Joe Proctor isn’t worried about clichés or bolstered adjectives to describe the current state of his fighting skills as a mixed martial artist. The only word that matters to him is progress.
The Massachusetts native bounced back from a lengthy layoff to pick up his first win since the summer of 2012 when he earned a unanimous decision over Cristiano Marcello at UFC Fight Night: Machida vs. Mousasi back in February. It was a strong performance from a man who had been itching to get back to work and put the weapons he had been forging inside the gym on display.
“It felt awesome,” Proctor said. “It’s always difficult fighting a friend, but getting that ‘W’ was huge for my career. It was also definitely huge for me personally as well. I was coming off a loss and a shoulder surgery that kept me out for a long time. It was great to step back in there and put on a performance like I did. I felt great the entire camp and being able to fight the way I wanted to felt phenomenal.
“Ever since I got the (shoulder) surgery, it feels like everything has been going in the right direction. Before, I was always nursing it and making sure I wasn’t doing one thing or another to make sure I didn’t hurt it or aggravate it worse. But now I’m 100% and I feel great. Just having that shoulder strong elevates my game and allows me to push harder than I’ve pushed in a very long time.
After experiencing an extended time on the shelf, the 28-year-old Quincy representative wanted a quick turnaround time, and he got his wish from the UFC. The Joe Lauzon protégé will face a fellow surging up and comer in Justin Salas when the biggest promotion in MMA returns to Atlantic City for UFC Fight Night: Cerrone vs. Miller on July 16. The bout will feature two hungry fighters who are both eager to scrap their way up the lightweight ladder, and Proctor believes those circumstances will make for an exciting tilt.
Plus, he is confident that he wants the victory more than his opponent and feels he has the stronger all-around game when the cage door closes.
“Being in the UFC means you are always going to run into different styles. Justin has a strong wrestling background and is a southpaw, which makes it kind of tricky for us regular guys. For the most part he’s just another guy coming in there and I know he’s going to bring his ‘A’ game. I’m going to bring my ‘A’ game as well and we are going to find out who is better. We are going to find out who has studied his opponent more and who has put the work in. I’m thinking I’m doing all the right things right now. I’ve had a great camp with Joe Lauzon and I’m confident I’m going to come away with the win.”
It is a common belief in MMA that styles make fights and the matchup between Proctor and Salas appears to be the classic pairing of fighters from different grappling disciplines. While Proctor has a well-rounded jiu-jitsu game, the Colorado-based fighter has built success off his wrestling credentials. The battle between those two particular disciplines has been well-documented throughout the history of the sport, with each background having their time in the spotlight.
That said, the work Proctor has invested into developing his striking skills has shown inside the Octagon, and he plans to keep that momentum rolling in Atlantic City.
“I think my length is absolutely going to be an advantage in this fight,” Proctor said. “I believe I use my distance very well, and even if he does get in on me with his wrestling, my jiu-jitsu is phenomenal. My sprawl is also great as well. We have a great camp where I’m at and I truly believe I’ve developed into a well-rounded fighter. That’s huge because it allows me to be comfortable everywhere. I’m comfortable if I get put on my back. I’m dangerous when I’m on top and I’m up for getting into a striking battle as well.
“Like I showed in that Cristiano fight….my hands are there. I really feel I showed the progress I’m making in my striking in that fight and really pushed the pace in the third round. I was landing a lot of clean shots and that is the way I’m looking to work in all of my fights going forward.”
While his next opportunity to put all the work and sacrifice together will come next Wednesday night, Proctor is fully committed to the long road ahead. Working with seasoned veterans who are embedded in the love for the fight has turned him into a talented young competitor who has built a solid skill set off a foundation forged from heart and determination.
It’s all about progress for Proctor and that’s a mindset that will forever remain unchanged.
“I’m always working to get better,” Proctor said. “I’m always investing my time to make improvements and I really believe 2014 is my year. Everything is coming together for me right now and I really think I can make a lot of forward progress this year.
“Fans are going to see a new and improved Proctor. They are going to see someone who has been pushing hard to make a difference. They saw a different version of me in my last fight and I’m looking to break down barriers and be phenomenal in this one.”
"I’m thinking I’m doing all the right things right now. I’ve had a great camp with Joe Lauzon and I’m confident I’m going to come away with the win." - Joe Proctor