An inside look at the final weeks of a Joe Lauzon training camp
Elias Cepeda spent two weeks living and training with UFC lightweight Joe Lauzon, his family, and his team, during the fighter's final week of training camp, and week leading up to his July 15 UFC on FOX contest against Takanori Gomi. As Lauzon heads into his next fight, this Friday, against Evan Dunham at the TUF Finale in Las Vegas, read on for a unique look inside his a Joe Lauzon training camp.
Takanori Gomi had been coming up all week. If not always in name, at least in thought, planning and application.
Joe Lauzon was preparing to fight the former world champion, and so much that his coaches and training partners did during drilling and sparring was meant to mimic the Japanese legend's skills and tendencies. On the mats, Joe's wrestling coach Frank Camissa, having watched hours of tape on Gomi, came to practice with counters to his usual takedowns.
In sparring, some of Joe's training partners, like Andy Aiello, winged punches out of the typical “FireBall Kid” stance. Like Lauzon, Gomi has always loved to box, so boxing coach Steve Maze worked combos and angles with Joe to meet their opponent's strength with some of their own during mitt sessions.
Opponents always loom large in the minds and camps of fighters. For weeks and sometimes months on end, you know there is someone out there, training hard with the explicit goal of hurting you, taking money from your family, and doing all that in the most public way possible.
With that in mind, you can perhaps imagine how obsession could creep in.
On a drive from Massachusetts to Connecticut alone with Joe eight days before Lauzon would step into the Octagon in Chicago's United Center to settle things with Gomi, all sorts of topics were discussed to pass the time. With Joe, the fighting and non-fighting stories and elements of his life usually connect somehow at some point.
Though he's become a record-holding near 10-year veteran star of the UFC, Joe originally never imagined he'd make a career out of MMA. He took his first UFC fight, against former world champion Jens Pulver back in September of 2006, just a couple months after graduating college.
He won that fight, but continued to balance fighting in the UFC with a full-time IT career, because he didn't think it wise to give up his day job. Joe has said that he figured he might have a fight or two in the UFC, and then settle into a more normal life, the one he'd gone to school for.
In a way, Joe also went to school for fighting. He'd trained and competed since he was a teenager. He did it for love, he did it because he got good at it.
He did it because, however long it may have taken him to realize it, and though he kept up other interests in parallel lives, he was always a fighter. So, stories from Joe -- both serious and funny -- about friends, or relationships, are often marked by a fight that happened around the same time, or a gym move or big development in training.
In that way, talk about commuting during his college years, and how he spent his free time turned back to fighting. Ever the well-organized techie, young Joe kept external drives handy for storing essential digital valuables.
At least one such drive, he told me, contained electronic reams of fight footage of stars of the day, which Lauzon would study in between homework, class and the gym. This came up when, given the timing and his fighting style, I asked Joe if he ever used to be a fan of Takanori Gomi, in his youth.
Though Gomi is only about five years older than Joe, the Japanese fighter also started young and shot up the ranks. By 2002, the year a teenaged Joe had his first pro fight, Gomi was already one of the sport's biggest stars.
In fact, he was arguably the best lightweight in the world at the time. How likely was it that a young lightweight like Joe was watching closely, in admiration, at the time?
As it turns out, very.
"Oh man, Gomi was one my favorites," he said of the man he was set to fight in just over a week.
"I had an external drive that had all of his fights on it. I watched them all, over and over. I loved his style."
Athletes meeting their heroes in competition is different in professional fighting than when it happens in other sports. When Kobe Bryant entered the NBA and got to guard Michael Jordan a bit, he could've expected heated competition and perhaps some hard fouls.
Joe Lauzon (L) grew up watching and admiring world champion Takanori Gomi (R), but last July had to fight him.
However much a young player like Bryant entered those games hoping to score points against his role model, he wasn't expected to dish out literal violence, and he certainly had very little chance of having to dodge a punch from MJ, on the court (the privilege of getting struck in the face by Jordan was usually reserved for practice, and the likes of Steve Kerr and Will Perdue, after all).
When a fighter meets a hero of theirs on their field of play, it's to hurt them.
It's interesting how the admiration doesn't usually go away in a fighter's mind during times like that. It just awkwardly sloshes around, side by side, like oil and water in a dressing bottle.
The next day was his last hard sparring in preparation to take Gomi out, but Lauzon had no edge at all about him when speaking of him in the car. The things 31-year-old Lauzon said about Takanori in those minutes were probably not all too different from the things 19-year-old Joe would have said.
He'd been in this situation, before. "It's just like when we fought Jens," he remembered.
Back in 2006, Jens Pulver was returning to the UFC with much fanfare after leaving as its first-ever lightweight champion, years before. The promotion needed a game kid to step in and serve as fodder for the future hall of famer.
They called one of the East Coast's top prospects, Joe Lauzon. The kid was tough, sure.
But not even he was initially sure that he had what it took to beat Pulver. "They called me and asked me, 'how would you fight Jens Pulver, if you had a fight with him?'" Joe told me, still a bit wide-eyed at the recollection.
"I said, 'With Pulver? I'd run!'"
He laughs, but it wasn't so much of a punchline as lasting incredulity that what once seemed to him like a crazy and dangerous hypothetical, did in fact take place. And, not only that, Joe ended up flattening Pulver inside one round.
It likely wasn't easy, for him, and the thrill of victory had little to do with separating someone he'd admired for so long from their consciousness. But, it had to be done.
Joe insists "I don't let my fights get in the way of my eating."
Soon, it would have to be done, again.
He clearly had a soft spot for Takanori Gomi, and it seemed completely incompatible both with Lauzon's finishing fighting style and the fact that his team had spent the past months studying Gomi -- just like Joe did as a kid -- to figure out ways to hurt him.
Who knows, perhaps there is always two sides to the admiration coin, with fighters. Maybe all those years ago, as he watched in awe Gomi accomplish his feats, some part of Joe's conscious or unconscious mind was already processing ways to destroy what he loved from afar.
What we truly desire can be complex, depending on the moment. Odd, contrary emotions can mingle at the best or worst of times.
What was clear, in the car on the drive from his home Massachusetts to Connecticut that afternoon, however, was that Joe Lauzon's long-held respect and admiration for Takanori Gomi was still very much in place, eight days before he would fight him. Those same feelings would end up surfacing again and in an almost shocking way, on fight night, in Chicago.
Alex Dunworth and Pepe's Pizzas
The drive from Massachusetts to Connecticut had a purpose. Joe was heading to the Mohegan Sun arena to corner a lightweight fighter on his team, Alex Dunworth, in a bout against Dean Hancock. Joe had spoken to me about Alex the previous November, on the telephone.
Lauzon didn't necessarily want Dunworth, then 2-1-1 as a pro, to continue to fight. It wasn't that he wasn't good -- he was.
And, tough as hell. "Alex is really good, and he's strong and tough," Joe told me.
It was just that Dunworth had also taken some damage. As the head of a major gym and team, Lauzon doesn't think it's up to his students to prove their guts to him -- he sees it as his responsibility to protect them whenever possible.
Fighting takes a toll on most, and Lauzon isn't shy about telling people that what the sport could give back to them may not match up with what it takes from them. Still, as a fellow tough guy, Joe gets it when someone tells him that they just “gotta do it.”
So, we were headed to the Mohegan Sun, with a bad traffic jam all around us.
The drive took about twice as long as it should have, and so Joe missed the chance to be a part of warming Alex up. Fortunately, Alex's other cornermen were able to leave earlier and be there in time.
Joe parked his car and a literal sprint ensued. I trailed as he ran from the car to the casino entrance, ran through the casino to the arena ticket gate.
A quick talk with security and Joe was through and I left him to find my seat as he ran to the locker room. It was all, evidentially, in the nick of time.
I watched Kaline Medeiros submit Sarah Payant with a Kimura from a nosebleed row, with some Brazilian folks behind me who must have been friends and family of Kaline, or at least huge fans of the skilled strawweight. Moments later, the show moved along with Alex, Joe and the rest of his corner walking to the cage.
The fight was competitive in the first, with Alex landing solid shots. Eventually, however, his opponent started to score big with kicks, and then piled it on with punch combos.
Joe (back facing camera) keeps a watchful eye on his students at his Lauzon MMA gym.
In the second, Alex fought on and continued to score, but ate several more for every one he managed to land. Dunworth was hurt, but wouldn't, couldn't stop.
It was time for the fight to end, but the referee didn't step in to protect the game fighter. Alex ate more shots, hobbled, covered up but limped on.
Joe shouted from the corner for the fight to be stopped, to no avail.
People often assume that coaches are allowed to throw in the towel and quit for their fighters, during the action. Actually, they are not.
It's a good rule, because without it there's nothing to prevent someone in the crowd from throwing something in the ring, confusing a referee, and affecting the outcome of a fight.
That's why knowing when a fighter has had enough is one of a referee's most important roles. The competitors are often too strong-willed to protect themselves by quitting, and coaches and doctors can't have their say until time has been stopped.
Joe shouted some more, then grabbed a towel and started climbing on the outside platform, and was warned to get off by athletic commission officials. He ignored the warning and continued his protest on his feet, with his arms over the cage, white towel in hand.
Whether the referee noticed that or just decided on his own, the fight was soon after stopped. Joe had enough of watching a guy he cared about take punishment, and there was nothing that could stop him from interceding to try and end it.
"I was going to jump over the cage, if I needed to," he later told me.
As a fighter, Alex is like Joe -- he won't easily stop, no matter the damage he absorbs. So, Joe got it.
In eight days Joe would be in Alex's place, fighting. Lauzon had been in countless gym and fight night wars, grinding it out through deep cuts and concussions.
As a fighter, he probably would have never wanted his corner to stop things, in those moments. This night, he was the coach, however.
Alex had fought well, and bravely. He just happened to get the worst of it. It happens and there’s no shame in that. But, no need for it to have continued, either.
Now, it was time for some pizza and the hospital.
Joe has said that he doesn't let fights get in the way of his eating. There was no reason not to believe him.
I'd eaten ribs with him a couple weeks before he was set to fight earlier that year. Now, a few days before he would begin his weight cut, Joe had a recommendation for some great pizza in the Mohegan Sun while we waited for Alex to get transported to the hospital so he could go visit him there.
Fights and weight cuts don't get in the way of Joe's eating. And, life doesn't get in the way of his fighting.
Joe was married a couple months before this coming contest and delayed the honeymoon to head into camp for Gomi. Before that, he fought on after their newborn son Joey beat cancer.
All of that, of course, had been combined with owning and leading his team and gym, Lauzon MMA, as he has for years. As if cornering a fighter a week before his own bout weren't enough, Joe had also earlier in the day trained, squeezed in lunch and then met with Reebok executives and designers at their headquarters, answering questions, consulting with them and offering his opinion on their new wares, trying on and choosing his gear for the coming fight, all under the watchful eye of his friend and videographer Brandon Chase, who filmed for Joe's video blog.
Most fighters do all they can to shut out distractions, concerns and responsibilities, leading into fights. The focus needed to fight at the highest levels causes enough stress and pressure on its own.
So, conventional fight training wisdom has always held that the way to optimized preparation is through isolation, single-mindedness, and purposeful selfishness to eliminate distractions and focus on the task of fighting and fighting well. That's a big part of why boxers have long conducted training camps far away from their homes, often in rural settings.
Joe has hardly ever taken that approach. Once upon a time, he took to Hawaii -- home of fighting hero and mentor BJ Penn -- but that experiment didn't last too long. Joe eventually came back home and continued to do his work there, with all the comforts and challenges that came with.
With the exceptions of the types of ceaseless media obligations superstars like Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor do leading up to fights, I'd never encountered a fighter so intentionally busy with heavy responsibilities outside of their training, leading up to a high-level match.
On his second-to-last hard day of training before he would fight Gomi, Lauzon also crammed in meetings, documentary film making, inter-state driving and coaching. And, like most days, he began it all by taking care of his baby son, at home.
On the way to Alex’s fight, I asked Joe about his contrary approach to training. Did all the extra responsibilities ever get to him, or negatively affect his performance in the cage?
Frankly, he didn't give it much thought. "I've always done things this way," he said.
True enough. First, he balanced training with high school, then, college. Then, with a day-job as an IT professional.
Then, as a gym owner and coach. And now, all that with being an active father, and husband.
At this point, it would be impossible to figure out if all this was a distraction from or detriment to the fight career that he's always balanced with many other responsibilities. It's just the way it is, and it's working.
Joe (L) tours the Reebok headquarters on a very busy Friday.
"Are you hungry," he asked me.
Usually, the answer to that question for me is, 'yes.' It happened to be particularly true at that moment, after Alex's fight, and knowing there would be hours more of driving until we got back to Massachusetts and Joe's home.
"It's probably going to take them awhile to get Alex to the hospital. There's a great pizza place here in the meantime."
He guessed that there wouldn't be enough time to dine in at Pepe's Pizza, but probably enough to order the pie, take it to the car and eat it in the parking lot, before leaving to the hospital. He left the arena, more slowly than when he sprinted in, and it allowed fight fans the time to recognize him.
Having just seen his guy lose, Joe wasn't in a sunny mood, but he still signed autographs, chatted and smiled for photos on his way out. The pizza place workers recognized him and asked for photos while we waited for the dish to bake.
Joe obliged. We sat and waited as the event rolled on, not far away, into the main card.
Obviously, Joe had no interest in sticking around for the rest of the event, to be spotted in the crowd, maybe grab some camera time or to be interviewed. This was work.
This was personal. He was there for his guy, and that was it.
Twenty minutes later, the pizza was ready, slid into a box and handed off to us. More fans recognized and stopped Joe before we made it to the lot and the car.
The pizza was set up on the dash, napkins doled out, condiments teared out of their containers, and we chowed. As in all previous instances, Joe was right about the food.
He knew how to pick 'em. Earlier in the week, he took me to a Thai restaurant near his family's home that he said they ate at often and was phenomenal.
Not only did the staff know his name there, the manager came over and talked with Joe for several minutes about details the type of which only friends discuss. The selection was wide, the quality high, flavors on point, and the price quite reasonable.
There was also the pizza place further away but which he swore was worth the wait. It had no dining area, was in something no bigger than a tiny home, served up only personal-sized pizzas, but was phenomenal. A sub sandwich place across the road from and recommended by Joe also came in handy a day later when I drove back from his gym on my own, but it wasn't quite as good as the ones he'd order for he, Andy Aiello and I later that night.
Mine had stuffing, turkey, and cranberry sauce in it. It was just as weird, and delicious as it sounds.
After the fight, but before the hospital was more pizza. Thin, crisp on the outside but quite chewy inside. Topped with fresh mozzarella, basil and tomato sauce.
I ate more than he. But Joe did pretty damn good for a lightweight in training camp.
Then, we were off to the hospital to see Alex. He was already in a bed, with his girlfriend, another coach and some friends standing next to him, by the time Joe drew the curtain to his stall back, and we walked in.
Alex, bruised, in a gown, and with a swollen lip, was quite lucid, despite concern that he'd sustained too many blows to the head. I mean, he most certainly had been hit too much, but he was just too smart, and well-spoken to show any evidence of that.
And, nice. Alex is a nice guy.
Joe Lauzon let us inside his life, leading up to his fight against Takanori Gomi, and that included an extensive tour of the best food in the Boston area, including thie Pad Thai topped with chicken katsu.
To be sure, the energy was a bit muted, as could be expected any time loved ones sit with someone in a hospital bed. But Alex tried to lift others' spirits and probably assure them that he was fine.
He was bummed. He'd lost near home on a big stage.
Alex apologized to Joe. Joe promptly told him how stupid that was.
He'd fought hard. Fought with incredible bravery.
In short, he'd done his job. They talked about Joe doing his, in trying to stop the bout in the second.
Alex wasn't super convinced that it should have been stopped. Then, he was.
The group talked, dwelled on the positives -- Alex's fierceness, ability to keep fighting. Alex told Joe it was probably going to be his last fight.
No matter their ages or level, real fighters are always too young, too strong to stop. Stopping always stings.
In fighting, no one -- not even a champions -- leaves having accomplished everything they thought they could and would do in the sport. In fighting, the giving of yourself, your time, your effort, your health is all you'll ever really get.
Joe's given a lot to a career he never really expected to happen. Maybe he understands that it's all about giving, sacrificing.
Maybe that's why he was there in a hospital with a student, late on a Friday night, with a long drive ahead of him, instead of home, resting and trying to ensure he was peaking at the right time, for his own fight night, in a few short days. If, in the long run, all you've got, all you'll end up with, is all you've given, maybe giving just as much to others as you do to your own dreams is time well-spent.
Alex was doing alright, everything considered. His scan results would be coming back soon, hopefully.
He had his girl, his buddies, around him. It still wasn't time for Joe to leave, yet, though.
There were some stories to tell, to listen to, and some East Coast gym gossip to pass around. Somehow, in a crunched schedule, there was still time for Joe to hang out for just a little while longer.
Things have always been this way for Joe Lauzon. He doesn't know any other way, and life is good, so why spend time thinking too much about it?
Joe Lauzon started training with Joe Pomfret at his gym, in high school. Lauzon was tired of friend Chris Palmquist and Chris' brother pulling off submission moves on him that he didn't know, when they did had pro-wrestling type matches after school.
Joe learned quickly, took fights, became a pro and eventually purchased the gym. Now, it bears his name.
These days, Palmquist helps train the team, and Lauzon still counts Pomfret as Lauzon's coach. He'd corner Lauzon against Gomi, the following week, the way he'd done for years.
Andy Aiello (L) and Joe spar in one of his final sessions of training camp, before fighting Takanori Gomi.
Lauzon told me that he believes owning his own gym helps him train for fights because everything is centered on him. Perhaps it is.
His definition of self-centered would shock a lot of other top-level fighters, however. Unlike many well-known UFC fighters who may lend their name to a gym that they hardly train at, Lauzon MMA is indeed JLau headquarters in and out of the off-season.
Eastern Massachusetts residents who sign up at the gym don't just get a guaranteed shot seeing him in action - They will also be personally taught by him.
In the last week of his camp before leaving for Chicago to fight, Lauzon kept up his normal teaching schedule. The vibe at the gym was certainly positive, and the group seemed close-knit, with plenty of ribbing and inside jokes to go around.
Some of these guys and girls had been there for years. Others, like young fighter Joe Smith, are more recent additions, but no less committed.
The kid graduated high school not long ago, and seemed to replace all those classroom hours with mat time. Over the week, I saw him at more classes, morning, afternoon, and night, than any other single person.
"He's here all day, every day," Lauzon would tell me.
And, he's enthusiastic as all get out about it. Once we met, Smith usually only stopped excitedly talking with me to take the next class and train some more. Topics ranged from all his coaches had done for him, how excited he was to be here, to training, to asking me if I fought, and telling me his plans to get his first bout.
He has his head shaved like Lauzon, and probably wouldn't mind any comparisons between he and his coach, as he continues to train, fight, and improve.
Smith is young enough to still rely on his parents to drive him to the gym, but also mature enough to appreciate their supporting him following his MMA dreams. "I've just got to be working hard at something," he said with his big smile, which seemed to follow everything he said.
"If I'm not in college right now, I've got to put in work, here."
By all other accounts, he continued putting it in, after I left. Joe Smith would go on to take that first MMA fight, a few months later.
He won. In the photos I saw of him, afterwards, he wore a pretty wide version of that same smile.[JB1]
Like any true fight coach, Lauzon teaches from first-hand experience. As I took part in classes he taught, throughout the week, he emphasized details of techniques that he'd personally found consistent success with.
The gym is a family one, to be sure. When he came in, later, to watch Lauzon spar, Joe Pomfret brought in his daughter.
She bounded about, watched, and then afterwards picked a play fight with Lauzon.
During practice, the gym had the right balance of openness, lack of ego, and nastiness. Sometimes, fight gyms can be cold to newcomers and visitors are ignored.
At Lauzon MMA, I was greeted often on the mats. Folks were genuinely interested and not stand-offish at all.
Of course, part of that interest is in seeing what you've got when it's time to touch up and roll, or spar a bit.
The rolls and sparring were intense, but no cheap shots or dangerous liberties were taken in my time there. In sparring you go hard, you try to do well, you learn, shake hands and move on.
"I'm kind of an asshole," Lauzon claimed, with a wry smile and gleam in his eye.
Joe wrapped up while cutting weight on the floor of a gym locker room in Chicago, the day before weighing-in.
What he was talking about were the little ways he's learned to open up training partners and opponents with what some may think of as "dirty" moves. It's borne of real fighting, however.
Joe won't hesitate to cover an opponent's mouth with his hand, grind an elbow into a pressure point or chip away with little punches to the body, even from the bottom. What I learn is that it's all quite useful, however.
And, that's the point. If you chip away from underneath an opponent with rabbit punches, it won't knock the wind out of them, but if you hit the same spot over and over, it could sting or annoy enough to get them to slightly move and get off-base.
If a mounted training partner is defending their arms and neck well from submissions, an expertly placed hand over their mouth could make them squirm distractedly enough to finally open up. Maybe because they're annoyed, maybe because they're physically uncomfortable. Either one works just fine.
In addition to the well-documented and widely seen overall technical prowess Lauzon has shown in his fights, he's also a master at capitalizing on tiny moments, even turning "asshole" moves into fight-ending sequences. His students and teammates seemed to be picking up on all of it, also.
Their movement is slick, their pace good, and, yeah, they're real good at the finer points of exploiting aggravation with "asshole" moves. During MMA sparring, Chris Palmquist gives me a master's class in this type of stuff.
He's smaller than most opponents and training partners, but he's honed equalizing techniques for himself that keep him in the fight and help him take home more than his share of limbs. And, he's really, really good at hitting the same spot over and over on you.
The fun and light moments were constantly mixed-in to the week at Lauzon MMA. Andy "The Raging Korean" Aiello was convinced to dye his hair blonde, like Gomi used to, to be a better replication of Joe's coming opponent.
But, really, it was to entertain Aiello and the team during a stressful time. "How much would it cost to dye your hair blonde?" Lauzon suddenly asked from inside his cage, one day, out to Andy, who was on the mats.
"Will you pay for the bottle of dye," he asked back.
Joe said he would, and agreed to Andy's asking price. Apparently, Joe would have gladly paid a lot more.
"Man, you didn't even negotiate!" he teased Andy.
On Saturday, Joe would do his last sparring rounds. One of them included Andy, complete with Gomi gold hair.
It was good work, because Andy is a good fighter. It was also just good for everyone's spirits to have a bona fide Gomi impersonator in camp.
Through all the fun stuff, intensity reigned that week, at Lauzon MMA. This was typified by a superficial but bloody training injury suffered by a Lauzon sparring partner who came from a good distance to give him work on one of his last days.
Early in their sparring, Lauzon pressed his much larger sparring partner against the cage, then came over the top with an elbow strike to the face.
A gash was immediately opened up on his head, and sparring stopped. Joe was wearing elbow pads, but he threw it hard enough to force the cut.
It happens. And, though there was concern for his buddy driving and getting to a doctor to get stitched up, the biggest issue was that Lauzon wouldn't get all his planned rounds in that day.
"Imagine if you get Gomi with that elbow, Joe," a coached wondered out loud.
"He respects Gomi too much"
Pizza, subs, pasta and the like couldn't derail Joe's weight loss goals for the fight and he arrived in Chicago on-pace to hit 156 pounds as required. Lauzon and the other fighters on the card stayed right on Michigan Avenue at the Hard Rock Hotel in the heart of the city's downtown.
The final portion of the cut was split into two days for Lauzon. On Thursday night, he, Palmquist, coaches Frank and Steve headed to a gym blocks away from the event venue -- the United Center, where the Chicago Bulls and Blackhawks play -- and used a combination of boxing mitts, games of H.O.R.S.E. on the basketball court, and steam and sauna to drop some water weight. Friday, Joe and his team hit a gym next to his hotel to complete the cut, before going to the United Center for weigh-ins.
Joe hit his mark on the scales, then squared up on stage with Gomi.
Lauzon spends most of fight weeks with his team, but by Saturday, his wife Katie was in town. She sat with Palmquist and his wife April, and other supporters in seats not far from where Joe would enter and exit the arena.
Watching loved ones fight for sport is an act of loyalty. There is no pure enjoyment in it while it's happening, just concern and fear of the worst. After it's over, and they're safe, sighs of relief can be breathed. If they win, the desperate anxiety is turned to doubled, intense, joy.
Think about your most excited moments cheering a favorite ballplayer's victories. Now, imagine they were doing something that actually mattered, and you actually knew them, personally.
That can't compare to what a spouse, parent or child of a fighter must feel on fight nights. Of course, Katie had been there before.
Joe before weighing-in against Gomi, at Chicago's United Center.
She certainly kept it together well -- poised nurse that she is. Still, anticipation and nerves made the air thick when I stepped up into the arena seats to say hello to her, April, as well as my own wife who was sitting near them.
I was glad to get back to my seat in media row, after the quick visit and word. I didn't envy Joe or any other fighter's family that night.
Joe and Gomi were soon announced. They entered the arena and the Octagon.
Then, Joe took the center of the ring against another former world champion. This time, he would be a part of Gomi's fight film library, which he'd studied for over a decade.
Or, Gomi a part of Joe's, depending on how you looked at it, or how the fight turned out.
Gomi came out aggressively, pumping straight rights and lefts to Joe's head and body. Joe covered up high with his forearms and elbows.
After a minute, Joe began to march forward with punch combos to the head of Gomi. None landed particularly hard or flush, but he was backing up the legend with his strikes and controlling the ring.
Joe shot in for a single-leg takedown off of a left jab. Gomi turned and burned to defend, facing away from Joe as he ran to free himself from the grappler's grip.
Joe hung on to the leg with one hand and chased Gomi. The Japanese fighter couldn't keep his balance with one leg in the air, and fell to the mat, face-first.
Joe sprung onto his back, reached over and under Gomi to stretch out a leg and maintain control. Gomi momentarily escaped back mount, but soon had his back taken again.
Joe landed ten straight elbows and punches to Gomi's head, and then flattened out his hips. Joe would say later that he felt Gomi let out a pained yelp and then go essentially limp.
Still, Gomi didn't tap out and was conscious. So, Joe rained down more punches.
They kept coming, Gomi couldn't defend any of them or escape the position. Punch after punch hit him on the temple and chin as referee Herb Dean looked on, closely.
After 24 or 25 uncontested punches and elbows, it happened. Joe pressed off the ground with his opened palms, and stood up.
He looked down and to his right at Gomi, and walked away. The referee hadn't stopped it, Gomi hadn't tapped, but it was over.
Joe had decided it was over. He walked away in victory, but didn't raise his arms to celebrate quite yet.
After a few moments, Dean realized that Gomi wasn't able to fight on. Then, he waved it off, officially.
None of us had likely seen anything quite like it, before. A walk-off ground-and-pound TKO victory.
Announcer Joe Rogan soon realized what happened and explained to the television audience. "Lauzon called it, himself," he exclaimed in shock.
"He just climbed off and was like, 'I'm not hitting that dude, anymore.'"
As it turns out, that's pretty much exactly what it was.
A couple hours later, after the event was completed, I waited in the media room for the post-event press conference to begin. I spotted Chris and Frank sitting at a nearby table, and went over to discuss what had happened.
"Joe just respects Gomi too much," Chris said.
"He didn't want to hit him anymore."
"I felt I had taken the life out of him," Joe later told me, simply.
Sometimes it can be fun to hit someone a bit more than necessary. Dan Henderson certainly felt that way when he knocked Michael Bisping out with one punch, then kissed his fist and dove to the ground towards the unconscious opponent and drove one more big blow through his skull before the referee could reach him and stop things.
This, evidently, was not one of those times. Joe didn't hold anything back from his elbows, takedowns, and punches when throwing them at Gomi, just because he had admired him for so long.
In fact, the sound from ringside of Gomi's head absorbing Joe's punches while face-down was sickening. The thud his bouncing head made right after, smashing against the mat, was upsetting.
Joe looks down at a prone Takanori Gomi before deciding enough was enough, getting up and walking away.
Joe took it to him with everything he had. However, once he felt Gomi had nothing left, himself, he just stopped hitting him.
The victory was celebrated, to be sure. Before long, Joe raised his arm in celebration and jumped on the cage to face the roaring crowd.
The win was in surviving a camp, and fight - in working hard and successfully executing things he'd trained to do. That's where the joy was for Joe.
The method and means -- bludgeoning a hero -- were necessary but not relished. Truly, they were abandoned, eventually.
Joe had trained so hard to be prepared for the dangers Gomi would pose to him. Once he felt that risk was gone, his opponent's shared humanity rushed back to the forefront of Joe's mind.
All I could think about, then, was what Joe told me during that ride to Alex's fight the week prior. "Oh man, Gomi was one of my favorites," he said.
"I loved his style."
Sometimes fighters are compelled to destroy something they love. In rare instances, like this one, they are later compelled to stop short of total destruction.
A family man's after party
The week before, Joe asked me what I thought of a Chicago bar his manager had lined up for a possible after party in the city's Wicker Park neighborhood. Joe was trying to decide whether or not to let the bar host an official after-party for him where he'd agree to spend time there after his fight in exchange for an appearance fee.
Getting paid to sit around is almost the definition of passive income. I hadn't followed up to ask whether Joe decided to have his party there, or somewhere else.
It turns out he decided not to have any type of after party at all.
Joe announced as the winner.
After winning and leaving the Octagon, Joe spotted his wife Katie in the stands. She'd run down to the barrier to be close to him as he walked back to the locker room and yelled out, "Joe!"
In one fell swoop he walked over and scooped her out of the stands and with him into the arena. Then, they went backstage together and he had his official post-fight photos snapped with her at his side, the both of them smiling.
After the United Center had cleared out and my night's deadline work was done, I decided to head over to the Hard Rock Hotel to check in with the Lauzons before they left for home, the next day.
I asked Joe about the after party and he shrugged and shook his head, 'no.' That would've been fine, I guess, but it just wasn't how he wanted to spend his night.
Family members and friends filled his hotel room for a bit. They congratulated him and many made plans for where they were going to go and continue the good times, in Downtown Chicago.
People started to trickle out of Joe and Katie's room, but they stayed behind. Joe wasn't going out.
He had what he wanted, for the night. He had a win, he had his lady.
Soon, they'd be back home with their bright, cheery baby boy. Until then, some quiet, their own company and maybe some good food would do just fine.