Help from JLau
I first met UFC lightweight contender Joe Lauzon the night of his debut in the organization — a dramatic TKO upset win over former world champion Jens Pulver in September, 2006. I was in Anaheim, the site of UFC 63, to cover the event for the late, great, InsideFighting.com (what, you thought I had shame?).
If I had been a better scout I would have already heard of and watched Joe fight before that weekend. He’d already been lighting up the Massachusetts scene, including winning a lightweight tournament.
But all I knew about the guy was that he had one of the most unnerving game face stares I’d ever seen at the pre event press conference on the Thursday before the fights. At least I assumed it was his “game face,” trying to focus, be and look intense and intimidating.
After he beat Pulver and was in full celebration mode backstage at the Pond, Joe had the same serial killer expression on his face, or to be more exact, in his eyes. The kid just looked intense at all times.
That’s the first thing that struck me about him. The second was his fighting ability — he took out an all-time great just months after graduating college, after all, and did so while working a 9-5 job, in his first UFC fight. But I came to learn that the best thing about Joe was how down to earth and nice he was.
Over the years he’d gone on to break UFC records, take part in main events and become a popular international figure. But he never changed his approach to interacting with fans or the media. He stayed accessible and downright friendly.
He even helped me by offering telephone IT support when I called him once from an airport because I was having a problem with my laptop. Really.
He was about to help me with something a tad more significant.
Joe was visiting nearby Chicago suburb Joliet to take part in a huge paintball meetup of youtube channel subscribers of FPS Russia and Woody’s Gamer Tag. Both guys are certified web celebrities with insanely large followings. They make their livings, good livings, from their youtube channels and podcast. Thousands of their subscribers and fans were coming from all over the world to congregate in Joliet to play paint ball with them.
Since the only exciting things in Joliet were that paintball meetup and the town’s prison, I told Joe he needed to drive to Chicago for at least one day.
He did, along with FPS Russian and WTG. The plan was Brazilian churrasco, the Sears Tower and then training. Joe took class, got along well with my head coach Dino Costeas and rolled (Jiu Jitsu sparring with no striking) with the guys.
This trip was Joe’s last little break before heading into a training camp back home in the Boston area for the fight that would become his incredible battle with Jamie Varner on the August 2012 UFC on Fox card.
After class I asked him to work with me in the cage. It wouldn’t be accurate to call what we did sparring because if Joe would have gone hard enough against me to be called actual sparring, I wouldn’t be around to write this right now. So, we geared up and Joe let me work a bit with him.
Joe tossed me around for a few rounds but also imparted some great perspective. He saw tendencies I had that were not going to help me in the fight and corrected them, sometimes as they happened and sometimes in between rounds.
After that, we rolled on the ground and then he showed me some exercises and stretches to do for my lower back, which I had thrown out in the first week of my camp and still bugged me. Training with Lauzon made real something I already suspected. Joe is certainly an athletic guy but his success at the highest levels of MMA really seems to come from more than that.
His real talent is in his mindset — it seems to be what pushes him to go hard during fights, always for the finish, but also what has compelled him to train hard every day since he was a teenager. He’s a pit bull with an analytic mind. Lauzon has the smarts to know what strategy will give him the best chance to win and when opponents expose themselves he latches on and doesn’t let go.
Many fans really don’t understand how these world class fighters are a different breed. I’ve trained for over a decade, handled myself in the ring and outside of it fine and had about forty pounds on Joe but he had no problem toying with me on the feet or on the ground.
It wasn’t just that he was better than me technically, which didn’t surprise me, but that he felt stronger. I was a couple weeks away from competing at light heavyweight and a lightweight was much stronger than me. I’ve found this to be true with other top fighters as well over the years.
When fans watch a fight on television, boo and fantasize that they could get in the ring and do better than UFC fighters they simply have no idea what it feels like to lock up with them. The years of disciplined training, wars in sparring and under the bright lights and who knows what else really makes guys like Joe Lauzon another type of human being.