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Celebrating 20 Years of FIT NHB: Breakthrough Fighter

On May 19th, FIT NHB (Fighters In Training, No Holds Barred) celebrates their twentieth year of existence as an entity within the combat sport’s world. Not just a unique acronym, the lauded gym has been quintessential to the development and evolution of mixed martial arts in the State of New Mexico and the Southwest region.

When FIT NHB announced via social media that they’d be celebrating their 20th year, it piqued the interest of us here at Southwest Fight News to become fans for a while and take a drive down memory lane to commemorate FIT NHB as experienced by the individual who stood at ground zero building the gym from the first brick – Head Coach and Co-Owner Tom Vaughn.

We hoped you have been following us this week and if you haven’t here are the links for the first four posts celebrating FIT NHB’s 20th Anniversary.

Part One – Click Here
Part Two – Click Here
Part Three – Click Here
Part Four – Click Here

Photo: Carlos Condit in Mexico for his 1st Professional fight. Also pictured: Teo Baumgartner, Carlos Condit (center), Dog Smith

FIT NHB has always had a roster of fighters competing at different levels. Whether it is competitors getting in their experience in smokers, amateurs finding their paths in the cage and ring, or professionals making waves regionally, nationally, and even internationally.

Before all of this success, a fight team had to be meticulously developed and countless hours spent in the gym grinding which would then lead to a major breakthrough.

“Carlos Condit joined us at our first location on Coors / I-40 in 1999. I think he was 15 yrs old when he started. Carlos was a quiet kid and talked more to Arlene than he did me. The first time I ever remember him speaking was one day when out of the blue he told me he had gotten into a fight at the Petroglyphs after school. I asked if he’d won and he smiled and said he did. That day I realized that quiet didn’t mean timid when it came to Carlos Condit. Los didn’t have an extensive athletic background but what he did have was a fire that most people don’t.” – Tom Vaughn

It should come as little surprise to anyone who is familiar with Carlos Condit in the very least that his defining characteristic was based around intensity. As Tom described it, it was the “fire” that really stood out initially and the quiet Carlos would emerge as a successful competitor in all facets of combat.

“When we moved to our 2nd location Carlos was a frequent competitor. As an amateur he did it all. He competed in boxing, kickboxing, grappling, and MMA. He didn’t always win at everything but no one ever walked away without knowing they were in a battle.” – Tom Vaughn

Photo: Carlos Condit for Rumble on the Rock. Rob Monroe and Tom Vaughn working Condit’s corner during the Jake Shields fight.

It was clear from the early onset that Carlos Condit was tough as nails. Maybe he wasn’t “The Natural Born Killer” yet, but he was in developing into the marquee competitor of FIT NHB.

“In the early days Carlos had an intense jaw clenched scowl before fights and I remember people remarking that it looked contrived. I can tell you right now it wasn’t. That’s just where Carlos went in his head to be mentally prepared to fight, and it worked. He was always ferocious.” – Tom Vaughn

Ferocity and intensity, Carlos Condit defined in two-words. His trademark scowl was born early in his career and that scowl has been featured during and after his most legendary moments throughout his career. Thought he was just getting started, he was ready to make waves and Tom Vaughn was ready to guide the young man in his professional combat career.

“Carlos Condit’s first pro fight was in Juarez, Mexico and he won easily. He was now a pro fighter. We kept him busy because it kept him focused. We’d go anywhere there was an opportunity. After his 5th pro fight Carlos got an offer to fight UFC Vet Brad Gumm at Ring of Fire in Denver. After the date was set Carlos told me he was going to Costa Rica for vacation before the fight but he would stay in shape by running while he was there. When he got back he called me and said he had done no training while he was in Costa Rica and that his head wasn’t into the upcoming fight. I told him I couldn’t make him fight but he was better off following thru with his obligation (and possibly failing) than to leave the promoter hanging last minute and never be invited back. The next day he was in practice and we trained as much as we could before the fight. Carlos ended up clobbering Brad Gumm in about 2 minutes.” – Tom Vaughn

Early on, Carlos ran up a 6-0 record after defeating Gumm and all of his fights ended with Condit finishing submissions or getting the TKO ending. He was promising, he was impressive albeit his vacation in Costa Rica a minor set-back, and he was well on his way to making a name for himself. Though training in Albuquerque, he already experienced fighting in Mexico, Oklahoma, and Colorado.

“Somewhere in and around that same time frame our friend Eddie Deluca called me with a strange offer for Carlos to do a shootboxing fight vs. the current champion Andy Souwer in Japan. Shootboxing is basically a Thai fight minus the elbows but allows standing submissions. I talked to Carlos and he said “hell yeah” so we accepted. Andy Souwer had nearly 100 Thai fights at that time but we came up with a strategy to work Carlos into standing submission opportunities. It worked perfectly but the shootbox ref kept breaking it before Souwer had to tap. Still, Carlos fought his ass off and it went 30 seconds shy of all five rounds. In the end Carlos succumbed to leg kicks which Andy Souwer is well-known for. Carlos had done amazing and I think this was a turning point for his confidence in his striking game.” – Tom Vaughn

Photo: Condit vs Brad Gumm at weigh-ins,

Arguably, Tom Vaughn downplays how good Souwer is, and that may unintentional but regardless, “The Destroyer” was a Dutch phenom credited as a two-time K-1 World MAX champion and a four time Shootboxing World tournament champion.

Throwing in Carlos with the legend Souwer was known as is a testament to how tough Condit has truly been over the course of his career. The mere fact that a still raw combat athlete could walk in and be competitive with elite level talent but that wouldn’t be the case if Condit didn’t display all the intangibles that has made him a household name today. It also spoke to the trust and belief that FIT NHB had in the young fighter to make the walk with him in such a profound opportunity.

The future was already looking promising for Condit despite the loss.

“In 2005, a booking agent name Phyllis Lee got Carlos an opportunity to fight at Rumble on the Rock in Hawaii vs BJ Penn’s student Ross “The Boss” Ebanez. Carlos and Ebanez had a war but Carlos’s no quit fight style overwhelmed Ebanez and Carlos won via TKO. Shortly after that we received an offer for Carlos to be in the ROTR 8-man tournament at 175 lbs again in Hawaii. The other 7 fighters were world renown fighters and Carlos was still basically unknown. The lineup would be Frank Trigg, Renato “Charuto” Verissimo, Ron Juhn, Jake Sheilds, Dave Menne, Anderson Silva, Yushin Okami, and Carlos. They wanted to match Carlos with Charuto in round 1, we assumed to get revenge for the Ebanez loss as Charuto was an instructor at BJs gym, and to make sure Charuto advanced to the 2nd round. We didn’t feel the money was enough to make it worth while so we declined. They came back with an offer we couldn’t refuse and we accepted. Carlos KO’d Charuto in 17 seconds, arm barred Frank Trigg in 2 minutes, and we found ourselves in the finals with Jake Shields. Carlos lost a decision to Shields but it was a war and his stock went WAY up!” – Tom Vaughn

Talk about taking a step-up in competition. SWFight detailed this tournament in one of our favorite historical pieces (click here) and we touched on how significant it was that an unknown Condit was in the mix with names that were already considered elite level in MMA at the time. Anderson Silva would go on to be considered one of the greatest of all-time, Okami and Shields would become pioneers, and Menne and Trigg were established successful athletes in the UFC.

Photo: Carlos Condit after his final WEC defense. Pictured – Rob Monroe, Carlos Condit, Arlene Sanchez, Tom Vaughn.

Carlos on the other hand was the true “dark-horse” in the tournament. Condit’s most high-profile bout to that point was for Pancrase in Japan. Well respectable in their own right, it wouldn’t compare to competing against UFC Vet Trigg and renowned grappler Jake Shields. As Tom mentioned, thought Condit lost in the finals he definitely announced himself to the MMA world as an up-and-coming talent ready to make a mark going forward.

“We had a variety of offers but we decided going back to Japan to fight in the Pancrase 165 lb weight class would be a great opportunity. Carlos tore through Pancrase’s 165lb division with three straight finishes. He was set to fight for King of Pancrase Title when we received an offer for Carlos to fight in the newly formed Pro Elite fight promotion on Showtime. It was a big break and we were beside ourselves at the time until we received a call from Pro Elite saying that the defunct contract we had signed with the WFA had resurfaced and they were blocking us from signing the Pro Elite deal. WFA had gone under a while back and Carlos never got ONE fight with them. We couldn’t figure out why the hell they wouldn’t let us go. After agonizing over it for it seemed like weeks, it was revealed that WFA had sold all their contracts to the UFC. They had some marquee fighters like Quinton Jackson and others, and Carlos’s contract was in their too.” – Tom Vaughn

With the big break came a big obstacle along the way as the contract issues they were experiencing hindered some of the progress and momentum Condit had coming out of the Hawaii-tournament. The once promising WFA promotion had been out of business for a while but eventually became one of the most important pieces of history for the UFC and in a more general sense, their parent company ZUFFA.

“Eventually Joe Silva (UFC matchmaker) contacted me and wanted Carlos’s first fight in the UFC to be Jon Fitch. Jon Fitch was a terrible match for everyone in those days and I did my best to get Joe to give us someone else. UFC had just purchased the WEC, I had already done business with WEC Execs Reed Harris and Scott Adams , and asked Joe Silva if we could go to the WEC instead of the UFC. Joe and I went back and forth for a while and in the end he told me that he thought Carlos belonged in the UFC but he wasn’t going to waste anymore time debating it and was sending Carlos’s contract over to Scott Adams at the WEC. The rest is pretty much history. After Carlos won his first WEC fight impressively he was offered the title shot which he won and defended three times.” – Tom Vaughn

Condit’s run in the WEC is a story of legend and one of the most iconic major title runs in MMA history. Condit along with Urijah Faber and Miguel Torres, led the WEC as the faces of the company and made the show must-watch TV anytime an event went down. The WEC is still a cult-favorite as the library of foghts is now housed in the UFC Fight Pass fight library.

It marked the first time FIT NHB was on the map on a major level as Condit validated all that was coming out of Tom and Arlene’s gym. “The Natural Born Killer” was now part of MMA folklore and he was trailblazing his way to becoming one of the best 170-pound fighters in the World.

“In 2008 Carlos Condit made a decision to move to Arizona marking the end of our time with him. He began his mixed martial arts training with us, and we were together for all of his amateur career through his first 27 pro fights. At the end his pro record was 23-4-0. During his early career, Sherdog wrote an article stating that Carlos Condit was the prototype of the way you build a fighter. He was our breakthrough fighter and we had done it right.” – Tom Vaughn

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