Serra to meet Lytle in Saturday's The Ultimate Fighter 4: The Comeback finale
BY BOB EMANUEL JR.
Second chances abound in professional sports.
Former Miami Dolphins running back Ricky Williams found gainful employment with the Canadian Football League's Toronto Argonauts after he was bounced from the NFL for four positive drug tests.
Countless others, for a wide assortment of reasons, routinely are afforded multiple chances for success.
In the Ultimate Fighting Championship, however, athletes are not guaranteed a second opportunity. The Mixed Martial Arts-based competition experienced a gigantic surge in popularity in recent years and new challengers emerge daily to fill the ranks of the broadcast and pay-per-view cards.
When 16 fighters were approached earlier this year about joining the popular reality series The Ultimate Fighter 4: The Comeback on Spike TV, there was not much hesitation. The premise was simple. Win three fights and guarantee yourself a title shot in 2007. The second chance arrived.
''I felt like there was a couple of times when the UFC talked to me and it was kind of like if I won that fight I got a title fight, and, for one reason or another, I lost,'' said Chris Lytle, who will fight Matt Serra in Saturday night's Welterweight finale, broadcast live at 9 on Spike TV.
'I didn't get my title fight. Every time that happens, you think, `Man, that's it. You're not getting another one.' '' Lytle, 32, debuted at UFC 28 in 2000 and lost a decision to Ben Earwood. Three years later, he returned for UFC 45, where he again lost via decision to Robbie Lawler. Lytle, who enters with a 32-12-4 record, won two fights in 2004, but lost a decision to Karo Parisyan and saw his fight versus Joe Riggs get stopped due to a cut in the second-round in 2005.
Serra, also 32, got his start at UFC 31 in 2001 with a loss to Shonie Carter. In four years, he went 4-4 with his last fight via a unanimous decision loss to Parisyan at UFC 53 in 2005.
''That's huge,'' Serra said of the potential title fight. ``The whole premise was huge. It's huge for me just being on there just for the fact that I have a school, and the exposure for my school has been great. I feel that I was a winner either way. Now, here I am in the finale. I plan on taking this thing all the way through. It's a monster opportunity.''
In order to remain qualified for the competition, the fighters lived together in a large home in Las Vegas. Contact with the outside world was prohibited. Fighters would leave the house to train and work out.
''It was crazy man,'' Serra said. ``You know the premise -- six weeks, no contact. It was a wild experience. I've never done anything like that. I just kept saying and thinking to myself that I was going away for a training camp. That's what kept me sane. I took it one fight at a time. It ended up being a real positive experience for me. A lot of guys aren't going to say that. For myself and a few other guys, it as a good experience.''
The fighters focused primarily on their training during the six weeks. There were no distractions, and they were unable to have contact with their families and friends.
''That's rough,'' said Serra. ``[You miss] the little luxuries you get used to, like music. When you're training, there's no music. You don't have an Ipod, you can't read the newspaper, you can't watch any television, just little things where you literally had nothing to do except train. When it was your turn to go, you fight. It was pretty wild.''
Lytle said the training opportunity was unique for him. With the rigors and responsibilities of his life away from The Octagon, time to train has always been at a premium.
''It was great for me because that was one of the first times ever in my career that I got to just fully concentrate on training,'' he said. ``Usually I have a full-time job with the fire department, and I've got four kids and I have a lot of stuff going on. It's hard for me to just totally dedicate myself to training. Here, there's no distractions. There was nothing but time to train.''
BOND, THEN FIGHT
Part of the unique make up of the competition is the training situation. Fighters trained together, on separate 8-man teams. Whichever team won controlled the next fight and was able to make the match up of its choice. The next fight was announced the afternoon before the weigh in.
''That was pretty weird,'' Lytle said. ``Usually when you have a fight coming up, you know several days in advance and you know all about the biz, what it is, when weigh ins are, and just mentally prepare.
``Over here, it can be the next day that you're being weighed in. That's kind of weird. And then when you fight, you have to train with the guy right before. That made it weird again. It's just the nature of the show. It's something that you had to deal with it.''
Serra, an accomplished trainer, worked Carter's corner in the preliminary round, only to turn and fight him in the semifinals.
''That was definitely a little odd,'' Serra said. ``You're training partners one day, then you're fighting the next. But we all knew what we signed on for. Normally, that would be even weirder. But it could happen and it ended up happening. You've just got to deal. I think we all handled it pretty professionally.''
Serra enters the finale as the favorite based on his experience and ground game.
''I'm going to go in there and look to keep it on my feet as long as possible,'' Lytle said. ``His ground game is just phenomenal. He's one of the best ground guys in the world, especially as an MMA fighter.''
Serra's strong ground game comes from his extensive training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. His familiarity with Lytle will also play a factor.
''We worked out with each other a lot,'' Serra said. ``We had sparring sessions. I'd rather it be on the floor because that's where my biggest strengths lay. He's not bad on the floor, but I believe he would much rather have it on his feet. If I get him down, he's not going to be totally out of his element. If it stays up, I'll be fine also. I think we're both well rounded.''
Serra plans to attack the whole time.
''I think the key to winning this fight is for me to put pressure on him, just pressure him from the second the bell rings and just be in his face,'' Serra said. ``He's going to hurt me going backward. He's got to fend me away. I'm going to keep attacking him. I'm going to keep going after him. I'm pretty durable. I'm expecting a hard fight, man. I'm ready for it.''
• The co-main event for Saturday is the Middleweight final between Travis Lutter and Patrick Cote. The scheduled preliminary bouts are: Rich Clementi vs. Din Thomas (Lightweight), Thales Leites vs. Martin Kampmann (MW), Gideon Ray vs. Charles McCarthy (MW), Pete Sell vs. Scott Smith (MW), Jeremy Jackson vs. Pete Spratt (Welterweight) and Edwin Dewees vs. Jorge Rivera (MW).