Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Ask Joe Lauzon about the last time he was the favorite in a big fight and you'd probably be met with silence. At least, if it did happen, he doesn't remember.
Somehow, after thundering through eight stoppage wins in over half a decade with the UFC, Lauzon remains the quintessential underdog. A congenial assassin trapped in a computer technician's frame. So ask him about facing Anthony Pettis as a 2-to-1 dog at UFC 144, and he'll tell you, any other way just wouldn't be his style.
"I like flying under the radar," Lauzon said to Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour. "I'm not really the guy that's looking to get all kinds of respect and appreciation, and all that kind of stuff. I like to go and have good fights. I like to have exciting fights. I have no problem being the underdog."
Though the title of perennial dark horse comes at a price, and even in victory, a lack of respect often lets its presence be known. Lauzon discovered as much in the aftermath of the biggest, and most stunning, win of his career -- a 47-second shellacking of Melvin Guillard at UFC 136, where, by the way, he was pegged as a 3-to-1 dog.
"I keep seeing all these interviews where (Guillard) is like, 'Oh, Joe didn't beat me. I beat myself,'" Lauzon testily said. "No, I smacked you in the face with my fist, and you went down and I choked you. I'm pretty sure I'm taking credit for that."
Even now, after a triumph so dominant in its result, respect seems hard to come by. Following the upset, Guillard went on to lose to Jim Miller in bizarrely similar fashion -- "How do you lose two fights the exact same way?" Lauzon offhandedly mused -- and now Miller has a date with Nate Diaz as the headlining attraction of UFC on Fox 3.
Many assume the bout will determine the lightweight division's next number-one contender, but with the help of a little inside information, "J-Lau" isn't sleeping on his own chances.
"[Because of] the timing of (Miller vs. Diaz), I think that still puts me and Pettis as the No. 1 contender fight," Lauzon explained. "Just because I don't think that Frankie (Edgar) or Ben (Henderson) are going to want to wait six or seven months before they actually fight again.
"From talking to Joe Silva, he kind of led me to believe a little bit that part of the reason why me and Pettis were going out there was because if something happened with Ben, then one of us would step up and fight for the title. He didn't completely come out and say it, but he was like, ‘it would be a really good thing to have two top-ranked guys out there in case something happened with Ben.'"
The merit of Lauzon's statements can be left to be debated by fans, but there remains one irrefutable backer of his point. The man comes to fight. From the moment the cage doors swing shut, to the moment Bruce Buffer tallies the official results, Lauzon has never left his employers unhappy, and his ridiculous collection of eight ‘Fight Night' bonuses can attest to that.
The weird thing is, no one ever suspects it either. With teenage features and a Twitter account populated with video game references, it's easy to assume the kid from Massachusetts with the funny nickname is out of his league. But underneath Lauzon's affable demeanor lies a slumbering lion just waiting to be awoken, sometimes even to a fault.
"I catch a lot of crap sometimes about gassing and cardio and things like that," Lauzon said. "But I come out and I push hard. I can be in great shape, but when you push as hard as I push, it's tough to maintain that pace."
"On one hand I could ... be like everyone else and have great cardio and never finish fights, but I would rather push and try to finish people. And you know what, if I get tired because I was trying to finish guys? I can deal with that. I don't ever want to be a guy that never finishes anyone but is known for having great cardio."
The words are likely music to Dana White's ears, and with another decisive win it would be hard to deny Lauzon's credentials for title contention. But could history repeat itself? The 27-year-old is once again a significant long shot heading into Sunday's event, but at this point it would almost seem odd if he wasn't.
The real question is, will Anthony Pettis be able to succeed where so many others have failed?
"We're just going to put it on him. I'm sure his gameplan is going to be to kind of ride out the pressure, pace in the first, and then take it to me in the second. But," Lauzon finished matter-of-factly, "A lot of other guys have had that same gameplan and I've still overwhelmed them in the first."
"Like I said, it's easy to have great cardio when you're not really doing a whole lot of work."
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