Truth be told, Joe Lauzon thought that his last fight might be his final fight.
The 35-year-old lightweight, who has racked up 15 post-fight bonuses during his UFC career, set foot into the Octagon to face Chris Gruetzemacher in April 2018 with the mindset that he probably needed to win to keep his career going.
Following two straight losses, including a shocking 67-second knockout suffered against Clay Guida in 2017, Lauzon felt like his back was against the wall, but he was also ultra-confident that he was more that skilled enough to get past Gruetzemacher.
Ten minutes later, Lauzon’s coaches were waving off the fight and asking for it to be stopped after he endured too much damage through the first two rounds.
“I didn’t do well,” Lauzon recounted when speaking to MMA Fighting ahead of his return at UFC on ESPN 6 this weekend. “The beginning of the round went well but then he hit me with a really good knee to the body and it just sapped everything out of me. I just didn’t recover. That sucked.
“My coaches stopped the fight between the second and third round, which was 100 percent the right decision. I was getting beat up. I had nothing left to offer. I wasn’t going to swing it back, I was just getting beat up at that point.”
The worst part about that loss was Lauzon truly believing that he had done everything possible to win only to have his hopes dashed with that crushing knee to the body that ultimately spelled his doom.
It was in the aftermath of that performance that Lauzon was forced to question if it might be time to hang up his gloves.
“I really felt like going into that last fight, I had a good camp but I got my butt kicked,” Lauzon said. “I felt like stylistically and skill-wise, I was much better than [Chris] Gruetzemacher and I’ve known for a long time, since my first fight in the UFC, I’ve been thinking about what am I going to do after [fighting]? How long am I going to fight for? I’ve never taken for granted like I’m going to keep fighting, keep fighting, keep fighting. It’s something I’ve always been conscious of and something I’ve always been thinking about.
“Going into the last fight just because we had a couple that didn’t go very well—we got knocked out by [Clay] Guida and he’s not knocked out anybody else I think but he hit me, perfect placement, perfect shot—so going into the last fight with Gruetzemacher, I was thinking is this the point? Is this the end? Am I going to get hit and go down? I didn’t really know. Going into the fight we had talked a lot about if this fight doesn’t go well, this is probably the last one.”
Obviously the fight didn’t go well, but even in the wake of that defeat, Lauzon didn’t want to make an emotional decision to call it a career just because he had suffered through a three-fight losing streak capped off by a pair of TKO defeats.
The key for him was taking the time off he needed to allow his mind and body to rest, which would then give him the opportunity to make an informed decision about whether or not he would fight again.
“Everyone just assumed ‘Joe’s retired.’ It wasn’t really the case,” Lauzon explained. “I hate when guys retire and then come back. I didn’t want to do that and I never said I was going to retire.
“That fight was in April  so I took some time, I had surgery on my knee last summer, I took some time to recoup and then started to train a little bit. Starting in November, I knew I wanted to fight again. I did not want that to be the last one.”
Beyond his own pride about not wanting to end his career on a loss like that, Lauzon also felt like he had more to offer the fight game than just taking his lumps and calling it quits because he had gone through a tough stretch.
Since that last fight ended, Lauzon has been spotted in the corners of numerous UFC fighters who have come up learning from him not only as a coach but also because he spends hours upon hours in the cage or on the mats training alongside those same athletes.
Those training sessions were really the key in Lauzon’s decision to keep going because he knew he could hang with the best fighters in the world. He just had to find a way to transition what he was doing in the gym back to the Octagon.
“I feel good. I don’t feel like I’m getting beat up ever in the gym and I have really, really good training partners,” Lauzon explained. “Guys who are black belts in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, I do really well against them. I smash them.
“I do really, really well. I feel really good. I’m leading the charge.”
While he’s been training for a fight for the past 11 months, Lauzon wasn’t rushing to get back into action because he really did want the necessary time to pass to allow his body to heal from a fight schedule that has seen him compete 26 times in the UFC since making his debut in 2006.
And as much as Lauzon enjoys the paychecks he receives from the UFC when he fights, he’s in a unique position where money doesn’t drive his decision making. Sadly, more than a few mixed martial artists have been almost forced back into action due to financial needs or simply because fighting is all they’ve ever known.
Lauzon has always fought for the right reasons and deciding to return for UFC on ESPN 6 was going to be no different.
“I feel like some guys rush in because they have to do it, financially they have to do it. They have no other choice,” Lauzon said. “My gym does well. I’m not making a killing but my gym does well. I’m not hurting in that regard but I don’t want to be done. It’s not that I need to fight.
“I enjoy fighting. I enjoy training. I enjoy getting better. I really, really like it. Given my head time off, I haven’t really been hit since April last year. It’s been good. I think sometimes a little bit of a break is good for your body and let your brain clear up. You get so stressed going from fight camp to fight camp.”
Outside the cage, Lauzon had a lot going on in his life that may have played a part in his physical and mental state heading into all three of his most recent losses but he doesn’t want to address it.
Not so much because he’s a private person who doesn’t want to air his issues publicly but rather he never wants to feel like he’s making excuses for a bad night at the office.
“I don’t like making excuses,” Lauzon said. “Fighters get hurt all the g*ddamn time. Almost every fight that I’ve had cardio issues, there was some kind of major injury in that camp but no one likes a complainer. So I keep my g*ddamn mouth shut and I don’t make an excuse.”
Now as he approaches his upcoming fight against Jonathan Pearce on Friday night in Boston, Lauzon is filled with excitement about getting the chance to compete again.
He’s not putting any requirements on this fight in regards to his future but Lauzon is smart enough to know what’s on the line this weekend.
“I’m just going to see how it goes,” Lauzon said honestly. “I’m not going to commit to this being my last one. Steve Maze, he’s my boxing coach, he wants this one to be last one. He’s pushing hard that this needs to be the last one.
“I understand you go back and look at my record, the last couple of years it’s not so good. But it’s not a lack of effort, it’s not a lack of trying. S*it just comes up. You’ve got to deal with stuff. I feel like I’ve cleared my plate. I feel really good. I’m in a good spot.”
If there was one more driving force behind Lauzon attempting to treat this fight like every other one on his resume, it’s because he’s witnessed the immense pressure athletes put on themselves following a rough stretch during a career.
Three losses in a row for a fighter in his mid-30s might spell retirement for some while a single win after a bad losing streak will trigger some veterans to suddenly believe they’ve found the fountain of youth.
Lauzon doesn’t want to go to the extreme in either case.
He’s just going to fight until he doesn’t feel like he should fight any longer and that’s when he will call it a career.
“It’s the trap that every fighter falls into. They lose a couple fights and they’re not doing so great, they win one fight and they’re ‘I’m back!’ That’s not me. That’s not what I’m thinking,” Lauzon said.
“I don’t know that this is the last one but I’m not saying I’m in for three more. I’m just saying I don’t know. I want to see how this fight goes. I was really unhappy with how that last fight went. Even if I went and fought in Boston and it was my last fight, win or lose, as long as it wasn’t as bad as that last one, I don’t think it would bother me that much.”