By CagePotato Guest Contributor Brian Knapp
What began as innocent play-acting between friends on a backyard trampoline evolved into an unlikely career for Joe Lauzon — an information technology specialist by trade, a mixed martial artist by choice. Never in his wildest dreams could Lauzon have envisioned the path he has taken.
“It happened by accident,” Lauzon says. “We’d been power bombing and choke slamming each other on a trampoline, and it eventually turned into a grappling match to see who could stop who. A couple of my friends started training in jiu-jitsu, and the next thing I know, I’m getting triangle choked every two minutes.”
His competitive interest piqued, Lauzon decided to train, too, and through that seemingly insignificant decision, the Brockton, Mass., native charted a new course.
“I was like, ‘enough of this,’ and I started training jiu-jitsu,” he says. “And when my friends started fighting, I started fighting. A couple of years ago, I never would have thought I’d be on a billboard in Times Square.”
Lauzon has covered great distance in a short time, emerging as a top prospect inside one of the UFC’s deepest divisions. He will tackle Kenny Florian in the main event at UFC Fight Night 13 next Wednesday, April 2 at the Broomfield Event Center in Broomfield, Colo. And right now, Lauzon’s stock has never been higher.
“The exposure’s great being in the main event on such a stacked card,” he says. “I’ve got a pretty decent name going, and I’ve been on a good winning streak.”
Lauzon’s opponent Kenny Florian (8-3, 6-2 UFC) has won three straight since his unanimous decision loss to Sean Sherk in a match for the lightweight title at UFC 64 in October 2006. A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, his past five victories have come by submission. Florian last competed in September, when he coaxed a tapout from the American Top Team’s Din Thomas at UFC Fight Night 11. At 31, he remains one of the UFC’s premier competitors at 155 pounds and presents a myriad of challenges for Lauzon, an opponent eight years his junior.
“Kenny’s good everywhere,” Lauzon says. “He’s got good Muay Thai, he’s a black belt in jiu-jitsu, and he’s got great cardio. You never see him get tired. I can’t make any mistakes. Whenever guys make mistakes against him, Kenny capitalizes.”
Lauzon (16-3, 3-0 UFC) will enter the bout with momentum of his own. The likeable 23-year-old has posted six wins in a row since his submission loss to Rafael Assuncao — one of the world’s elite featherweights — at an Absolute Fighting Championships event in 2006. None of Lauzon’s 19 career fights have reached the judges, and 13 of his 16 wins have resulted from submissions. He snapped Jason Reinhardt’s 18-match winning streak at UFC 78 in November, as he slapped a rear naked choke on the unbeaten Illinois lightweight in just over a minute. It marked the fifth time in six fights Lauzon had finished an opponent inside one round.
“I’m aggressive,” says Lauzon, who made his professional debut at age 19. “I push the pace, and I’m constantly looking to end the fight. I think I’ve got pretty good instincts, too. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done something in a fight that I’ve never done in training.”
The oldest of the three Lauzon boys — his brother Dan has also fought in the UFC — Joe burst on the scene in 2006, when he spoiled former lightweight champion Jens Pulver’s much ballyhooed return to the Octagon with a technical knockout at UFC 63. The match lasted 48 seconds, as Lauzon, a 7-to-1 underdog, clipped Pulver’s chin with a life-changing left hook. In an instant, his name was on the tip of many a tongue in MMA circles, but it was his subsequent appearance on season five of The Ultimate Fighter in early 2007 that allowed Lauzon to put down roots in the sport.
“When I fought Jens, I was still going to work every day,” Lauzon says. “I beat him on Saturday and went back to doing the same thing on Monday. The Ultimate Fighter really changed everything. Getting to work out twice a day almost spoiled me. It seemed like a waste to go to work.”
What’s more, the show afforded him the chance to develop a close relationship with reigning UFC lightweight champion B.J. Penn, one of only two men — Randy Couture is the other — in the promotion’s history to hold titles at two different weight classes. Penn continued to mentor Lauzon after shooting on the show wrapped.
“It’s such an asset to train with someone like B.J.,” says Lauzon, who spent six weeks in Hawaii training alongside Penn in advance of his fight with Florian. “Having the top fighter in the weight division to work out with…you can’t measure that. I’d like to think I’ve gotten better at everything since I started training with him.”
Though Lauzon may someday have to meet Penn face-to-face inside the hallowed Octagon, he has focused all his energy on Florian, the man who now stands between him and the next rung on the UFC’s lightweight ladder. His motives are simple.
“I’m not even looking past it,” Lauzon says. “I look at every fight as the most important challenge of my life. I fight because I like the competition. I don’t want to lose at anything. I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing.”
For more on Joe, check out JoeLauzon.com.