Walking through the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas during the recent UFC 114 weekend, Tom Lawlor
heard the familiar bassline of the David Bowie and Queen classic rock collaboration "Under Pressure."
Ever the showman, Lawlor filed it away in his mind, well aware that it could make for another entrance spectacular, hot on the heels of his Apollo Creed/"Rocky IV" homage at UFC 113.
But the underlying reason the song struck Lawlor is not lost on him. After two straight losses in the octagon, he's well aware that it's coming down to do-or-die for his UFC career.
"I just need to look at some things I did wrong in those fights and correct them so I don't make those mistakes again," Lawlor told MMA Fighting. "Because really I'm on the bubble right now as far as my career in the UFC goes. I can only come up with so many more entrances that keep my job. I've got to start winning fights."
With cards quickly filling, the 28-year-old middleweight is not expecting to see the cage until sometime in the fall, giving him a chance to examine his game and his direction.
His first move was accepting an invitation to train in a place that has not exactly been a hotbed of MMA: Cuba. Traveling with other fighters from the Miami-based Freestyle Fighting Academy, Lawlor traveled to Cuba earlier this week, where he'll spend about three weeks.
Though Cuba has generated only a handful of successful MMA fighters (among those is Bellator middleweight champ Hector Lombard
), the country has an international reputation for its combat sports, and Lawlor hopes to take advantage of the coaching.
"I've had a problem knocking guys out, but I haven't had a problem rocking them, so hopefully there are a couple tweaks I can make in my boxing that will add something to my game," he said.
"You can go on vacation somewhere, train somewhere, but not that many people get to go to Cuba," he continued. "Even if I get there and the training sucks, hey, I've been to Cuba. But they're really well known for their boxing, wrestling and judo, so hopefully I pick up some things there to help me in my next fight."
Lawlor, who is 6-3 with one no decision, first came to attention on season eight of The Ultimate Fighter. After wins in both of his first official UFC matches (a decision over Kyle Kingsbury, and a submission over CB Dollaway), the road become rocky.
Against Aaron Simpson
during January's Fight Night 20, he fought a close fight, dominating Simpson in the early going but eventually losing a controversial split-decision on the judges' scorecards. At UFC 113, again he controlled the opening moments, rocking Joe Doerksen
with strikes, but he was unable to finish, and the experienced Canadian rallied to submit Lawlor in the second round.
Though Lawlor is often the life of the party, his failure to finish has been no small source of irritation for him.
"To have those two fights as losses, it hurts," he said. "The past two fights I punched myself out. It's not a situation where I went in there and my skill level was off. The potential is there for me. Given the right circumstances, I could've knocked out Aaron Simpson. Given the right circumstances, I could've knocked out Joe Doerksen."
Afterward, the 6-foot middleweight briefly flirted with a move all the way up to heavyweight, a brainstorm that he even floated online. The plan, however, didn't meet with approval from the minds of those who mattered most.
"That was 100 percent for real, however the idea has been shot down by people who were higher up than me, which would basically be anyone," he said with a laugh. "So basically anyone could have said, 'No, you're not doing it.' I was told not only am I too small to fight heavyweight, but to fight 205 as well, so I guess I'm stuck at 185 for the time being."
With that decision made, it's full steam ahead for a man who would make many people's list for top 10 pound-for-pound most entertaining fighters.
And while life might not be as enjoyable as it could be with his job seemingly in the balance, Lawlor says that hardly matters as long as he gets to continue doing something that he loves.
"I'm going to have fun whether I'm in the UFC or not," he said. "If I'm in the UFC, I'm going to have a lot more fun than somewhere else, but it's not going to stop what I do. A lot of people think because of the entrances that I don't take fighting seriously, but that's just not the case. There's nothing else I want to do. There are other things hindering my performance, but not that. I'm going to keep working hard, trying to correct my mistakes and hopefully it will show in my next fight."