Condit thrives on challenges

Carlos Condit’s curiosity about mixed martial arts took him to a phone book in his native Albuquerque.

“I found Jackson’s Submission Fighting,” Condit told “The name hadn’t been changed to Jackson’s MMA yet.”

In high school, Condit engaged in wrestling, a sport that seemed tame compared to his introduction to MMA as a 9-year-old. Condit watched Royce Gracie choke opponents with his gi, the white uniform Gracie wore as he dominated the early days of the UFC. That initial fascination turned Condit into a professional at 18 and a decade later Condit finds himself again on the cusp of another potential title shot at UFC 158 in Montreal on Saturday.

“I knew early on that he was a scrapper,” said Greg Jackson, founder of Jackson’s MMA. “He always had a fire about him. I remember as a very young man, he trained really hard and was really competitive. There weren’t many people who worked as hard as Carlos did.”

Condit’s worth ethic — or at least his ability to adapt — was challenged as he prepared for this weekend’s fight at Bell Centre. Rory MacDonald, a fighter he TKO’d with seven seconds left in June 2010, went down with an injury last month and was replaced by Johny Hendricks, the consensus No. 1 welterweight contender.

“This one isn’t as personal,” said Condit, who lost to champ Georges St-Pierre in November. “I didn’t knock Johny out on national television. You have to look at the big picture. This is a huge opportunity for me. I was disappointed the MacDonald fight fell through, but as soon as the Hendricks fight was made, I knew this would put me back in the title picture.”

Added Jackson: “Carlos just likes to fight. He’d be happy to fight a bear or person. He’s a fighter.”

Hendricks poses a new challenge beyond the fact that he’s on a major hot streak, winning five fights in a row — three by way of knockouts. Hendricks is a hard-punching southpaw, a change from the more orthodox style of MacDonald.

“It’s been a totally different game plan,” Jackson said. “We’ve done everything we can do to get him sharp and up to speed. It was a big switch, but Carlos is a quick learner. Hopefully he picked it up enough to do well.”

This fight’s preparation included some time sparring with boxer Austin Trout, the undefeated WBA light middleweight champ.

“It was awesome,” Condit said. “He’s one of the best boxers in the world. He’s super technical, for one thing. He also has some power.”

Condit has something that a fighter in any combat sport would take: a strong chin. Through 34 career fights, Condit (28-6) has never been knocked out.

“Now, don’t jinx me,” Condit joked. “Maybe it’s because my defense is technically sound. I’ve also been blessed with a really hard head.”

St-Pierre instead managed to beat Condit in November’s title bout his usual way: a decision. (St-Pierre is atop the UFC 158 card in a title fight against Nick Diaz.) Condit said he watched the fight once after he returned home.

“I was disappointed, but I wasn’t dwelling on it too much,” Condit said. “You have to use it as a learning experience. I was ready to go pretty much a week later. You can’t change it.”

Condit quickly returned to Jackson’s, the gym he first started training at under the initial tutelage of Arlene and Tom Vaughn as a teen. The gym has grown into an international powerhouse since those early days.

Advertising in the yellow pages isn’t needed to draw out a talent like Condit anymore.