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Carlos Condit was the last World Extreme Cagefighting welterweight champion, and with the exception of a tough split decision loss, his record is spotless over the past 4½ years.
But in a loaded Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight division, that loss, to Martin Kampmann in a decision which UFC president Dana White said after the fight he felt should have gone to Condit, has kept him stuck him in the pack, away from the division's biggest names like Josh Koscheck, Thiago Alves and Jon Fitch.
If he breaks out of the pack on Saturday night at UFC 120 when he faces recent No. 1 contender Dan "The Outlaw" Hardy (23-7, 1 no-contest) at the O2 Arena in London, it can be labeled a well-executed plan.
Condit, nicknamed "The Natural Born Killer," ended up becoming his own matchmaker. He saw Hardy as the right strategic opponent for his career, coming off Hardy's recent notoriety from fighting Georges St. Pierre on March 27. Condit did an interview saying Hardy was the guy he wanted to face next.
UFC matchmaker Joe Silva heard the interview, liked what he heard, and the next thing Condit knew, he's about to be in one of the two headline matches on what is expected to be the biggest-grossing MMA event ever in Europe.
"Hardy's got status in the UFC right now," said Condit (25-5), who is generally considered in the bottom half of the top 10 in the division in world welterweight rankings. "You know, he was the No. 1 contender. A win over him would probably catapult me up the rankings. But in addition to that, he's the kind of fighter that I want to fight. He puts on exciting fights. He comes to finish guys, and I want to be in an exciting fight. I want to give the fans a show."
While Hardy lost all five rounds to St. Pierre, and got virtually no offense in during the fight, due to his exposure before the fight, and just having headlined a major event, his star status increased. The success of Saturday's show, which sold tickets at a faster rate than any UFC event since June, is a tribute to the local drawing power of Hardy, from Nottingham, and Michael Bisping, from Liverpool, who faces Yoshihiro Akiyama in the show's main event.
Condit noted there were a lot of reasons he saw Hardy as the perfect opponent. He felt in the St. Pierre fight, that Hardy showed a weakness in wrestling, and Condit has wrestled since childhood. He also knew Hardy's penchant for trash talking, figuring it would both build the fight, and also, give him plenty of training motivation, and he said he's never felt better going into a fight. Of course, he didn't know he'd get the fight on Hardy's U.K. home turf.
"That's the great thing about this job, you get to travel the world on somebody else's dime," said Condit, who in his career has fought four times in Japan and three times in Hawaii, and said he never had any problems with jet lag in those fights.
"I think he's probably going to want to stand up," said Condit. "He's got a good ground game, but his takedown defense is lacking."
Condit headlined nationally televised shows as WEC champion, winning the title on March 24, 2007, in Las Vegas, from John Alessio, just before the promotion debuted on Versus. He headlined three shows on Versus in title defenses before the decision was made to drop the welterweight division in the promotion and move him to UFC.
After moving to the UFC, Condit headlined against Kampmann on a Spike TV card in his debut, on April 1, 2009, in Nashville. The first two rounds were close, with Kampmann clearly winning the third round.
Condit got two of the three judges thinking he won round one and two in what was a great technical match. But because the three judges split on which rounds Condit was awarded, and Kampmann won round three and all the cards, the result was two 29-28s for Kampmann and one 29-28 for Condit.
Condit opened a deep cut under Kampmann's eye in the first round, but a last second guillotine in the round by Kampmann swayed one judge away from him for that round, which ended up being a difference maker in the fight.
In a division so loaded with talent, that fight dropped him into the pack, and even though he's won his two fights since, he hasn't had the big win over a major star needed to get within shooting distance of the top.
"I wanted to be where the best competition is, and the welterweight division in UFC may be the most stacked division there is," he said. "There's a big difference in visibility. In WEC, I may have done ten interviews before a fight. With UFC, it's 30 interviews."
Condit's most recent fight was similar to Saturday in at least one way, in that he was fighting on somebody else's home turf.
On the June 12 show in Vancouver, B.C., he faced Rory MacDonald, a 20-year-old from Kelowna, B.C., who at the time was the youngest fighter on the UFC roster. Condit was down 20-18 on two of the judges cards, having clearly lost the first round. The second round was a tossup.
MacDonald was on top for most of the round, but Condit seemed to do more damage from the bottom, but UFC judging often favors top position, unless the guy on the bottom dominates in the damage department.
In the third round, Condit cut MacDonald with an elbow on the ground, and his right eye ended up badly swollen. As time was running out, Condit was on top throwing hard punches and elbows before it was stopped with 16 seconds left on the clock. The crowd was furious, thinking their fighter could have survived the waning seconds, but MacDonald himself made no such complaints and after the fight admitted defeat. That late finish saved Condit from falling into irrelevance in the division, and was made sweeter since Condit also picked up a hefty $85,000 bonus for fight of the night.
Although only 26, Condit is an eight-year-veteran, who debuted fighting on a small show in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, discovered UFC like many others of his generation, as a young kid who saw intriguing tapes at a video store.
"When I started fighting, it was nothing like it is, he said. Part of my career was in the dark ages. It wasn't on cable TV, then four or five years ago, it just blew up."
"At the time, the only place you could find UFC tapes was in the special interest section of the store," he said. "I remember, in the mid-90s, 1995, 1996, and 1997, I'd go to the video store with friends, and we'd stay up all night watching the tapes. I started training at 15, long before anyone had any idea how big things were going to get."