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Joe Lauzon - The Thinking Man's Finisher

If I catch him in a submission, it’s gonna be crazy; if he knocks me
out, it’s gonna be a good knockout, and if I knock him out, the same
thing. No matter how it ends, I think it’s gonna be a great fight.” - Joe Lauzon

In the fight game, there’s a fine line to be walked between instinct and intellect. Some would say if you think too much, you’ve already lost. Others opine that to make it in a sport such as mixed martial arts, if you’re not thinking one step ahead of your opponent, you’ll never reach the championship level.

Joe Lauzon, a former IT pro who now toils in a trade with KOs and SUBs, is a tightrope walker of world-class proportions, a fiery finisher who also has the presence of mind to realize that certain decisions can’t be made on the spur of the moment.

Take his June win over Curt Warburton for example. After drilling the Brit with a beautiful combination in the first round, dropping him in the process, Lauzon moved in for the finish with a few strikes on the mat before doing some quick calculations in his head.

“I knew that I hurt him bad with the punches standing,” recalled Lauzon. “I hit him with a right hand then a left hook, I hit him with some really good punches on the ground and a super solid knee to the body, and I feel like I could have just kept punching away and got the TKO. But during that whole exchange I had a split second thing where I was like ‘I’m not gonna get Knockout of the Night’ with this because I’m having to finish the guy on the ground. So I’m gonna try and get the submission.’ He was kind of out of it on the ground, and I’m like ‘you know what? I’m gonna take the arm.’”

All of a sudden, Lauzon grabbed Warburton’s arm and yanked it skyward. Within seconds, a vice-like kimura ended the bout at the 1:58 mark. Lauzon got the victory, the Submission of the Night award, and didn’t have to second guess himself when Cheick Kongo scored perhaps the Knockout of the Year, let alone of the night, later that evening. Now that’s using the old noggin.

And despite what you may think of IT pros and hardcore videogame and internet aficionados, Lauzon is a different person when he steps into the Octagon. Like fellow lightweight contender Jim Miller, the 27-year old is really not interested in exploiting the complexities of the 10-point must scoring system. When that bell rings, he’s looking to win a fight by any legal means necessary.

That approach has earned him five consecutive post-fight bonuses (six in his last seven bouts), and each of his seven UFC wins has come by knockout or submission. Talk all you want about being a finisher – Lauzon is the real deal. And if you saw the way he ended Warburton’s night in Pittsburgh, he doesn’t subscribe to the adage that slow and steady wins the race. In fact, since his 2010 loss to Sam Stout, he may have become even more eager to take opponents out as soon as humanly possible.

“I think I’ve always had killer instinct, but there are times in jiu-jitsu and grappling and things like that where I get a submission, and I attack, but then I think, okay, I’ve got this guy, he’s mine,” he said. “And then I go slow with it because I’m looking out for the guy. I’m not looking to completely destroy someone’s shoulder or ruin their career or anything like that. But in the Sam Stout fight, I went for the shoulder lock, I thought I had him, I started going slow, and then he squirmed out and I ended up losing the fight. But I think if I had just gone in and tried to tear his shoulder off, I think I would have won that fight. It’s kind of a weird spot.”

It is a fight though, and while Lauzon isn’t looking to injure anybody, he is looking to get you before you get him, and few do it like he does.

“I think me and Jim (Miller) are very similar in grappling style, because we’re always hunting submissions,” said the Brockton, Massachusetts native. “We’re very heavy on training in scrambles and moving fast and catching things, and I think that’s where the more dangerous submission guys are. You get some guys that are very slow and methodical, but when it comes to throwing punches and things like that, guys like us, we can throw a lot of punches and do whatever, and then in a split second we can take that arm or we can take a choke or whatever you present. I think that’s the best way to train submissions for MMA. It’s not the slow, methodical sport jiu-jitsu, it’s gimme that arm, I’m gonna rip it off.”

At this point, remove submissions from the above statements and insert knockouts. When you do so, you’ll probably have a pretty accurate read on another well-regarded lightweight contender, Melvin Guillard. And considering Lauzon’s win over Warburton in June and Guillard’s knockout of Shane Roller in July, when the matchups for Saturday’s UFC 136 card in Houston were discussed, there was just one no-brainer. And UFC matchmaker Joe Silva let Lauzon know it when the New Englander was relaxing at the local Six Flags amusement park.

“You and Melvin are making my job real easy,” Silva told Lauzon.

“Right then I knew that was the fight he wanted,” recalled Lauzon. “And I said ‘Whatever you guys want, I’m always down for it.’ There have been fights in the past that I’ve taken where I thought I might be in over my head a little bit, but I’ve always said ‘let’s do it.’ And not that I think that I’m in over my head with Melvin, but he’s a super tough fight. He’s super quick, explosive, hits really hard and is more a standup guy whereas I like to be on the ground a little bit more, and I’m slowly changing that a little bit. But I’m excited and I definitely see Fight of the Night or something coming out of it. If I catch him in a submission, it’s gonna be crazy; if he knocks me out, it’s gonna be a good knockout, and if I knock him out, the same thing. No matter how it ends, I think it’s gonna be a great fight.”

You don’t hear that too much these days. Either it’s all bravado or all about the end result. Lauzon is concerned about the end result, but only as it pertains to his bout with Guillard being one that fans are talking about for the next two weeks.

“The whole ‘just win baby’ approach is kinda taking over a little bit,” said Lauzon. “I think that you don’t see nearly as many submissions anymore. We get some knockouts because people are trying to stand and still looking for it, but you get a lot of guys that are just so content with winning, whether that means shoot a takedown and just kinda grind it out or whatever they have to do. But that’s never been me, and I would fight a guy like Melvin a hundred times over a slow, boring wrestler that’s just gonna take you down and play it super safe and just grind it out. If I get knocked out, submitted, or whatever, I’m not really that upset. If I know I trained hard and I prepared hard and I lose, then so be it. But to have a guy just take you down and lay on top of you and not try to do anything, why even bother? Why fight if you want to just lay on top of something.”

So, in other words, this won’t be a defensive struggle, the equivalent of a 7-6 final score in football?

“I don’t think either one of us are gonna have defense in mind all that much,” he laughs. “We’re both trying to overwhelm the other person.”

And the great part is, they will be doing it while coming from completely different angles. Despite his wrestling background, Guillard is looking to light Lauzon up standing, and even though Lauzon’s standup has looked sharp against Warburton and in a 2010 loss to George Sotiropoulos, his goal is to take Guillard down and submit him. It’s been said that who dares wins, but what happens when both sides dare? I’m guessing it’s something good.

“I see him (Guillard) as a more evolved fighter,” said Lauzon. “Early on, he was this brawler type who had good wrestling, but if he got taken down, the fight was pretty much over. I don’t see it as that kind of fight. He’s good at scrambling back to his feet, he’s much better at defending submissions, and I don’t see this as take him down one time and the fight’s over. But I don’t see myself as a run of the mill jiu-jitsu guy either. I don’t think my standup’s amazing, I don’t think my jiu-jitsu’s amazing, but I think when I put everything together, I think I have really good transitions, and I think I switch from one gear to the next very, very quickly, and that’s where I shine.”

So don’t expect Lauzon to suddenly fancy himself a striker who wants to test out his standup against one of the biggest punchers in the division, and perhaps the sport.

“I’m definitely not falling in love with it,” said Lauzon of his standup game. “I will always be a grappler at heart. Long after I’m done training, I will always do jiu-jitsu and I will always say that jiu-jitsu is the better way to fight over boxing and punching. I would say our hands were made for grabbing things, not smashing things. (Laughs) I’ve come a long way with my hands, but if I had a guy that had a lot of boxing experience and he learned a little jiu-jitsu, I wouldn’t tell him to pull guard on Demian Maia or someone like that. I’m gonna stick to my strength. I’m gonna have to use my hands to set up things, but I’m not gonna go out there throwing bombs looking to win this fight by knockout. It could happen, but it’s not the goal. We’re not going out there looking for Knockout of the Night; we’re looking for Submission of the Night.”

Yet what may be the scariest part of Saturday night’s bout for Lauzon isn’t Guillard’s power, but his speed. Once fighters like Roller and Evan Dunham got a taste of punches delivered with precision and quickness from unavoidable angles, it was game over. Lauzon knows what he’s up against, and not surprisingly, he’s made sure that he addressed the prospect of possibly being the slower of the two come fight night.

“I think it really comes down to working out with smaller, quicker guys and being sharp,” said Lauzon, knowing that the only way to beat speed is with timing. “I’ve been doing a lot of sparring with some real quick boxers and real good kickboxers, guys trying to mimic Melvin’s style a little bit. And we work pure speed. I think Melvin looks a lot stronger than me, but I don’t think he’s gonna be that much stronger than me. That’s gonna be pretty comparable, but I think he’s very quick. If I can match speed with him or at least negate his speed, that puts me on the right path.”

Sounds like quite the intellectual approach to the fight. But will that pay off? Joe Lauzon really doesn’t care which way it goes – chess or checkers, he’s ready for anything.