How would one categorize such a colorful character as "Filthy" Tom Lawlor? An athlete, an entertainer, a martial artist, a cagefighter, a wrestler, or a TUFer? Also, one could add other options like former gym owner and, if he has his way, a future UFC ambassador.
Simply put, Lawlor is all of the above and has been earning these different titles one after another since he started this journey at 14 years old with high school wrestling. Celebrating his 29th birthday with a Knockout of the Night at UFC on FUEL TV in May, the 8-4, 1 NC middleweight has officially spent more than half his time on this planet dedicated to combat sports.
With the evidence tallied, Lawlor should be called a "lifer," a man who is training his craft day-in-and-day-out, a man who is making the needed sacrifices, and a man who embraces the grind of a professional fighter's life. After 15 years, he is not only a veteran of the routine, but Lawlor believes he's getting better at it with his greater understanding of it.
"The biggest thing is, you're going to get out of being a fighter what you put into it," explains Lawlor. "Most people want to be a fighter, but they don't want to do what it takes to be a fighter. There are a lot of sacrifices that need to be made, a lot of training that needs to be done, and a Iot of focus and discipline that needs to go on for you to reach your potential. Some people are not willing to go through that or stick it out for the long haul.
“I'm one of those guys who trains year round, so if I make improvements or don't make them, I see it on a day-to-day basis. It's kind of odd to me, but some guys will take a month off or two months off between fights and they won't train that hard then. But for me, I take a week off and I'm back in the gym. I see improvements on a day-to-day basis, in technical things, physical improvements, and mental improvements - like how I process information or how I think about things when I'm doing them in practice. As I keep going, my understanding of body mechanics and when to do things in certain situations gets better. As far as approaching training and finding the balance of working on what you're already good at and something new, as I get older I'm able to do that better. On a day-to-day basis, I understand that not every day is going to be your best day. Some days you're the hammer and some days you're the nail. Some days you get destroyed in the gym and that doesn't mean that will happen in the fight. I've fallen victim to that mindset and the traditional wrestler's mindset that always doing more is better. I'm starting to realize that's not necessarily the case in many situations."
It may feel just like yesterday that the MMA world was first graced with the weigh-in costumes and can't-miss entrances of Lawlor, but he is an Octagon veteran nowadays who made his UFC debut a Presidential election cycle ago in 2008 with a win over fellow Ultimate Fighter alum Kyle Kingsbury at light heavyweight.
"With time comes experience, and I think that was one of the biggest things I was lacking and, to a certain degree, I still am," admits Lawlor, who is preparing to enter his eighth UFC scrap, which is more than half his career in a trial-by-fire situation by learning and battling in this premier organization. "There are a lot of things that have happened in the last four years that have made me more comfortable in the fight setting. I think that's the biggest thing that has happened. As you get older, I don't know if you get smarter entirely, but I do feel that I've gotten smarter as far as training goes."
With training injuries sidelining fighters for months at a time becoming far too commonplace, wisdom in the gym is as important as it is in the cage, which Lawlor knows firsthand from sitting out almost all of 2011. Following his drubbing of former number one contender Patrick Cote at UFC 121, he didn't return to action until 13 months later against 185-pound juggernaut Chris Weidman in a first round submission loss at UFC 139. It was an uncharacteristic performance for Lawlor, as he never pulled the proverbial trigger like in his other tussles, but he won't use "cage rust" as an excuse. Six months later, Lawlor got back on the winning track with the completely opposite and unexpected Octagon appearance in a bonus winning 50 second knockout of Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace Jason MacDonald.
"My expectations were that he was going to really push it hard to get it to the ground and maybe pull guard," reveals Lawlor. "It was going to be up to me to stay out of range of his submissions and deliver him a beating from on top. He had been hit hard and beat up on the ground before if he didn't pull off a submission and that's how I thought it was going to go. I didn't expect to knock him out. With all the videos I had seen and looking at his record, he hadn't been knocked out before, like dropped standing like that. That was surprising to me, but I'll take it."
The victory improved the New Englander's UFC record to 4-3 and clearly displayed some heavy hands for the already known talented grappler. The three-time NCWA national championship winning wrestler from the University of Central Florida has now won all three UFC bonuses, including his Submission of the Night against C.B. Dollaway and his Fight of the Night war with Aaron Simpson. These awarded tangles highlight Lawlor's depth as an opponent with striking power, sub abilities, and a never-quit-grit. The bonus against MacDonald couldn't have come at a better time as it put him back in the W column and back in the black financially.
"About 18 months ago, I purchased a condo and moved from Florida to Rhode Island," tells Lawlor. "I bought the condo cash, so I lost a chunk of money that I saved up, plus moving costs - I spent around $70,000. I had that money saved up from my fights, so I lost that and to compound that I got injured and I had a fight rescheduled against Maquiel Falcao. Between the fight being rescheduled and the injuries, I was out for a year. I made a little bit of money in my loss to Chris Weidman, but it was only half of what I would have made with a win. So that big bonus pretty much saved me."
Up next for Lawlor is a showdown in "The City of Saints" against its adopted son Francis Carmont at UFC 154. The 19-7 product of Firas Zahabi's Tristar gym is riding a three fight win streak in the UFC and an overall eight fight win streak dating back to 2008. "Limitless" battled to a tough debut decision against Chris Camozzi, but has scored back-to-back rear naked choke submissions in 2012. Critics have high expectations for the 6'3", French native as he drills daily with many UFC stars like Rory MacDonald and UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, but Lawlor has plans to put a stop to Carmont's hype train.
"I think Francis is real tough," says Lawlor. "He's on a pretty good winning streak right now. He comes from one of the top gyms, one of these big super camps at Tristar. I know he's definitely going to be prepared, I have no doubt about that. But I think I've gone against guys who pose more problems. Francis is good at what he does, but I have seen some fundamental mistakes. Sure, it's easy to look from the outside in and say, 'Oh, I can take advantage of that and capitalize on that,' when you're not in there with the guy. But I have seen some things that I think I can focus on and can make this fight a lot easier than people would think."
Although the bout is scheduled in Montreal and the crowd would normally favor the local, don't be surprised to hear cheers for Lawlor, as his pre-fight antics have won him fans the world over. "I don't really remember getting booed and all the fans treated me great," tells Lawlor who has previously fought three Canadians, with one, Joe Doerksen, being in Montreal, where he was welcomed with open arms at UFC 113. "Three things about Canada. One, everywhere up in Canada has good food. Two, they have hot chicks. And three, the fans are awesome and they are very educated fans."
To prepare for Carmont, Lawlor cuts his time across several gyms and between two states: Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Lawlor's home is with BJJ black belt Tim Burrill at his gym in North Providence. For boxing, Steve Maze is in charge of sharpening Lawlor's striking. For strength and conditioning, he is put to work at Mike Boyle's gym under the guidance of Kyle Holland. Also, Lawlor can be found at UFC lightweight Joe Lauzon's gym with Team Aggression. But across those state lines, Lawlor has found a unique source of motivation in two-time US Judo Olympic team member Travis Stevens.
"Travis is actually my arch-nemesis in a lot of ways," states Lawlor. "He is at the top of his sport, judo, and right now I'm missing him a little bit because he is overseas competing for a German traveling team. When he's around he's an invaluable training partner. Someone who is at the top level of a sport, regardless of whether it is a combat sport like boxing, judo, wrestling or even if it is basketball or swimming, seeing the dedication and drive that a lot of these top athletes have is reassuring in a way and helpful in your own training. Travis and I would battle all the time. We would lift together and every time we would finish a set, I would get in one more rep just to make sure that he saw it and I could rub it in his face that I was doing more work than him. When he's around, he's a great training partner for me and really motivates me to work my hardest, and he's a very talented grappler."
While Lawlor is entirely focused on handing Carmont his first loss in four years, he would like the UFC to know he is ready and willing to take on a new role for the burgeoning company: international ambassador. Besides an active participant, Lawlor is a diehard MMA fan and is as excited as any about the next stages of UFC's development of fighters in relatively untapped areas of the world. Admittedly as-of-yet unqualified, Lawlor would like to throw his hat into the ring to help in any way he can in the upcoming first season of The Ultimate Fighter next year in India. Honestly, no one might be more prepared to tackle Bollywood than the oft-costumed and feather boa-ed Lawlor.
"I'm 100% willing to take lessons on the language and be a liaison or a representative for the UFC for the season of TUF India they're talking about doing," declares Lawlor. "I’m really excited to see the development of MMA in countries like India. This is what really excites me. The last show [UFC 153] was really good and the one before that [UFC on Fuel] was good. But I get really excited about the UFC doing a show in China, talking about doing TUF India, talking about TUF Philippines. We have no clue what is going to come out of these countries. They could set the world on fire."
This Saturday at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Canada, Lawlor and Carmont collide in a well-rounded middleweight melee. "I hope people are entertained, I hope it's a good fight, I hope I walk out with a win, and I hope it's either me smashing him uncontrollably or it's a back and forth battle that I win," affirms Lawlor, who can make a nice statement with a win that the division's joker outside the cage is serious competition in it. "Either way, I want people to be entertained and it (the fight) to show off skills, heart, and determination. But what is really important is my fight is before Thanksgiving, which means then I can eat anything that someone puts in front of me."