by Mick Hammond
One of the feature bouts on the upcoming Cage Rage show on February 4th in England that could be the knock-down-drag-out fight of the night is the Welterweight Championship showdown between Chris “Lights Out” Lytle and Ross Mason. Both fighters like to stand, both fighters are very adept wrestlers and submission fighters, in fact, you could almost make an argument that they are the American and European counterparts of each other.

Most US fans are already very familiar with Chris Lytle. Throughout the last couple years there almost hasn’t been a serious welterweight contender that hasn’t faced Lytle in one organization or another. Since starting his MMA career mainly for the Pancrase organization in the late 90’s, Chris fearlessly went up against some of the better known fighters around, with mixed results.

Early on it was clear that Lytle, while talented, wasn’t applying himself as best he could. Sometimes he’d look good against opponents, sometimes not. While valiant in his efforts, a lack of refinement cost him against fighters like Jason DeLucia, Dave Menne and Ikuhisa Minowa.

Connections and the possibility of being a set-up fighter however made it possible for Lytle to get into the UFC against then Miletich rising star Ben Earwood. At the time Earwood was looking to be the next great fighter the MFS had coming into the UFC, following the footsteps of Matt Hughes, Jeremy Horn, Jens Pulver and Pat Miletich himself. Lytle, true to erratic form, lost a unanimous decision to Earwood and leave the UFC for three years.

During his time away, Lytle would begin to become a more complete fighter. Always known for solid submission skills, Chris would get into pro boxing to help his striking and would eventually have a 13-1-1 record in that sport. With his striking becoming more dangerous and his game more complete, Chris was welcomed back as a veteran test for another rising Miletich star at UFC 45, this time against Robbie Lawler.

In what was one of the more memorable fights of 2003, Lawler and Lytle battled back and forth; each standing and trading shots, putting the other on the ground. Each won a round going into the third, but Lytle, perhaps caught up in the show and adrenaline, failed to capitalize on Lawler’s weaknesses on the ground, and in the end lost a unanimous decision 29-28 across the board.

Even with the loss to Lawler, Lytle gained an audience for his entertaining style. Chris would go on to win his next four bouts and continue to gain more fans. Then it seemed he would be given his big opportunity to face UFC Champ Matt Hughes, but Lytle lost inexplicably to Karo Parisyan at UFC 51.

Since then Lytle has gone 3-1 with only a loss to friend Joe Riggs via cut at UFC 55, and now Chris seeks to work his way back to the UFC or perhaps take his game to Japan where he hasn’t been since early 2003. In order for him to get an opportunity like that he has to get past Ross Mason at Cage Rage in a fight where anything can happen.

Mason, while not known to many American fans has been a solid competitor overseas for nearly four years. During that time span he’s acquired a 10-3 record, with most of his wins coming via his striking ability. Mason is a tough fighter and if underestimated he can beat anyone, and with an upset he could find himself making the trip over the pond to bigger shows, which is all the more incentive to perform well.

Lytle must be the well-rounded fighter he’s become over the last couple years to have his best opportunity to win the fight. While one to always want to stand and trade, Chris knows that a win in Cage Rage could put him on the track to returning to the UFC or possibly heading to Japan again. If he plays his game smartly, he’ll use his strikes to set up his wrestling and solid submission game. While a knockout would be more exciting, winning is the name of the game at this level.

Should Lytle win he’ll continue to prove that he belongs in the top ten welterweight rankings and will be again welcomed to the biggest stages of MMA as long as he wins and lives up to being the fighter he can be. If he slips up like he did against Parisyan, then you might see Lytle finish out his career on the smaller shows and be relegated to the “what could have been?” file in MMA annals.

This is a big match for both Chris Lytle and Ross Mason, not only is a belt on the line, but far more. No matter what kind of accolades or future implications this match will have there is one thing that is for sure, it should be a slugfest and possibly the most entertaining fight of the evening on a card stacked with great action.