By Elias Cepeda for CagePotato
Joe Lauzon (17-4) has held many roles throughout his 25 years — college student, 9-5er, web designer, coach, business owner — but above all else, he’s always been a fighter at heart. So when doctors told Joe he would have to sit out for at least a year after a surgery to repair a torn ACL, he took on the challenge the same way he approaches every endeavor — he trained for a fight.
“In training camp I’m absolutely miserable between doing all our rounds of sparring and cardio and I focused on my knee rehab the same way," explained the rising UFC lightweight, who has won five of his six official Octagon appearances.
"The place I did my rehab had a mix of people, young and old, and most just go through their exercises and don’t work up a sweat. I had to change my shirt just to drive home because I was soaking wet from pushing it. The place where I did my therapy was also in a gym so there were people there for other reasons than to rehab. My great physical therapist, Chris, pushed me and I progressed so fast that it got to the point where people were coming in thinking that I was in there for something else, like I was already in training camp for a fight, not knowing I had just had ACL reconstruction. I could have taken an easier approach to it but doing it that way really made a difference.”
It certainly appears that way. Based on what his doctors initially told him, Lauzon had planned for a March 2010 return to the cage, but he’s a few months ahead of schedule, fighting Sam Stout (15-5-1) Saturday night at UFC 108.
But it took more than hard work for Lauzon to return to action. The TUF 5 vet says that the most difficult part of his comeback was psychological. Before he could ace the physical therapy sessions, Lauzon first needed to heal, and that required him to be confined to bed for several months. Having to be totally dependent on others was a challenge, to say the least.
“Right after surgery, how much muscle I lost was sickening and it surprised me how tough basic things were to do. I was kind of depressed. I was planning on ‘09 being a huge year. I had the main event win against Jeremy Stephens off the bat and I wanted to fight a couple more times against some top tier guys and then it came crashing down. It was such a high to a low, lying there with a cowbell so I could get the attention of someone on the other side of the house when I needed help,” Lauzon says.
Hating that situation drove Lauzon to get well as soon as possible. “So I focused on that. I thought, ‘If I got dropped that fast, I’ve got to pick up the pace and get back to where I was.”
After healing and rehabbing, Lauzon was able to pick up boxing training, then Jiu Jitsu and lastly, wrestling. “Baby Joe’s” coaches had to rein him in, and at times it was touch-and-go with what his knee was actually capable of, but finally he had that moment where he knew he was 100% again.
“We were doing MMA training and wrestling against the fence and I hadn’t been shooting up to that point because of the knee. The drill was to stuff takedowns against the fence and my partner took me down with a single leg and I immediately popped back up on my bad knee like nothing,” he remembers.
“I stopped out of habit like, ‘whoah, whoah, whoah,’ expecting the knee would fall off but it was fine. I didn’t know if I had adrenaline or if it was actually ok. When he took me down I reacted and did exactly what I should have done. I reacted under stress. It was then that I kind of knew. If it was holding up to something like that, I was good to go.”
It might seem that wrestling would be Lauzon’s best weapon against Stout, a kickboxer at base, but don’t expect him to take that for granted on Saturday night. After all, Stout looked to be a much improved all-around fighter in his last fight, an exciting decision win over Matt Wiman in April.
“Sam’s tough. He’s got great kickboxing and his wrestling is improved,” Lauzon says.
“He used to be a fish out of water on the ground and his wrestling wasn’t very good but he’s one of these guys that are always working to improve. It’s a real tough fight. He is tough to take down. I think the wrestling is going to dictate the fight. If I get him to the ground it gives me an advantage. Same for him on the feet. My boxing has gotten better but I’m not going to go out there and try to box with him. I’m going to try and get him to the ground and finish him there.”