Can Joe Lauzon Fight His Way to a UFC Title Shot?
Joe Lauzon’s ferocity, power — and mangled ears — have made him one of the most popular athletes in what may be the world’s fastest-growing sport: mixed martial arts. His string of spectacular upsets has already earned him tons of money and international respect, but can he do what no Massachusetts cage fighter before him has managed … win a UFC championship?
LAUZON GREW UP in East Bridgewater, just five miles up the road from where his gym is located today. When his family moved to town in 1993, he was just a scrawny nine-year-old with big ears who rode horses and liked to fix computers for fun. By the time he reached high school, he’d developed another passion: pro wrestling. He and his friends would bounce around on his backyard trampoline and reenact the moves they saw on TV, usually as violently as possible. “It would be a brawl,” his mother, Debbie, recalls. “One of his friends showed up with a metal chair one day. They were going to do a Tower of Power, and I was like, ‘That’s not going on the trampoline.’”
It was all just a way to pass the time until the day Joe Pomfret, who owned a local karate gym, put on a jiu-jitsu demonstration at the high school. That’s what we’ve been trying to do! Lauzon thought to himself. He signed up for classes at the karate school not long after.
His first night of training, Lauzon nearly caught Pomfret in a submission. (Pomfret has been Lauzon’s coach ever since.) After the first month, he’d defeated almost everyone in his class. “I had a checklist,” Lauzon recalls. “Got him, got him, got him.” After a couple years of training, he decided to try a real MMA fight. “I had no idea what I was getting into. None,” he says. “But I won. So I had another fight.” And another, and another. After high school, Lauzon, still the computers guy, attended the Wentworth Institute of Technology. “I went through my crazy party phase in college, but Joe never did,” says Lauzon’s manager and training partner, Chris Palmquist, who also attended Wentworth. “He fought all through college. He came home on the commuter rail four nights a week just to go to jiu-jitsu.” By the time Lauzon was ready to graduate in 2006 with a degree in computer networking information systems and a new job at Charles Rivers Analytics, he had 24 fights under his belt.
That was when the phone rang. Did Joe Lauzon want to sign on with the UFC and fight a guy named Jens Pulver?
“I thought it was a joke, “ Lauzon says. Only a week earlier, while talking shop with Palmquist, the subject had gotten around to who, stylistically, would be the worst possible matchup for Lauzon. Their conclusion? Jens Pulver — a legendary former UFC champ who’d also dabbled in boxing. Not exactly the most promising way to start a pro career, but where others might have focused on the risk, Lauzon concentrated on the opportunity. “If it didn’t work out, I went back to my job on Monday,” he says. “ But if I won, huge upside.”
Five months later, on September 23, 2006, he was in Anaheim, California, climbing into the UFC octagon in front of 12,000 people, while 3,000 miles away, the promoters of an MMA card at Club Lido in Revere paused the action so the crowd could watch their friend on TV. No one had given Lauzon much of a chance — he was a 7-to-1 underdog — but in the span of 48 seconds, he took Pulver down twice, caught him with a left hook, followed it with a knee, and ended the fight. Club Lido exploded with cheers. “I mean, we all loved him, and it was like, Dude, this is Jens Pulver,” recalls Kevin MacDonald, who was refereeing at the club that night. “People were just running around that building. To this day — it sounds tacky — but you choke up. That was our guy.”
IT’S A SUNDAY AFTERNOON, and Lauzon and some of his coaches — Pomfret, boxer Steve Maze, and strength and conditioning trainer Steve Baccari — have gathered in the basement of Lauzon’s Bridgewater home.
They’re watching replays of an Anthony Pettis fight against Jeremy Stephens. On the TV screen, Pettis lands a shot just after Stephens has brought his leg back in from a kick. Minutes later, the same thing happens again. “I think that drill you were doing with Joe and Andy is just right on the freaking money,” Pomfret says to Maze. “Jab, and reacting to that right hand coming right back at you. That’s what Pettis does on his feet — really counter-fights with that right hand.”