One thing that I, and many fans of mixed martial arts, love most about the sport is the accessibility of the fighters themselves. Recently, I had a chance to speak with UFC lightweight contender Joe Lauzon, and I was expecting to speak to a young man who had a passion for the sport, a strong will to compete and win, the drive to teach others the finer points of his craft, as well as the time to reach out to fans in any way he could.
To put it simply, I was already impressed with Joe from the start, but what I didn’t expect was to walk away from this interview realizing that even with the high praise I had for him, that I would feel I severely underestimated him.
Below is part one of our exclusive interview with Joe and, as you can clearly see, we touched on a great deal of subjects with him.
Hi Joe, Mike Moffatt of MMA Convert speaking.
Hey, how’s it going?
Not too bad, how are you?
Pretty good, pretty good.
Good. Thanks a lot for taking the time to speak with us today. We really appreciate it.
Ah, no problem.
Perfect. First of all, how’s the knee doing? I hear that you’re ahead of schedule now and that things are going well.
Yeah, you know, I’m doing good. I still can’t do the kind of stuff that I want to do, but I definitely feel improvement all the time. I’m jumping rope, doing squats, doing all kinds of agility drills and things like that. It’s coming along, but I definitely couldn’t try to train or wrestle or anything like that yet. It’s going to be a while.
How tough is it to be out of action right now? What do you find you’re missing the most, is it the training or is it the rise to the top in the sport mostly?
Umm, you know the thing that’s bothering me the most is the involvement with my gym. You know, I train a lot, but I have a lot of guys that train under me at my gym and it’s tough trying to talk them through things without being able to show them exactly some of the finer points of things.
I was going to save the questions about your gym until, but why don’t you tell us a bit about your gym now?
Yep, I’ve got a gym in Bridgewater, Mass. and it’s actually the gym I started training at day one, and the owner brought me in as a partner because I was thinking about starting my own gym. So we’ve got an awesome set-up over there. We’ve got a cage, a boxing ring, a couple of matted areas, you know, it’s actually a pretty good sized space.
That sounds great. And you’re online if people want to go check it out and find out more about it?
Yep, the site’s lauzonmma.com.
Great, thanks. Now, I’d like to go back to your start in martial arts. When did you formally start training and what discipline did you start in?
I started when I was seventeen when I was a junior in high school, and I started mainly in jiu-jitsu, but we did all without the gi, so I guess you could call it just regular grappling.
And when did you first know you wanted to actually compete in MMA and that it would no longer be just a hobby of yours?
You know, it was always a hobby, even when I got to the UFC it was still a hobby. I never set out to make it a full time thing. I mean it happened, but it wasn’t like I was trying to make it happen. I think that if you enjoy something and you really, really enjoy doing it all the time, I think that good things will happen, and I think that’s what happened with me.
Have you parents always been supportive of that kind of thing? I mean, some people would tell their parents that they want to become a professional fighter and they might not have the support. Has that support system always been there for you with your family?
Yeah, you know, I think the biggest hurdle was when I wanted to start training, you know, right in the very beginning when I started jiu-jitsu. My mom was all scared and ‘ah, you’re going to get a broken neck!’ and she was just so paranoid and worried that I was going to get hurt. Then I started doing grappling tournaments and I was doing well, and then she was happy about it. Then I started doing fights and she was nervous, but then she was happy that I was doing well. They’ve always been behind me one hundred percent.
Yeah, sounds like it was just a regular progression. Now, in 2006 you won an 8-man tournament, if I’m correct, that led to you receiving a UFC contract.
Yeah, it was the WFL.
And how did you like the tournament format? Is that something you’d like to see in the UFC or something you’d like to do again, or is it too much for one night?
Umm, I think at this level it’s a little too much in one night. For me, the tournament format worked out a lot better because a lot of my fights, you know, I finish guys usually quick in the first round. I attack aggressively and I’m always trying to finish people, so a tournament format is much better for a fighter like me than someone who’s not that good at finishing people and maybe have to fight to decision. I think the tournament was supposed to be three five minute rounds or something, and I think I fought like seven or eight minutes for all three of my fights combined. One of the guys, they fought full fights so they went the full fifteen minutes for one fight, and then progressed on and they were tired and things like that. It was definitely beneficial for me.
Now, your first UFC fight against Jens Pulver, I know that you had said at one point that you felt that he was maybe a level ahead of you and until you got that win you didn’t know if you’d be able to compete at that level. Did you feel immediately like you were being fed to the wolves and was that something you were happy about, or were you just trying to jump at the opportunity to be in the UFC?
When they first offered the fight, I felt like I was being fed to the wolves. I trained so much harder for that fight than anything prior. Up until then it was always a hobby and I had taken fights on a day’s notice or even shorter. Beforehand I definitely felt like I was being fed to the wolves, but once I started training for it I was super confident going into the fight and I thought that we had the perfect game plan. We worked hard and I was in awesome shape and I just saw everything going my way. I didn’t think it was going to be as dramatic as it was, but I was super confident going into the fight.
We’ve heard a lot about first time Ocatagon jitters. Did you experience those or were you pretty comfortable the whole time? You seem to be a very even-keeled guy, but being on the big stage has got to get to you, right?
Yeah, I mean, I didn’t get nervous for that fight. I was fine on the Ultimate Fighter show, I was fine a couple of fights after that. The only fight I got any type of jitters for was the fight with Kenny Florian. So much pressure being main event for the first time and that definitely got to me. Before that I was okay and I just kept convincing myself that this is no different than any other fight, it’s what I do all the time, it’s not as hard as training, the whole deal. I didn’t listen to myself for that fight with Kenny, but until then I was doing pretty good.
One of our readers, Alex Blackburn, wants to know if you have any pre-fight rituals or superstitions that might have helped you mentally prepare in that first fight to get your mind in the right place to go out there?
I do pretty much nothing before a fight. I basically stop training about a week out from the fight, five or six days at least, and I really don’t do anything. The night of the fight, I’m laying on the mat and I’m just relaxing and just watching the other fights. My coaches are all getting kind of jittery and pumped up and they’re ready to go and they see me and I look like I’m half asleep on the side of the mat. I don’t do a whole lot.
For the Ultimate Fighter, how did you enjoy that experience, both the competition side of it and living in the house for six weeks with the other guys?
I’m glad I did it, but I wouldn’t do it again. It’s awesome for your career, it’s an awesome growing experience, you get exposed to so many good coaches, good training partners, everything. It’s great for all that. The isolation though is terrible. The living situation, like, they do a good job at trying to make you comfortable and getting you different things, but you have no outside stimulation, which makes it real, real tough.
Now when you say you wouldn’t do it again, guys like Forrest Griffin and now Michael Bisping have gone back to be coaches after being competitors. Is that something you’d ever do?
Yeah, I would love to be a coach. I’d get to keep my cell phone, I’d get to watch television, and all the other stuff. The focus is really on the fighters, so they want as much footage on you as possible, so they don’t want you watching tv, they don’t want to see guys just killing time. As coaches, if you’re not in the gym they aren’t really following you around, so the coaches get to do whatever they want. I wouldn’t mind going on as a coach at all. I think that’d be a good time.
The two coaches on your season you had good relationships with. Obviously Jens was the guy you defeated in your first fight, and BJ Penn you’ve moved on to train with. With Jens Pulver, was it ever awkward being on the show with him after you two had fought?
I think it would’ve been, except for the fact that Jens and I, the night that I fought him, after I fought him, waiting for the press conference we were sitting there just talking about video games and things like that, for about forty-five minutes. That definitely kind of eased things up a bit. It was really awkward for me when BJ had us all put up our hand for people who didn’t want to be on Jens’ team. I went on the show because I wanted to be with BJ, I wanted to train with BJ, so I put up my hand but it wasn’t that I wanted nothing to do with Jens, I just really wanted to train with BJ. That part was a little bit awkward.
Do you still watch the show now, and how do you feel about the format? Some people feel it’s become a little stale after all this time. Is there anything you’d change?
I do still watch the show and I think after being on there, it’s a little bit different. You’ve kind of done it and you’ve been through it all. I’ve been watching this season so far. I thought the first episode was, I mean, I like watching guys fight and train and all that, but I still thought it was a little bit dry. I mean, no commentary and stuff like that. But I thought the second week was good, but I don’t know really how they would be able to try and change the angle it’s going. They put a lot of emphasis on in-house shenanigans, starting fights, being idiots, and I’m sure they want to turn that around. It’s a tough road to go back on now, though. I would like to see them get more about the fighting and the training aspect of it though.
Talk to us a little bit about your fight with Jeremy Stephens. You obviously did very well in that fight, but is there anything from that fight you think you can improve on, or were you pretty happy with your performance?
I’m pretty happy with how it went, but in every fight I’m my own biggest critic. I got caught with an elbow that I saw coming, but I still let it get through. I went for the first arm lock and I lost top position, I wish I had have stabilized there a bit better. There’s a whole bunch of things I could have done a little bit better, but overall I’m happy. It wasn’t a perfect fight so there’s definitely room for improvement.
The cut that you mentioned, you’ve stated that some people after said that you got caught and at that point decided to go for a submission right away. You said it was never really like that, but that you just saw an opening and went for it. You did find yourself on the bottom taking some hard shots in that fight, what’s going through your mind at that point? Is it to cover up and get into survival mode, or do you have to just make your own luck at that point and look for a submission at all times?
I never thought I was in survival mode, and actually thought I was winning almost the entire fight, I thought I was doing well. I got cut maybe halfway through the second round and, like you said, people thought I was rushing because of that. But it wasn’t that. I heard one of my coaches yell that we had forty-five second left in the round, so that was kind of when I tried to kick it up, and I didn’t mind being on the bottom at the very end of the round if I didn’t get what I wanted. I was kind of pushing because of that. I don’t think there’s really been any of my fights where I’ve felt like I was in survival mode so much. I’m pretty clear thinking and sometimes I bide my time a bit, and sometimes I try to push the pace. Every fight’s different based on your opponent and his skill set, so depending on who it is there’s always different things going through my head. I definitely think things through, so I’m trying to figure out if I do this, what are they going to do and how am I going to capitalize? I’m never thinking ‘just survive’, it’s always about finishing.
Speaking of finishing, check back later this week for part two of this exclusive interview with lightweight contender, Joe Lauzon.