fighter's career that they have to kind of question how long they're going to continue to do that, and I've been doing that for a while. It wasn't my night tonight. I don't know if that's going to be the swansong for me. Hopefully not—I would hate to go out on a loss like this. I would have at least liked to have gone in there and, you know, put on an exciting show like I usually do. But yeah, I don't know what's in the cards. I'm leaning towards probably, possibly being done."
On Saturday night in Vancouver, Maia fought a jiu jitsu nerd's dream fight, beating a fellow member of the 170-pound elite with a sequence that Royce Gracie could have used 20 years ago: a single-leg takedown to half-guard, taking the back to locking in a rear-naked choke, wasting no time. By finishing the fight in one minute and 52 seconds, Maia kept the Fox broadcast mostly inside its two-hour window and made his aura of invincibility glow a little brighter: according to FightMetric, Maia has absorbed only 13 significant strikes in his last four fights combined. Against Condit, Maia threw and connected on just one significant strike—one that Condit said "rattled" him and compelled him to give up his back because "I didn’t want to get hit, I was actually kind of rocked from that shot."
That must have been some punch, considering the reputation for give-and-take, open-wound violence that preceded the Natural Born Killer's arrival at this crossroads. Through 14 years of fighting that saw him claim the WEC welterweight title and the UFC's interim 170-pound belt, Condit was dangerous on his feet, smooth off his back, rarely got tired, and fought with wild abandon even in defeat. That Condit stuck to a game plan of distance and precision striking to beat Nick Diaz for the interim belt revealed the fight IQ and measured temperament at his disposal. That he gladly traded with—and, arguably, beat—Lawler the knockout artist is testament to how few fucks he has once he has to give them up.
Condit is also intelligent generally, capable of quietly articulating the allure of fighting another man without falling into old clichés. "(UFC 195) was one of the greatest experiences of my life," Condit told FloCombat. "Going through the battle and just trembling because of the adrenaline running through my body. Being in pain. That's fucking being alive, man." Elsewhere Condit said, "It's also possible I was born in the wrong time because I feel I would do well on a battlefield collecting skulls."
Those sentiments are hard to reconcile with what happened on Saturday night. There was nothing to provoke the kind of hormonal release that masks the sting of loss. Certainly, there was no skull collecting. Instead, it was a defeat that magnifies every lingering doubt. With candor that most fighters save for closed circles of friends and family, Condit said at the post-fight presser: "I don't know man—I don't know if I have any business fighting at this level any more. I've been at this for a really long time. The pressure of kind of being one of the top guys for almost a decade, it's been awesome. I've loved being involved in the sport at the time that I have, and I've gotten to do what I love for a living for a long period of time. But I don't know, man. I don't know if I belong here anymore."
For the vast majority of people who put on tiny gloves and fight in some poorly attended event hall for Pit Dog Fighting Championship in the middle of nowhere, MMA is a hobby, a detour from a normal life. But getting to the place that Condit occupies requires traveling a different road entirely, and finding the perfect end to that road—a bloody victory to smear the scars of loss—is that old temptation that keeps them going. But the end in the fight game doesn’t come suddenly. It involves fisticuffs only incidentally. It comes after you've turned over the things that Condit has been contemplating since the start of the year. "I love the preparation, I trained really hard for this camp," Condit said. "I've had a long career with a lot of fights, and I've taken a lot of punishment. I don’t know if I can continue to take shots, honestly."
These are calculations every fighter has to make one day or another. Few do it with such honesty. Fewer do it in front of so many.
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