Some mixed martial artists look for an extra source of motivation to get up for a fight, but Joe Lauzon isn’t in that group. Lauzon trains relentlessly so he can beat you at your own game, neutralize your strengths and take away all of your options.
“Since I started training, I wanted to take down wrestlers, submit Jiu-Jitsu fighters, [and] throw Judo guys,” Lauzon explains. “In training, I want to beat you at what you are best at. In a fight, I want to bring my ‘A’ game and dominate you from start to finish. I train so that I can hang with you at your best and put you where you are at your worst.”
So when Lauzon’s UFC 78 opponent, Jason Reinhardt, tried to initiate a war of words with the Bridgewater, Massachusetts native, he may have been biting off more than he could chew. We won’t know for sure until they square off on November 17 in Newark, New Jersey, but if Reinhardt was hoping to get in Lauzon’s head and throw him off of his game, then he’s out of luck. In fact, Lauzon thinks the trash talking might be a sign of his opponent’s own uneasiness.
“He has called me out on a number of occasions, [telling] me to ‘stand and trade like a man,’ and talking about how he doesn’t care about who wins, [that] he just wants to have the fight of the night,” Lauzon says. “I think he knows this fight isn't going his way and he wants that fight of the night bonus. I am all for getting the bonus too, but I am out there to win first and foremost. I think he is scared.”
Reinhardt, a 37-year-old from Decatur, Illinois, does have a significant edge in overall experience -- he started training in 1999, when Lauzon was still in high school and yet to be introduced to the sport. And his 18-0 professional record, at first glance, looks impressive.
However, upon further inspection, Reinhardt’s UFC debut will be a significant step up in competition. Lauzon, on the other hand, worked his way up the ranks against top quality opposition in the featherweight and lightweight divisions – including Mike Brown, Ivan Menjivar and Rafael Assuncao – gaining experience that helped him chalk up wins in his first two UFC appearances. Lauzon’s already been tested and pushed to his limits, and that, he says, gives him the true edge in the experience category.
“He is 18-0, and while he hasn't fought any big names, he has finished everyone. No one has stopped him yet, and just because he was beating on lesser guys doesn't mean he isn't a complete animal,” Lauzon says. “At the same time, I think there is a reason he fought so many lesser guys. I think I will have him in every area, including experience. He has been training longer than me, but I think I have the experience advantage, because I’ve fought tougher guys and have fought in the UFC. Most every UFC fighter talks about UFC jitters and everything else. If I was 37 years old and this was my one shot, and I was fighting someone that comes out as aggressive as I do, I would be nervous.”
He continues, “We both finish guys quickly and [there’s] a good chance I could catch him very early in the first round, because it wouldn't be the first time it's happened. It's a fight and anything could happen and he could catch me just as quickly, but I feel like I have the edge all around, so I don't see it happening. This is do or die for him, and I am sure he is thinking about it.”
That’s not to say that Lauzon is making the mistake of overlooking Reinhardt or taking the fight lightly. A little over a year ago Lauzon was a no-name guy making his UFC debut against former lightweight champion Jens Pulver, written off by fans and experts alike as nothing more than fodder to help usher in the return of a champion.
“It is always dangerous facing an underdog, but mostly when you sleep on someone or don't take them seriously,” Lauzon says. “Jens wasn't hungry like a 23-year-old kid that’s just getting started. That’s where I am … hungry. I'm not content with just winning. I want to dominate.”
And when push comes to shove, Lauzon has found ways to persevere. If Reinhardt catches him, he’s had his back against the wall enough times to know not to panic.
“I have had fights that I got beat up pretty good in, but I kept fighting,” Lauzon says. “I don't think he has gone through that, and I don't think he has had anyone bring the kind of pressure I do. If things get tough for me, I will still be coming strong. I think when things get tough for him he is going to crumble.”
Lauzon would have every reason to be confident just based on his 14-3 professional record, the win over Pulver and his recent dominating performance against Brandon Melendez. But now the young contender has been training with MMA great B.J. Penn in Hilo, Hawaii. That, along with training full-time for the first time in his career, has paid dividends.
“I can't even tell you how impressed I was with BJ from training with him on the show, but after training with him for 2 months in Hilo, it's so much more,” Lauzon says. “Being able to focus on just training has been huge, and being with B.J. and other like minded people [has] helped a lot too. Everything we did revolved around training. It was he first time I went from training around other commitments like work to having everything take a back seat to training.”
Needless to say, Lauzon doesn’t regret the decision to focus on fighting and leave the financial security of his IT job behind.
“If I had kept my job, my income would have been a lot more and things would have been easier financially, but I would have missed an important window of time to try and make something real out of fighting,” he says. “Looking at it from a strictly business sense it wasn't the right decision, but living with myself and not being one of those guys saying I could have done more is more important to me.”
There are still student loans to think about, of course, and Lauzon, as cerebral as he is, knows that the long-term future isn’t set in stone. But for the time being, he’s focusing on fighting and getting the best out of himself in the gym and in the octagon.
“It's been going well so far and it’s what I want to do,” he says. “I think I will be bouncing back and forth between Hawaii and Boston for a while, because I do see advantages to each. I am going to stop worrying about the long term stuff and focus on the smaller things and take everything one fight at a time. I have a few ideas of what I want to do long term, but I am going to hold off on them. Right now it's all about building a name and I have just started on that. The rest will fall into place when the time is right.”