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?
“He’s definitely a counter-puncher,” Maze agrees, then turns to Lauzon and says, “You want to keep him off balance. But you can’t be too aggressive. You don’t want to run into something.”
For a pro fighter, Lauzon has a lot of Ninja Turtles and electronics lying around his basement. Between the computers and the 53-inch TV on the wall, there are at least four different monitors within reach (with more on standby in a closet) for marathon Xbox parties. On the bookshelves are copies of all the Call of Duty games, plus old favorites like Gears of War, Left 4 Dead, and Halo, and also a pair of samurai swords and a Captain America Frisbee.
Behind me, someone laughs. On the screen, Pettis has just thrown a wild, flashy kick that involves him dropping onto his hands and cartwheeling his legs over his head.
“I thought it was just a gimmick, but that’s the third one he’s thrown,” Lauzon says. “I guess he likes that.”
“He does it ’cause he’s Showtime,” Pomfret says.
Pettis’s legs are dangerous, fast, and effective. He’s good on the ground, and even better standing up. He’ll definitely be one of the most innovative and dynamic fighters Lauzon has faced.
Pettis, in fact, seemed well on his way to a championship fight until an unexpected defeat last year set him back. Now Pettis, like Lauzon, sees the match in Tokyo as an opportunity to finally lay claim to a shot at the title. He began agitating for the fight immediately after Lauzon knocked out Melvin Guillard at the end of last year. And Pettis has already been established as the prefight favorite.
Still, as Lauzon watches the film of his next opponent, he is higher ranked and more respected than he’s ever been before. The chance to fight for the championship is tantalizingly near. Lauzon would like to do something not even the fearsome Kenny Florian could — win a UFC title. Florian has actually had three title fights, but he lost each time. Kirik Jenness, the cofounder of mixedmartialarts.com, says Massachusetts fighters can be a little defensive about the state’s inability so far to produce a champion. “There’s a slight sense here that there are regions of the country, like southern California, northern California, Vegas, that are producing all these champs, and we’re one step down from there,” Jenness says. If Lauzon brought home a belt, he says, “It would be like New England has finally grown up.”
“THAT’S IT, JOEY. That a boy,” Maze calls as Lauzon, back in the gym, spars against his training partners. “Good right hand!” In the cage, Lauzon slips his head to the side, moves toward his opponent, and drives forward to take him down.
Maze nods at another fighter, a smaller guy named Andy, who bounds into the fray, replacing the downed opponent. Andy unleashes an onslaught of fists on Lauzon’s head and body. The assault marks the beginning of Lauzon’s third round of the evening, coming on the heels of an earlier boxing session with Maze, which had been preceded by jiu-jitsu practice. A fatigued Lauzon fights back, but without his usual ferocity. “Time!” barks Maze. The action stops, and Lauzon collapses onto the mat. Andy, Lauzon says, is “like a little fuckin’ mosquito.” (He’s also Lauzon’s housemate.) “He comes in like eeeeeee” — and here he flails his hands in exhausted demonstration. “I mean, I’m glad he’s like that, but…” He shakes his head.