After nearly seven years in the octagon, 14 fights and a UFC-record tying 12 nightly bonus awards, Joe Lauzon cannot pick out just one moment as his favorite; there are just too many. The admission comes as something of a surprise. After all, in 2010, Lauzon took part in a rivalry fight with Gabe Ruediger, then thrashed him in two minutes, igniting a wild celebration before 14,000 partisan fans in Boston, just outside of the city in which he grew up.
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The memory is one of his top moments, but he also has a fondness for his 47-second destruction of Melvin Guillard at a time when Guillard was riding high on an impressive win streak. And then there is his memorable knockout upset over Jens Pulver, and his 2012 Fight of the Year with Jamie Varner, and on and on it goes. Over time, Lauzon has become the UFC’s de facto Mr. Excitement.
It’s a title he doesn’t exactly hold dear, if only because the other side of his personality as a cerebral, analytical mind won’t allow it. After his last fight, another thriller, this time with Jim Miller, he made headlines when he said he was no longer interested in the slugfests and back-and-forth battles that he’d made his name on.
The words were quickly scrutinized but Lauzon said many misunderstood his context. He has no aversions to entertaining; he just wants to do it in a more dominant way.
"Of course I don’t get to dictate every fight like that," he told FOX Sports days before his UFC Fight Night: Shogun vs. Sonnen bout against Michael Johnson. "I talked about taking damage and abuse and things like that. I’m not worried about cuts. I’m really not. No one wants scar tissue on their face. I’m all healed up from my last fight. In that last fight, I didn’t feel I took a ton of damage. I got a big cut on my forehead, it’s all healed and doesn’t worry me the last bit. When I talk about damage I’m talking about all kinds of head trauma. No one wants that. No one wants to take any extra abuse. I think it’s important I keep an eye out and be mindful of what can happen. It can creep up on you."
That concern isn’t new, and it doesn’t mean Lauzon is anywhere close to done. In fact, he quickly dismisses the hint of a question with a “hell no” and begins discussing all that remains for him.
Despite authoring so many memorable moments, Lauzon still aims to find the consistency that has eluded him and stopped him from making a run at the lightweight championship. In 14 octagon trips, he’s 9-5, but just 4-4 in his last eight bouts against top competition.
“If I were done fighting after this fight, and I never got to fight for a title, I’d still be happy with what I’ve done,” he said. “Obviously everybody wants to get to the top but not everyone can. I set up goals, but if I don’t reach them, is it going to crush my world? Absolutely not. I love training. When I first started getting into training, I never even knew what the UFC was.”
Lauzon has reason to believe he still has room for improvement. For example, even though he’s been a professional athlete for nearly a decade, he never even bothered to lift weights until just about two years ago, this despite the fact that he always felt he was the weaker man during his fights.
Why? Well, partly because he was always more focused on brains than brawn, partly because he cast himself in the mold of a jiu-jitsu purist rather than a fighter, where technique could trump strength. Finally realizing that every advantage must be explored, he relented and hired strength and conditioning coach Kyle Holland, and has felt the difference with his gains.
Now the trick is to put them to use. Facing Johnson just miles from where he grew up in Bridgewater, Lauzon will be tasked with stopping a rangy southpaw whose back is against the wall; after fashioning an impressive three-fight win streak, Johnson has suddenly lost two straight. It’s a career arc Lauzon can identify with. Although he’s never had a losing streak in his life, he understands just how difficult it is to put together a run of victories.
“This is how hard it is: He could have been the best Michael Johnson the last two fights and still lost,” he said. “He could still be getting better and better. Who am I to say he’s not doing what he’s supposed to be doing? Everyone in the UFC is super skilled.”
Yet Lauzon believes he has a distinct advantage on the mat, where he has 18 career submissions, and where Johnson has tapped six times. That is, of course, a very basic way of looking at things, because Lauzon fully realizes that getting the fight to the ground will have to preface any submission tries.
That’s the thing about fighting: you always go in with some idea of what it’s going to be, but the reality is seldom so predictable. That’s why all you can do is be prepared. Every fight, Lauzon works to ensure he’ll never be outworked, even if he might be outperformed.
“As long as I can be honest and know that I did everything in my power to win, I can’t be upset with myself,” he said. “You show up, you do the best of your ability, I do the best of my ability, and we’ll figure it out.”
At TD Garden, Lauzon is expecting just shy of 600 local supporters coming specifically to root him on, a sea of fans that will all be decked out in his signature shirt and building a wave of momentum for him to ride. It worked once before, but the truth is that Lauzon doesn’t need the extra motivation. UFC’s Mr. Excitement is home wherever the cage is.