Crowd-pleasing Lytle ready for Hardy, but what comes next?

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Chris Lytle has a lot on his mind these days.

At 36 years old and with more than 50 bouts crammed into the last 11 years, the subject of retirement keeps finding its way into the conversation. Plus, he's been bitten by the political bug recently, so he's starting to wonder if now might be the time to run for office in his home state of Indiana and find out how voters like the idea of being represented by a UFC veteran/firefighter with down home sensibilities.

All that, and yeah, he's also got a fight with Dan Hardy on Sunday night in Milwaukee. But exactly what that's all about, and what it's going to help him accomplish either way is still unclear. For now all he knows is that the UFC has put another banger in front of him with only one expectation: give us a show.

Nobody's saying it -- not in so many words, anyway -- but it's there. It's the same subtext that's been lingering beneath just about every match-up Lytle has found himself in for the last few years. For welterweights in the UFC, Lytle is the guy you call out when you want a "real" fight. He's the guy who will stand in front of you and trade blows, completely forgetting about that jiu-jitsu black belt he's got in a closet somewhere at home.

He's the guy who'll brawl, even in the situations where brawling isn't the smartest thing he could do. And therein lies Lytle's greatest value for the UFC, and for fans, and for fighters like Hardy, who are searching desperately for an opponent who won't take them down and exploit their weaknesses.

It's the result of a consistent and conscious effort by Lytle, who, after losing a boring decision to Matt Serra in 2006, vowed that he'd never again play it safe and/or smart in search of victory. He decided he'd rather lose an exciting fight than win a snoozer. Ever since, he's been racking up the Fight of the Night bonuses, even if he hasn't gotten within smelling distance of a UFC title shot.

In other words, Lytle is a UFC role player, and he'll be playing that same role on Sunday night -- or so Hardy and the UFC brass hope. After getting thoroughly out-wrestled by Anthony Johnson for this third consecutive loss in March, Hardy needs an opponent who will play a game more to his linking, which is exactly why he called out Lytle. When you want to kickbox with four-ounce gloves on, Lytle's your guy.

He's carved out a nice little niche for himself in that way. He doesn't win them all, but at least he entertains. He may not be the best, but he is dependable. He's crafted a blueprint for a certain kind of UFC success.

Still, now that he's most likely nearing the end of his MMA career, you have to wonder where that leaves him.

Every fighter says they're in it to be the best, to win a championship, and sure, also to make some money. Lytle's pocketed his share of cash, especially with all the post-fight bonuses he's earned in both victory and defeat. He's also accomplished his goal of putting on the kind of fights fans will talk about years after he's gone.

But is that enough? When it's time to walk away, will he be content with a reputation as the guy opponents asked for when they wanted a certain kind of fight?

That's a question Lytle will have to answer for himself eventually, but not quite yet. For at least one more night, he gets to be the fighter who gives everyone what they ask for.

From the UFC, which wants a main event exciting enough to take people's minds off the fact that it has no real consequences for the welterweight rankings, to the fans, who want a bloody slugfest, to Hardy, who wants an opponent who'll conveniently forget about his unimpressive takedown defense -- Lytle is there to please them all.

Better enjoy it while it lasts. Even Chris Lytle can't keep this up forever.