Lauzon discusses UFC training, Monday Night Raw, Jens Pulver and more
The life of a professional fighter is filled with uncertainty; their successes and failures play out in the public eye for all to see.
When the cage door closes and the battle of wills begin, it becomes a matter of opportunity. One walks away victorious, the other defeated, the outcome sometimes determined by only the slightest of margins.
What happens under the bright lights is what the fans are left to debate, but rarely are they given a glimpse into what it takes to make the walk to the cage in the first place.
This is what the climb looks like.
This is The Fighting Life.
“The underdog” is a role carved into sports history through sacrifice and perseverance.
While the athletes who have created those unthinkable moments are forever immortalized in flashes of greatness, the storyline of their triumphs resonate across a larger scale.
Mixed martial arts may be a young sport in comparison to its peers, but UFC lightweight fighter Joe Lauzon has never needed much time to make a lasting impression. In fact, two of Lauzon’s most impressive performances have clocked in at just 47 and 48 seconds.
He first shocked the world by stepping in as an unknown and knocking out original UFC lightweight champion Jens Pulver at UFC 63. But his derailing of freight train Melvin Guillard last month may have finally certified the Bridgewater native as not only a fighter who can never be overlooked, but a contender to the 155-pound crown as well.
“I love being the underdog,” Lauzon stated. “I think it’s a good thing. When you are the favorite there are very high expectations of you. You’re not only expected to win but to do it decisively and look great doing it. You can never have a bad moment out there and anything short of smashing your opponent comes off bad. If you win, it’s such a big thing because you weren’t supposed to. If you lose, it doesn’t matter because you were supposed to lose anyway. I don’t really see any downside to being the underdog.
“That label doesn’t affect me motivationally but there is definitely a lot of upside to being the long shot. If I had been the favorite coming in against Melvin people wouldn’t have responded the way they have. But because no one expected me to win that fight there has been such a big positive response. I train hard for every single fight, whether I’m the underdog or the favorite.”
Long before Lauzon would become the “upset king” of the world’s most successful MMA organization, he was a just another skinny kid from New England with a love for all things tech. From the outside, nothing about Lauzon resembled a fighter, but thanks to a cerebral challenge in an unexpected place, a passion for scrapping was born.
“I watched a lot professional wrestling when I was in high school. A bunch of my friends would get together to watch pay-per-views or Monday Night Raw and since I had a trampoline, we would all end up in my backyard. After school we would mix it up and be trying to power bomb or choke slam one another and all this other stuff. In the beginning we would take turns trying out the moves but then we got to the point where we were having matches and it turned into a jiujitsu match. Of course we had no idea what we were doing but it was a grappling nevertheless. We were trying to do submissions but didn’t have a clue.
“Then a couple of my friends went and signed up for a jiujitsu class and I was getting triangle choked non-stop. They would pull guard on me. I wouldn’t know how to deal with it and reach through. Then they would put it on me. This happened over and over and over. I got tired of that really quick and after two weeks of getting choked out I decided to do something about it. I couldn’t let them have an advantage on me so I started doing jiujitsu and I took to it very well. Within the first two weeks I had tapped out all of the other students in the gym. I picked up on jiujitsu really fast because it all made sense to me.
“Before jiujitsu I had no idea what any of it was. I didn’t know what a triangle or arm locks were and I couldn’t wrap my head around any of it. Once I got started it took very fast. I started doing grappling tournaments like NAGA and it was a lot of fun for me.”
Putting brains and body to work allowed Lauzon to make sense of the fight game. It came down to cause and effect and knowledge and application as he decided to put his skills to the test in the unstable environment of live competition.
“Right before I went to college, my friend Joe Pomfret decided he was going to do a fight. He was my size and I was his main training partner at our school. Plus it wasn’t an MMA gym at the time; it was more of a jiujitsu school. Everything he did for rounds, I did as well. We would match-up and beat the crap out of each other for however long we could go. His getting in shape made me get in shape also. He won a couple of fights and I started to realize I could do this too. That is when I decided to start fighting.”
“I won my first fight as an amateur but lost my second. It went this way for awhile where I would win a few and then lose one. I kept taking bigger and bigger fights and started to establish myself as one of the better fighters in New England. After that I took a fight in Canada, a couple in Florida and then the UFC called.”
It’s a watershed moment when a fighter receives “the call” from the UFC.
Lauzon was an underdog going into his bout with Pulver, and few expected him to even give the former champion much trouble. Lauzon answered the challenge in remarkable fashion as he knocked out Pulver in 48 seconds. The win was sweet, but the aftermath was decidedly strange.
“Winning the Pulver fight was kind of a weird experience. I went into the fight confident because I’d trained super hard but I didn’t think I was going to win the fight the way I did. I was confident I was going to get my takedowns, beat him up on the ground and get my submission. But then I went in there and knocked him out and I found myself in a whole different ballgame.
“The super-high expectations set in and it was difficult to live up to. Jens was the linear champion at the time. He had been the champ, left for a while and came back as the UFC was bringing back lightweights. The win set high expectations and while I had some success, I was still pretty early in my development. The fight with Jens was the first time I had ever trained in a cage. Hell, I had never even been in a cage before.”
Stay tuned Wednesday for part 2 of “The Fighting Life: Joe Lauzon.”