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?

As the fight nears, Lauzon has been spending countless hours training in the gym. The intensity of his workouts has been building, and now, four weeks until the fight, he’s approaching the crescendo of his training. The sparring rounds are just short of all-out war. It will be like this for another two weeks, and then taper off, timed to the precise moment when he’ll still be at peak conditioning but have had enough recovery time to no longer be sapped.

The training, of course, is meant to enhance Lauzon’s natural strength and speed, which he’ll need to win. But there’s always the chance that all the conditioning could be for naught, that he or Pettis will connect with a shot that ends it all in seconds, before anyone’s even broken a sweat. That kind of unpredictability helps define the sport — and also means that sometimes the hungrier and harder-working fighter leaves the cage with nothing.

ON THE NIGHT OF the big fight, I drive to Joe Pomfret’s house in North Easton to watch the show. Pomfret wasn’t able to make the trip to Japan — only the second time he’s missed one of Lauzon’s fights — so he’s invited the gym crew, Dan Lauzon, and some neighbors to watch at his place.

“Oh my God, I’m so nervous,” he says. If Joe loses, he says, he’ll be crushed. “Like take the Patriots versus the Giants and then multiply it by 10.” The fight is set to start at 10, and right now it’s 9:59. “Oh, Jesus!” Pomfret cries as he takes his seat. “Here we go!”

On screen, Lauzon walks out first, eyes down, face blank. He makes his way through the crowd and down to the cage, his entrance song — “Move” by Thousand Foot Krutch — pounding through the speakers. The refs pat him down, check his gloves, and then he’s inside the octagon, bounding toward his corner to wait as Pettis, looking solemn, makes his way to the cage.

“They look nervous,” Pomfret says.

“Yeah,” Dan says. “Should be.”

The fight starts, and Lauzon, playing it safe, doesn’t come out with his signature aggression. He moves carefully, staking out the center of the cage. Pettis throws a kick, which Lauzon catches on his arms. They circle, each throwing a few punches. Eighty seconds in, Pettis throws a few shots, and follows with a kick at Lauzon’s head. This time, it isn’t blocked. Pettis’s shin connects on Lauzon’s face, and Lauzon falls backward. The fight is over.

In North Easton, the room freezes. Pomfret has gone ashen. “Wow!” yell the UFC commentators. “That left high kick came out of nowhere! Let’s look at that again here.” Everyone watches the knockout, this time in slow motion. Pettis’s leg arcing upward, Lauzon’s hand flying down, and crack. “Spectacular,” say the commentators. “Perfect technique by Anthony Pettis. … Huge victory for Anthony Pettis.”

Pomfret slaps his hands on his thighs and stands. “All right, that’s it,” he announces to no one in particular.

“One step back.” And he strides out of the room.

PERHAPS HOPING to ease the anguish of his many fans, Lauzon took to Twitter the day after losing thanks to a kick to the head. “I’m in Japan for a few more days and was gonna look at buying a sword,” he tweeted, “but I think I’m gonna invest in a helmet instead.” The message seemed clear: The loss wasn’t the end of the world, and Lauzon would be back. He struck the same theme in a video blog he made after returning to the States. “I think everyone’s more devastated than me,” he told his fans in the post. “I’m obviously upset, but I know that’s just the way it goes.”

The way it goes for Joe Lauzon now is that he’s a top-20 fighter at the moment, not a top-10. And he’s going to have to rebuild everything he spent the last year creating. That starts with his next fight, a late-summer match against the British lightweight Terry Etim. Training is already under way.

“Joe doesn’t get as much respect as he should,” says Mark DellaGrotte, the legendary Somerville MMA coach. “He’s a sleeper. I think you’ve yet to see some of the best of Joe Lauzon.”

  • Guy Lancaster

    JOE LAUZON is an amazing fighting one of the best to come out of here. hes got a lot of potential and will hold a title one day, thanks