There are two kinds of people in any work environment: campers, who are content to reach a position and stay there; and climbers, who never stop trying to raise the bar.
There's an evolutionary process in MMA that weeds out the former variety. The strong survive while the complacent get brushed aside by the ambition of contenders.
For Carlos Condit, who makes his UFC debut against Martin "The Hitman" Kampmann on Wednesday at the UFC's first-ever event in Nashville, Tenn., this is the right time to transition to the big leagues. After the WEC abolished titles at the higher weight classes, the organization's welterweight champion had the necessary momentum to enter the UFC.
"Zuffa offered me the opportunity, and I jumped on it," Condit told ESPN.com. "They made the offer and I accepted."
Incidentally, both Condit (22-4) and Kampmann (14-2) were signed to the World Fighting Alliance (WFA) before it was bought out by the UFC in 2006. Kampmann was able to secure a contract with the UFC, while Condit was offered a choice between the WEC and the UFC. Condit believes he made the right decision at the time in choosing the smaller organization.
"The money wasn't right, the tone that they were offering me wasn't right and I just felt that it wasn't the right time for me," he said of UFC.
Kampmann has gone 5-1 during his time in the UFC, including a win over Thales Leites, who will challenge Anderson Silva for his title at UFC 97. In his second UFC fight at welterweight, Kampmann is trying to re-establish himself after a first-round stoppage by Nate Marquardt in September. Kampmann retains belief in his abilities, regardless of weight class.
"It's no problem cutting the weight," Kampmann said. "Most people had been trying to convince me to do it earlier, but I fought a lot of good guys at [185 pounds], and I thought I beat a lot of good guys. I still think that I can be competitive at '85."
A set-in-stone rule in MMA is that if you're not going forward, you're going backward. If you simply adhere to the status quo, everyone else is going to work harder, innovate and ultimately end up leaving you in the dust.
In the quest for constant evolution, the respective teams of Condit and Kampmann are there to help them focus.
Kampmann first became acquainted with team Xtreme Couture in the summer of 2006. Teammate Mike Pyle used to live in Kampmann's native Denmark, and gave Kampmann a place to stay when he first arrived in the U.S. For his part, Kampmann remembers the growth of the team -- even helping to lay down mats at their first facility in Las Vegas.
Although training in the States takes him away from home, Kampmann needs the top-tier coaching and training partners -- Randy Couture, Jay Hieron and a host of other names -- that Xtreme Couture provides in order to compete at this level.
Condit has stepped it up with Arizona Combat Sports, a team that will have four fighters on the event's card. Among them is light heavyweight Ryan Bader, Season 8 winner of "The Ultimate Fighter." With heaps of talent, a good overall skill set and tremendous wrestling ability, Condit knows he's making gains every time he steps into the gym.
Natural talent aside, staying on top in MMA comes down to the ability to withstand the monotony of training. It's not simply enough to show up for the fight -- preparation has to be total, complete and so rigorous that the body and mind are conditioned for all possible scenarios that may unfold. It's a process that can cause extreme amounts of discomfort and pain for the participants.
Said Condit of the low points: "Sometimes I feel like I should have chosen another line of work, but I love what I do and I use my passion for the sport to get me through the tough moments."
Condit is on a roll, riding an eight-fight win streak and having earned the distinction of finishing each of those eight wins. He executes with killer instinct, pleasing the crowd and staying true to what his ideal of what MMA should be. He credits this to something beyond physical skills.
"I'm mentally tough," Condit said. "I'm tenacious. And I have the ability to push a fighter to their breaking point."
In other professions, coasting is possible -- maybe even tolerated. Office workers degenerate into drones, often resorting to playing twisted games of politics instead of maximizing productivity. In MMA, the intensity of facing higher-caliber opposition tends to bring out the best in contenders. Success on April 1 means ramping it back up against a fighter even higher on the food chain.
It's an all-consuming passion, but Kampmann has something to look forward to in returning to Denmark after the fight. With his Las Vegas camp taking him away from his pastimes, he longs for his homeland; he misses nature, being near the ocean.
"The best time to be in Denmark is in the summer," Kampmann said. "I'm looking forward to that. Go home, see my family and spend some time in the Danish summer. It's always nice."
Brian J. D'Souza is a Canadian writer whose work has appeared on CBC.ca, men's magazine Sharp and FIGHT! magazine.