MONTREAL -- The first time most fans heard of Francis Carmont, it was through Georges St-Pierre, who talked up his Tristar Gym teammate as he entered the UFC. Three fights and three victories later, Carmont is standing on his own as one to watch in the UFC's middleweight division.
Though he hasn't made a huge dent in the public conscious with that modest streak, there has been some buzz about the dynamic and chiseled 6-foot-3 Frenchman with wicked standup, a rapidly advancing ground game, and a nickname "Limitless" that says it all. That buzz has mostly managed to be contained to the sport's most ardent fans and insiders, but it could grow exponentially on Saturday night when he reaches main card status for the first time with a high-profile UFC 154 bout against UFC veteran Tom Lawlor. Fighting in his adopted hometown, Carmont is considered a solid favorite to win.
"I have heard some people are asking, 'Who is this guy?'" Carmont told MMA Fighting. "I'm a big middleweight. People want to see change in the division. It’s the same guys at the top for many years. People want to see a new, big contender. Maybe I’m this guy."
There's no question he still has plenty of work to do before we can consider him as a potential challenger to longtime champion Anderson Silva, but Carmont's continued success is the extension of an unexpected story. Though he began training in contact and combat sports like fencing and pencak silat during his youth in France, he soon fell in love with mixed martial arts while watching videos of Royce Gracie.
After years of training and despite his physical gifts and potential, he was little more than a journeyman as recently as 2008 when he held an 11-7 career record. After fashioning a small win streak and nearing his 30th birthday, Carmont faced a crossroads.
At home in Paris, he knew his progress was being stalled by a lack of training partners and top-flight instruction. After years of training, for example, he had barely been schooled a single day in wrestling. He could either stay and carve out a workmanlike career or move abroad for better training with the hopes of supercharging his fight skills.
To Carmont, there was one other possibility. He could quit fighting altogether. It didn't take him long to decide he wasn't ready to surrender his dream. After deciding to take the plunge, he chose Tristar for its reputation in producing top talent as well as the fact that it was in Montreal, a city where he could live more comfortably in his native tongue, although his English, as his fight game, is fast improving.
The results were quick and astonishing.
"I made the choice to change my life," he said. "Now, all of my game is better. There is better guys there. Better trainers. And it is more relaxed for me because I can do all my training in one place."
Lawlor is a solid opponent for the advancing Carmont, having won two of his last three and coming in with the momentum of a 50-second knockout in his last bout. Moreover, Lawlor is capable of flashing a gritty grappling game, and there will be intrigue in seeing if Carmont's defense will hold up against it.
So far, he's passed all of his UFC tests and excelled in multiple facets of the game. For example, he holds a gaudy 74 percent strike accuracy percentage and has stopped 92 percent of takedowns against him.
But here's another number that matters: 31. That's Carmont's age, and while he's not old, it doesn't give him a lot of time to get things done. If he really has eyes on contending in an already muddled division, every fight counts and any setback could be the end of that dream. Still, if he harbors any anxiety about all he's risked to get here crashing down around him, Carmont does not portray it. Instead, he's the picture of confidence, with an easy smile and an outward appearance as bright as his potential.
"I'm very happy with my position on this main card," he said. "I've tried to work hard for this. I want to be ready for the fight with Tom Lawlor. I want to be ready for the opportunity to show people I'm a top middleweight."