The record books say Strikeforce prospect Lorenz Larkin is still undefeated. Except, he isn't really. Larkin's dance with perfection met a swift end last January, when former light heavyweight champion Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal manhandled the Californian for six straight minutes before nearly blasting a hole right through his face.
Of course, rather infamously, Lawal's positive drug test for the anabolic steroid Drostanolone wiped Larkin's loss off the books less than two weeks later. But for a man who had never faltered over an entire amateur boxing, mixed martial arts, and professional career, the bitterness of defeat was a hard taste to swallow.
"It sucked," Larkin says flatly.
"I couldn't do anything. He was just physically strong. I felt like a little kid in there. He was just physically stronger and he just totally out-powered me."
The feeling of helplessness may have been a new one for the 25-year-old, but it certainly wasn't his first brush with MMA's steroid scourge. Lawal was Larkin's second straight opponent to fail a post-fight drug test, after Nick Rossborough got popped for elevated testosterone levels back in September. Larkin handedly defeated Rossborough regardless, so the positive drug test was merely a footnote to his victory. Whereas, along with Lawal's implication, came a entirely separate round of skepticism and self-questioning.
"I don't mind losing to a guy who's better than me," says Larkin. "At the time, I gave him praise, I wasn't sour about it. But to find out two weeks later that he was getting steroids -- just like anybody, if it wasn't fighting and it was a basketball game and someone was using (PEDs) that was scoring all night -- you can't help but have those thoughts in your head. ‘Well, if he wasn't, would I have been able to fight off this takedown?'"
It's an uneasy spot for a fighter to be in. Fans have little tolerance for excuses, yet self-confidence is a fundamental trait needed to succeed in this profession. So given the situation, it's hard for Larkin to not think things would have gone differently on a level playing field.
"If it would've been like, weed, it'd been totally different," he carefully explains. "Or any type of drug use, not like a steroid, I'd feel different about it. Steroids, I've never done them, but I just know they can really boost your (abilities) up. I don't know, it's just kind of unfair."
Whether or not his loss counted, the grisly fight-ending sequence was still very real for Larkin. In an abrupt and semi-controversial finish, Lawal postured up and unloaded 17 unanswered shots to Larkin's downed skull, each landing with a progressively sickening thud. Lawal, and others, ripped referee Kim Winslow to shreds in the ensuing days, with Lawal deadpanning, "Let [Winslow] fight ‘Cyborg,' and let's do a late stoppage with her."
Yet, surprisingly, the even-keeled Larkin had no problem with the stoppage, and even appreciated Winslow presenting him an opportunity to escape.
"She did her job completely," Larkin assures.
"No matter what anybody says, I wasn't out there. Every punch that I was getting, I was getting hit and then a flash of light would come, and I would see him again getting ready to punch me. It wasn't like I was disorientated or didn't know where I was. After Winslow stopped the fight, I was like ‘I'm good. I know where I'm at. I know what month it is. I know who I'm fighting. I know that she stopped it.'
"I can't ask for anything better."
For Larkin's camp, the main positive to come out of January's roller-coaster is that it simply fast-tracked a decision many close to the fighter knew would inevitably arrive. Standing barely above 5'10" with a reach of just 71.5 inches, Larkin never quite seemed suited for light heavyweight. But when all you know is winning, it's hard to justify something as career-changing as a drop down in weight.
So he took a wait and see approach, vowing to consider the switch to 185 pounds if he ever felt overpowered by his own weight class. Now, it's no coincidence that Larkin will be making his middleweight debut against Robbie Lawler at Saturday's Strikeforce: Rockhold vs. Kennedy show.
"I had (a move to middleweight) in the back of my head, but I never wanted to do it," he admits. "But it was just getting to the point where, I was more comfortable earlier in my career with the 205 division, but when I got in the bigger levels like Strikeforce, every new opponent would get bigger and bigger.
"It's kind of like I had to have a perfect game to beat those guys," Larkin concludes.
By all accounts, the new weight is already doing wonders for the Riverside native. Larkin, who always carried thunder in his hands, now feels lighter and more dangerous on his feet than ever, and he promises to show something special against Lawler.
"Everything is starting to come into place naturally now," Larkin ominously vows. "All my coaches are happy with what I'm becoming.
"Everybody that I've been training with, they're telling me that it's a whole different me that they're seeing ... and I'm always trying to have the most exciting fight of the night."