The last time Joe Lauzon walked into the Octagon in December, he was just weeks away from becoming a father for the first time, and after a rough outing in his previous fight, a win was more important than ever.
Lauzon did his job right and dispatched Mac Danzig in impressive and dominant fashion, and as the new year rang in, he started to get ready for the arrival of his son. On Jan. 12, Joey was born, but just days later his parents got word that something was wrong with the littlest Lauzon of them all.
"I fought Mac Danzig, I got my win, and then I’m thinking I’m coming off a win, everything’s good, gym’s doing well, things are going to go pretty smoothly with the pregnancy, and then Joey, my son, was born with cancer. That was a complete roller coaster," Lauzon told FOX Sports.
"Joey was born January 12, which was a Sunday. By Friday he was transferred to Children’s Hospital, and they were telling us he had cancer. He started chemotherapy on Saturday. He was six days old and already starting chemotherapy. It’s like, how does a baby that’s six days old need chemotherapy? The whole thing was crazy."
Joey was born January 12, which was a Sunday. By Friday he was transferred to Children’s Hospital, and they were telling us he had cancer. He started chemotherapy on Saturday. He was six days old and already starting chemotherapy. It’s like, how does a baby that’s six days old need chemotherapy?
— Joe Lauzon
The next few months were a whirlwind for Lauzon and his girlfriend as Joey underwent three different sessions of chemotherapy ending in March. Then the hardest part of the process really began — the waiting game to see whether the drugs worked and Joey’s body was able to fight off the cancer.
For most of his adult life, Lauzon always knew the enemy who stood in front of him and the only mission was to beat that person inside the Octagon. It was a physical presence. A body made of flesh and bone that Lauzon could punch, tackle, wrestle or submit, and victory was always attainable.
In the case of his son, Lauzon was helpless because cancer can’t be punched and it can’t be choked. He just had to sit and hope that the drugs his son started taking six days into his young life were able to stave off the disease and return him to a happy and healthy little boy.
"Up until that point, worrying about a fight was the most important thing to me," Lauzon said. "Everything else kind of took a back seat, and now I’ve got a really sick kid and dealing with all that kind of stuff and make sure my gym doesn’t crumble along the way. It’s been pretty crazy."
In July — three months after his last round of chemotherapy — Joey Lauzon III got the best news of his life. It was the two words his mom and dad had been begging to hear since his first diagnosis — cancer free.
"He did three rounds of chemotherapy, and July 3 we got NED, which is no evidence of disease, so they got all the cancer, which is awesome, and he’s doing great now," Lauzon revealed.
Now that his son is home and growing like every other baby should at almost nine months, Lauzon is finding out what being a father is really all about. The traumatic way Joey was brought into the world only made his dad love him even more, and now the confessed gym rat actually has to pull himself away from home to go to train and prepare for his fights.
"It definitely changes things. Like, people ask me all the time, ‘Why do you still fight?’ … I really enjoy going to the gym, I really enjoy training, I really enjoy getting better. It’s almost like I’m a real-life video game character where I’m constantly leveling up my boxing, and leveling up my strength and speed and all this other stuff, and I really, really enjoy that," Lauzon said.
"But for the first time after Joey was born and I’m holding him and I know I’m late for the gym, he’s sleeping, he’s doing nothing, he’s just being there and I don’t want to put him down. My mom kept telling me — you’ll never understand till he’s born, you’ll never love something so much in your life, and I’m like, ‘Yep,’ and now I see she’s right. She’s 100 percent right. I’ve done a good job of not letting it get in the way, but I’m like chronically five minutes late to the gym."
It’s the best kind of distraction possible, but Lauzon hasn’t lost sight of the job he still has ahead this weekend at the UFC Fight Night card in Connecticut against Michael Chiesa. With a newborn at home, there was never going to be a perfect time to accept a fight, and Lauzon was definitely itching to get back to work, even if it pained him deeply to leave little Joey every time he had to go to the gym.
Putting in the hard work and getting things right just meant he’d finish his day on a positive note and go back home, where his son would be waiting with an infectious smile, happy to see his dad again.
"This isn’t something that’s going to go away. It’s not like Joey’s going to magically turn 18 and I don’t have to take care of him," Lauzon said. "Healthy kid, sick kid, there’s always going to be something going on. So he was making really good progress. He was born January 12, and he did his last round of chemo the last week of March. So Mid-April he was out of the woods and doing better. Then July 3 was the day we got the NED.
"I had already been anxious, I had been working in the gym a little bit. Things still go on, so I was anxious to get back to work."
Now that he’s just hours away from his return to the cage, Lauzon is hoping to put Chiesa’s name on his resume and then move forward with his next reality show victim.
"I was on season five, Mac Danzig won season six, and I just beat him. Now I want to start collecting scalps — I want to start getting guys that won ‘The Ultimate Fighter,’ so Chiesa’s next," Lauzon said. "I think all the stuff that he does, I’m better at, but he’s tough."