UFC lightweight title contender and Bridgewater native Joe Lauzon does not rattle easily.
Just 11 days after an electrifying second-round armbar submission victory over Jeremy Stephens to headline SpikeTv’s Fight Night 17 on Feb. 7, Lauzon’s (18-4, 5 KOs, 13 subs) possible title hopes were put on hold when he suffered a torn ACL that forced him to undergo surgery.
But despite the major setback, the 25-year-old Lauzon’s blog of the devastating news was almost nonchalant:
“Well, it looks like I will be having ACL surgery next week.”
“I knew if I made it a big deal, then I’m going to have a miserable rehab,” Lauzon said in a recent interview. “In this sport, the injury is very common; it comes with the territory. Rather than have a terrible attitude about it, I was not going to get too down.”
Highlighting the commonality of knee injuries in mixed martial arts, Lauzon’s original Fight Night opponent Hermes Franca pulled out of the fight after sustaining a torn ACL of his own in training.
Exactly when Lauzon’s injury occurred remains unclear, but the fighter–who has had a history of knee problems–supposes it could have happened as early as the first round in his fight with Stephens.
“My knee didn’t feel good the week before the fight, then on the first takedown–I don’t know what happened,” Lauzon said. “When I had his back it felt weak; it didn’t feel right. After the fight, my leg was sore, but I didn’t train until eight days later because I had to get stitches. Then when I went to train, I was warming up, and two minutes into it I felt my knee lock.”
After an “excruciating” car trip to the hospital, Lauzon was thankfully rendered unconscious by anesthesia in order for the doctors to examine the extent of the injury.
“I talked to a lot of athletic trainers, and they all said the same thing,” Lauzon said. “It was probably during the fight. I’m just thankful it happened after the fight. If it happened the week before I would have been screwed.”
But Lauzon getting one last fight in before the injury notwithstanding, the whirlwind of standing victorious in the octagon to being reduced to a practical invalid was depressing, to say the least.
“I was on SpikeTv, ‘Mr. Pro Athlete,'” Lauzon said ironically. “And 11 days later I’m yelling because I got no water, no food. I had a cowbell I would ring for my mother or someone to get me something. I had a backpack, and I’d make a sandwich and put it in it so I’d have something to eat. After surgery, my leg was so weak that I couldn’t get my foot out from under the covers. It was tough; getting in and out of the shower, putting on socks–everything.”
“And I really felt bad for my guys,” Lauzon added. “I wanted to train with them after my fight, but I had to wait because of the stitches. Then when I got the stitches out, (the knee injury) happened. It’s just depressing; I wanted time to help out my other fighters.”
After much deliberation, Lauzon was convinced to go the cadaver route regarding surgery by UFC color commentator Joe Rogan.
“I wanted the strongest (procedure), forget about how tough the rehab,” Lauzon said. “But then I heard about cadaver surgery. It’s eight to 10 years old, so it’s newer. At first I wanted the hamstring surgery, but I asked around on MMA.com and Joe Rogan said he had both the cadaver and hamstring done, and said the cadaver was one thousand times better. He sold me on it.”
Lauzon decided to document his ordeal, which can be seen in–at times–agonizing detail on his Web site JoeLauzon.com. Doing so not only provides an informative record of his trials and tribulations, but also served to inform friends and fans alike in a uniform fashion.
After successful March 6th surgery repaired his meniscus and replaced his ACL, and a rigorous exercise program, Lauzon’s rehab is ahead of schedule. Lauzon began light training in April and plans to be back to hard training by September or October, with eyes on a return fight before the New Year.
“My knee’s healthy, it’s healed,” Lauzon said. “I’m bearing weight on it pretty good. I’ve been wrestling hard with people I trust. I’ve been grappling and boxing–but no kicks. And teaching, I can go through the motions and show (my students) things. My progress in three months has been absolutely perfect. I do as much as I can, and I keep in mind a fight around November may be possible.”
While the date of his next fight is still uncertain, Lauzon’s pro debut in January of 2004 was an example of things to come, as he prevailed via armbar, and quickly ran off eight consecutive victories over the course of the year. Every win came by submission, with five inside of the first round. Lauzon’s career suddenly hit a slump when he experimented with dropping down from 155 pounds to 145, and lost three of his next five bouts.
“I took some fights on short notice,” Lauzon said. “I took one fight on a Tuesday and flew in on Thursday. And at 145, the cardio wasn’t there. I was getting super gassed. I was so tired, even before the fights. That was the final nail in the coffin, and the end of my 145-pound career (laughs).”
Lauzon got himself back on track after winning three fights in one night and becoming crowned WFL Grand Prix champion. Then came his UFC debut against established veteran Jens Pulver: owner of an imposing 19-6-1 record, and one of the hardest left hands in the business. Pulver was the first ever UFC lightweight champion, and had never lost at 155 pounds in the UFC. He was also a huge favorite to defeat the relatively unknown Lauzon.
“Pulver is so good,” Lauzon said. “He’s fought a who’s who (in mixed martial arts). He’s basically like a lightweight Chuck Liddell. He has a good wrestling background, good hands; he has a brick in each hand. We go through hypothetical match-ups all the time, and before the fight someone asked me how would I fight Jens Pulver? And I said, ‘Run away.'”
But instead Lauzon ran to the gym to begin a grueling training camp. Because of Pulver’s professional boxing ability, Lauzon took “years of boxing training condensed into a couple months,” and the work paid off in the form of a stunning left hook knockout victory just 47 seconds into the bout.
“We never intended to knock him out,” Lauzon admitted. “We figured if I was going to beat him, it would be on the ground. It’s a huge win under my belt. I beat him, and I beat him at his own game. I shocked myself, I shocked my coaches, everybody.”
Lauzon received even greater exposure being featured on the fifth season of UFC’s popular reality show, “The Ultimate Fighter.” In a touch of irony, one of the team coaches for the season was Jens Pulver. Predictably, Lauzon was chosen instead by opposing coach B.J. Penn. After a pair of submission victories, Lauzon was defeated in the semifinals by Manny Gamburyan via unanimous decision.
Lauzon headlined UFC Fight Night 13 with Kenny Florian in what was seen as a Massachusetts showdown. The older and more experienced Florian won via second-round TKO, when Lauzon was unable to escape his mount. Although disappointed in the outcome, the fight earned “Fight of the Night” honors for Lauzon.
Lauzon quickly bounced back with a second-round TKO over Kyle Bradley on the undercard of UFC Fight Night 15, before headlining Fight Night 17 against Stephens, for which Lauzon was awarded “Submission of the Night” honors.
Now Lauzon is focused on training, and strengthening his knee back to 100 percent. He deems rumors of a possible UFC event to be held in Boston potentially coinciding with his comeback fight the “perfect” scenario. In the meantime, he continues to train with his team, including younger brother Dan, who is fighting on Affliction: Trilogy in Anaheim on Aug. 1, which will be headlined by arguably the greatest mixed martial artist of all time, Fedor Emelianenko. Dan is fresh off of an impressive first round submission victory on the Affliction: Day of Reckoning card held in January that also featured Fedor.
As for the elder Lauzon, he remains philosophical about his setback.
“It wasn’t like it was a freak injury,” Lauzon said. “I had a feeling it was going to happen at some fight. And it was an exciting, back and forth fight with a pretty dramatic finish. Like I always say, ‘You’re only as good as your last fight,’ and it was a good one. It would have really sucked if I blew my knee out after (a loss).”
Lauzon’s Web site bears the quote: “Champions are made in the off season.”
With the combination of his tireless work ethic, mental toughness and exceptional ability, Lauzon’s UFC comeback is sure to be as anticipated by fans as it will be feared by fellow fighters.