Even the ritziest sections of Albuquerque, N.M., are, well, a bit rough. Get into the tough parts of town and you expect to find snarling guys who munch on a mixture of glass and nails for snacks.
When Carlos Condit was 15 – a skinny, quiet 15-year-old – he strolled into Tom Vaughn's gym in Albuquerque, a place where alpha males congregated.
Bouncers from most of the city's notorious clubs showed up at Vaughn's place to learn better techniques to deal with the trouble that found them on a nightly basis.
Condit had been in a fight in school and wanted to learn how better to take care of himself, as well. And so the fuzzy-cheeked kid who to those aggressive gym patrons had to look like a bloody steak in the middle of a school of sharks, announced his interest in sparring.
That he showed up a second day proved a point to Vaughn. That he was faring quite well on a nightly basis said a lot more.
"My wife (Arlene) is a former kickboxer and he communicated with her right away," Vaughn said. "He was this lanky kid who was very quiet. I'm more intimidating looking, I guess, and he didn't say too much to me for a while. But I noticed what he was doing."
Condit and Vaughn have remained together as Condit has risen to become one of the world's elite mixed martial artists.
He has perhaps the most significant fight of his career on Sunday at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas when he defends his welterweight title against Brock Larson in a bout televised nationally on the cable channel Versus.
Welterweight is one of the deepest divisions in MMA, but Condit is good enough at 23 that he can compete with any of them.
"No doubt, the guy is a real fighter," UFC president Dana White said of Condit.
Scott Adams, the WEC's matchmaker, concurred, noting that it is Condit's versatility that makes him so dangerous.
He's a powerful striker, but he excels in jiu-jitsu. There isn't an aspect of the game, Adams said, where Condit lacks.
"If he's taken down, he'll go for an arm bar," Adams said. "If someone shoots on him, he'll throw the knee. He's dangerous with Muay Thai and wrestling. Honestly, he's dangerous from any position and he's always working to end a fight."
And Condit said he always works a little harder to win when he's under siege. His aggression increases as his problems mount.
He doesn't run for cover when he's hit, he's proud and quick to point out.
"I guess I'm a special person because when I get hit, I realize I like it and I go forward," Condit said.
He proved that in his first kickboxing match, when he took on the highly regarded Andy Sauer in Japan.
Sauer, Condit noted, had nearly 100 fights.
"I got my (butt) kicked," Condit said.
But he didn't go into full retreat trying to avoid Sauer's kicks and punches. Rather, he made it easy for Sauer but charging him.
It cost Condit a loss, but it taught him something about himself.
"I know I can go through hell and back and still be all right and still keep coming," Condit said. "It helps to know that."
He may have to go through a little bit of hell to get past Larson, a wrestler who Adams says is exceptionally powerful.
Larson doesn't have Condit’s standup skills, but Condit won't scramble like mad to get to his feet every time the fight goes to the floor.
He fought a similar fighter last year when he was beaten by Jake Shields.
"I think Brock's plan will be to go in and take me down and hold me down," Condit said. "Some have had success with that. Jake Shields was able to do that effectively.
"But I feel like I've fought this guy already since I did fight Shields. He was a lot stronger than me, he was bigger than me and he was a good jiu-jitsu guy and he barely inched past me. And now, it's a year and some months later and I'm a lot better. A lot better."
And just as fearless. Vaughn, who said he wouldn't hesitate to match Condit with any 170-pounder in the world, said Condit thrives on such challenges.
"There are people out there who doubt him and think he can't handle this kid and he lives for that," Vaughn said. "He's ready to put on a show."
- Carlos Condit
- Brock Larson
- Tom Vaughn