Condit’s style helps hide rough past

The fighter walked out on stage, absorbed the applause, bowed slightly and then sat down, looking every bit like the politician’s son that he is: Sharp black suit, black shirt with the top button undone, black leather shoes and a bearded gaze that could slay many a lady.

For Carlos Condit, the interim UFC welterweight titleholder who on Saturday night at UFC 154 will try to spoil mixed martial arts legend Georges St-Pierre’s return after a 19-month injury-induced layoff, everything seems to come easy. He’s good looking. He’s well-spoken and comfortable in interviews. (At a press conference this week, when St-Pierre answered a question about Condit never having been knocked out in 33 fights by saying, “Always a first time for anything,” Condit just responded with a grin, a turned head and a raised eyebrow, like a Hollywood actor.) He’s a family man and loves to talk about his 2½-year-old son, Owen, and his wife, Seager.

In short, he’s everything the UFC needs to conquer its bad-boy image: The ultimate good guy of the UFC.

But dig a bit deeper. Is Carlos Condit who you think he is? Yes, his father was chief of staff to former New Mexico governor (and one-time Democratic presidential candidate) Bill Richardson. Conjures up images of privilege, of finishing school, of a young man who has had everything handed to him, doesn’t it?

Is that Carlos Condit? The man nicknamed "The Natural Born Killer"?

Or is this 28-year-old fighter someone who has had to fight for everything he has, who when St-Pierre was already at the top of the MMA world was fighting no-money shows at casinos in the deserts of New Mexico?

No, Carlos Condit is not who you expect him to be. Not by a long shot.

“People hear my dad is involved in politics, and all of a sudden I went to private school and had a nanny,” Condit told “There’s a misconception that my dad, that our family is some kind blue-blood family . . . If people knew my friends, talked to anybody I grew up with, knew anybody from my old neighborhood, they’d know that’s really, really far from the truth.”

Only in the tough-guy world of the UFC would a man like Condit have to explain that, no, he doesn’t come from money or privilege, that his dad is an electrician who lobbied for his union and ascended to the upper echelon of New Mexico politics. The UFC, like the world of gangster rap, cares about street cred. And amazingly, given how suave and polished he is — almost a mirror image of Georges St-Pierre, come to think of it — Condit’s got street cred in spades.

Like the story about the knife fight.

But we’ll get to that later.

He grew up in Albuquerque, not a great neighborhood, but not a bad one. Outside his backyard was the beginning of a 100-mile stretch of desert. He loved sports — soccer, football, wrestling — but never really fit in at school. His mother, a nurse, tried really hard, taking him to tutors, but Condit never meshed with traditional education. He was a loner. His friends were loners, too. There was lots of drinking and drugs and getting in fights in high school. Ever watch the television show “Breaking Bad,” which revolves around the meth trade in Albuquerque? Those were the types of guys Condit grew up around.

“My best friend from up the street, another really tough kid, we’d box every day after school, starting around 6th or 7th grade,” Condit said. “We would go in the backyard, and we would slug out. We’d box until we got tired or until somebody quit. Other kids would come over, and they would want to box. Most of the time they didn’t fare too well. They’d end up crying and want to go home.”

By high school, Condit’s interest in the UFC blossomed into a desire to get into the sport. He opened the Albuquerque phone book and, in a moment of serendipity that seems straight out of Hollywood, found a place called Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts — a place that was well on its way to becoming the world’s foremost mixed martial arts gym. He visited the gym with his dad. Immediately, he knew: “This is it. This is what I want to do.”

And ever since then, mixed martial arts has consumed him. His mother saw mixed martial arts as a fun sort of training, a focus for her wayward son. When Condit turned 18 and got his first professional fight, over the Mexico border in Juarez, his mother flipped. She told him she wanted to be there for the ambulance ride afterward.

“In high school we’d grapple on my friend’s trampoline for hours,” Condit said. “Sometimes we’d have a party at a house. We’d take challenge matches and throw down with different people. By we, I mean me. My friends usually just watched until the other guy’s friends jumped in.”

But back to that knife fight. All through high school, Condit loved scrapping with people, getting in wrestling matches for fun, fistfights for honor. Then you get older, and fistfights turn more serious: “It was people pulling guns, people getting stabbed, so I’m like, ‘Yeah, probably not a good idea. Just avoid it.’”

The incident happened a few years ago, when Condit was already touring the local and regional MMA circuit. He was at a downtown Albuquerque bar with a group of friends and another group of guys were trying to mess with them all night. Condit’s group just avoided it.

“So these guys cornered us as we walked out,” Condit told “A brawl spilled out into the street. My friend got stabbed in the back . . . We had to go down to the hospital real, real quick, with somebody holding a shirt over his stab wound.”

It was, Condit said, just a flesh wound, nothing serious. But that moment helped round out his philosophy: Keep the fighting in the cage. Train your butt off, pound your opponent into submission, but don’t act like a thug afterward. That’s a road too many of his old friends have gone down — and a road Condit thinks he avoided because of his wife.

They met when Condit was 21 and she was a student in his kickboxing class. She brought order to his chaotic life. She helped him focus on his dream of a mixed martial arts career, which will reach its apex in Montreal on Saturday night, when the New Mexico kid will face St-Pierre, one of the greatest UFC fighters of all-time, a man who was three times named the Sportsnet Canadian athlete of the year, in St-Pierre’s hometown.

If Condit beats St-Pierre on Saturday night, he’ll come to the post-fight press conference in another sharp suit, just as he did after he beat Nick Diaz in February. He’ll grin and answer questions with all the confidence in the world, seeming like the homecoming king, the kid who has always had it all. But know this: There are many layers to Carlos Condit. You’re only seeing one of them.

“I’m kind of a contradiction, man,” Condit said. “I love to fight. I love to smash somebody’s face in, watch ’em bleed in the cage. But outside the cage? I love kids and animals. I’m a pretty gentle guy.”

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