Since starting his MMA career as a teenager way back in 2002, Joe Lauzon (27-15) had never lost three consecutive fights. He faced the specter of exactly that heading into his bout last year against Chris Gruetzemacher.
Lauzon had lost his previous two contests, to Clay Guida and Steven Ray. The human highlight reel felt good and he says he and his team decided that if he couldn’t snap the streak against Gruetzemacher, it would be time to call it quits on his stellar career.
“I thought for sure I would beat Gruetzemacher. I felt great and I didn’t think he was that good,” he admitted to Yahoo Sports.
“We said, ‘If this kid beats us, we’re done.’ Then, the kid beat us.”
Lauzon was stopped via TKO after two rounds by Gruetzemacher and for a bit, he assumed that was it. Lauzon focused on his growing family and academy in the suburbs of Boston, healed up some injuries and got deep into coaching some of New England’s best young fighters, several of whom are competing this Friday (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2) at the Boston Garden.
“We had the academy for a long time and I was always like 90 percent fighter and 10 percent gym owner,” he said.
“Then, for about eight months, I switched that ratio. I still trained — I’m on the mats every day — but I focused on improving things and systems at the gym and not on getting myself ready for competition.”
As Lauzon’s body healed and he kickstarted his gym’s business and helped many other UFC fighters get ready for their bouts, he began to reconsider his earlier thoughts on hanging up his gloves. “We had said going into the last one that if I lost I would be done, but as time went on I started not agreeing with that,” he explained.
Lauzon decided to be open to fighting again, and let the UFC know he was looking for the right fight to return to action. Lauzon felt good physically and emotionally, but also knew he had to change some things if he were to get back in the cage.
“It’s easy to fall into a habit where you do what you do just because you’ve always done it,” he said.
“But I was honest with myself and realized that there were things I had wanted to do for awhile but hadn’t put the effort into doing. It was nice that as I became more successful, everyone would come to me at my gym to train, but I started going out to others. I decided to go back to what got me into the UFC, what made me successful, and seek out whoever I needed to in order to improve. I got out of my comfort zone.”
One example of this extra work was Lauzon seeking out Skill of Strength founder and co-owner Mike Perry for strength and conditioning work. The drive each morning to Chelmsford, Massachusetts, has been long the past year or so that Lauzon has been getting work in with the coach, but he says he feels a big difference in his conditioning after using their systematic and data-driven approach.
Lauzon also says he added additional striking coaching from Jake Mainini to his longtime boxing coach Steve Maze’s instruction. Lauzon says the different looks and added effort on his part have helped him feel sharp again.
The 35-year-old knew he needed to redouble his efforts and show the hunger of a rookie if he were to have a shot at a successful return to competition, but he also never felt like he needed to fight again. “I wanted a fight, and so I asked for a fight, but I wasn’t in a rush,” he said.
“I let them know last March or April, and was looking for something in early summer. Then, when that didn’t happen, I was looking for late summer. Then, the Boston card came around. I talked to [UFC matchmaker] Sean Shelby and he said, ‘I don’t know, you have to talk to [UFC president] Dana [White] about it.’ So I talked to Dana and he was reluctant. But I told him, ‘Look, if I go out there and do poorly, you won’t hear from me again.’ So they decided to give me another fight.
“I’m doing this because I want to, though. Not because I have to. I’m in a position where I don’t have to fight, anymore. And if that was the end, that would’ve been fine. But fighting is always something I loved doing, and I never wanted to stop doing it. I try to be honest with myself and brain health is always a concern. But I feel like my memory is still good. I’ve always been bad with names, but other than that my memory is good, and it seems better than a lot of guys who have fought a lot less than me. I feel sharp.”
Lauzon got his fight, and it’s near home this Friday in Boston, no less. The star will face surging newcomer Jonathan Pearce (7-3) on the main card of UFC on ESPN 6.
He won’t rule out fighting again if he wins. “I feel like when guys say ahead of a fight that this is their last fight they are mentally packing it in a bit,” he said. “If I lose, though, I’m done.”
As honest as he tries to be in assessing his own fitness to fight, Lauzon is also measured when evaluating the positives and drawbacks of fighting at home once again.
“There’s good and bad to fighting in Boston,” he said. “I definitely didn’t need to be on this card. I wouldn’t have minded fighting on that Tampa card. There are fighters on this card that I coach, so even though I’ll mostly be focused on myself, a piece of me will be thinking about them. On another card I could’ve focused all on myself.”
When it comes to writing a possible great ending to a remarkable fight career, Lauzon has to admit there are possible upsides to fighting near home, especially if he can secure a victory. “There would be worse ways to go out,” he allowed, “than fighting at home in the Boston Garden and winning.”
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