The sport of mixed martial arts is filled with stories of Spartan dedication to training and the sacrifices necessary to compete at the highest level of the sport. Everything from diet to being away from family for weeks at a time to staying away from Starcraft II…
Yes, in preparation for his UFC 118 bout against Gabe Ruediger, lightweight up and comer Joe Lauzon has left the Terrans and Zerg to the side to dedicate himself 100 percent to the cause of adding another win to his 17-5 pro record.
“As far as I’m concerned, the game doesn’t come out until the next day (after the fight),” he laughs. “It would be bad. If I got into Starcraft the way I used to be, life would cease to exist outside of that game. I don’t trust myself.”
If you’ve never played the original Starcraft, this whole thing is probably flying right over your head, but for those of us who have been taken in by the real-time strategy juggernaut, it’s easy to see how a fighter looking for a little leisure time in between practice sessions could tend to miss one or two or ten of those sessions while trapped behind a keyboard. Lauzon knows this all too well; in fact, it was his Starcraft obsession that inadvertently led him to MMA.
“When I was in high school, I was really into computers, and I played Starcraft to death,” he said. “I would get home at 2pm and play until 4 o’clock in the morning, go to sleep for an hour and a half, two hours, then go to school and basically be a zombie throughout school, and then go do it again.”
“I used to play tons and tons and tons of Starcraft, and I realized that my eyesight was getting terrible because I was on the computer so much, and I was wasting so many hours a day that I had to get out and start doing something constructive, and that’s how I got into training,” he continues. “I started doing jiu-jitsu and things like that.”
And while South Korea is still obsessed with the multiplayer version of the original 1998 game to the tune of it being dubbed the country’s “national sport” by CNN, Lauzon’s obsession switched to combat sports, and by 2004 he was kicking off a pro career that has seen him knock out a legend (Jens Pulver), compete on a reality show (The Ultimate Fighter), and score five wins in the premier MMA organization on the planet (the UFC).
Not bad for the former Starcraft junkie, but when the sequel was announced, Lauzon was so amped up that he posted the pre-order email he received from Amazon.com on his Twitter page. Yet when July 27th rolled around, there were no packages on his doorstep, no twitchy trigger finger. Joe Lauzon had a fight, and he was going to get ready for it with no distractions. Now say what you will, but that’s discipline.
“Everyone sees the food and the diet and all that kinda stuff, but it’s little stuff like that,” he said, and he’s right. Also, at this pivotal point in his career, any edge you can take is a welcome one, and he feels like he’s got all guns blazing after a nearly eight month long break that really wasn’t much of one.
“I fought January 2nd and within two weeks I was out there in Hawaii with BJ (Penn),” said the 26-year old. “I didn’t waste any time at all. I went out there, trained with him a little bit and got right back at it. And I’ve been training really hard since then. It’s been a long fight camp and I wanted to get back in there right away, but I really wanted to fight in Boston. I thought about trying to fight in March or April and fight again in August, but I think it would have been too close and I didn’t want to put that in jeopardy because fighting in Boston is something I’ve been looking forward to for such a long time. It was better off for me to sit on it a little bit and it also gave me a really long camp to get myself back up where I wanted to be.”
Following a knee injury that kept him on the shelf for nearly a year, Lauzon didn’t come back to the Octagon with a cupcake in the opposite corner. Instead, it was hard-nosed Canadian Sam Stout, who survived some rough early moments to pound out a three round unanimous decision. But despite being what he described as a “six or a seven, where I needed to be a 10,” it looked like he was going to finish things off early.
“I trained really hard and I thought I was in better shape than I was,” he said. “But the fight started exactly as I thought it was gonna. I took him down, I hit him and cut him with an elbow and I started working for a submission. In my eyes, it was exactly the way I saw it in my dreams before the fight and that was the end of the fight. I get the kimura, he taps out, fight’s over, I bounce back after a bad injury and come back with a good win, but Sam Stout had other plans.”
“I think I took for granted a little bit what was going on. It was almost like once I had him down and started to go for the kimura, the fight was already over. It was just a formality of finishing the kimura. And then when I didn’t finish it and he got back up, I was like ‘oh boy.’ It wasn’t where I wanted to be. And once the fight kept going, it wasn’t like I was so devastated that I gave up on the fight or anything like that, but it definitely took the wind out of my sails. Before I was in the UFC, I fought (former WEC champion) Mike Brown on a local show and I was losing. He was controlling the pace the entire time, for two and a half rounds, and then I hit a kimura sweep and I took his back and choked him out. So if you have good jiu-jitsu, you’re always in the fight, and the fight is never over. And that’s what I told myself, that if I keep pressing, it would create an opening. I felt like he wasn’t gonna hurt me or knock me out, but I couldn’t keep up with him. The leg kicks were adding up, the body shots were adding up, and I just had a tough, tough time.”
Yet despite the loss, Lauzon had no excuses, only praise for his foe, and he still impressed with a never say die attitude that kept him pressing the action from start to finish.
“It’s all about your perspective,” he said. “You could either be glass half-full or glass half-empty. You could think, ‘I’m losing, get me out of here,’ or you could think ‘I’ve still got 20 seconds, I can still pull off a submission.’ And for me, I don’t need a lot of time. A lot of my fights have ended quickly and it’s only a small window of time and opportunity you need to win a fight with a submission or knockout, and I’m in there for 15 minutes and I’m there to fight until the very last bell.”
And with his extended camp, Lauzon’s outlook has been better than ever, but there was still another wrench to be thrown into the works, and that took place when his original opponent, six-foot-one British prospect Terry Etim, was removed from the bout due to injury. Stepping in was the five-foot-ten Ruediger, Lauzon’s teammate on season five of The Ultimate Fighter. No worries, says Lauzon.
“It’s weird. We’re going to do exactly the same stuff, but we’re not gonna do it exactly the same way,” he said. “I feel like Gabe has better jiu-jitsu, but Terry had more dangerous jiu-jitsu just because his standup presented more issues. With Gabe, it’s not that he’s nothing special, but there’s nothing freaky about him. But with Terry, he’s a standup guy, but as soon as you try to take him down, you’re going into the bread and butter of his submission game – his D’arce chokes, his guillotines, and it’s just a super dangerous fight. He’s not easy, he’s not conventional, it’s tough to get training partners, and there’s a lot of difficulty there. Whereas Gabe, it isn’t as dangerous, I don’t feel, but he’s still tough.”
Ruediger also brings in a six fight winning streak and a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, making him a stern test for Lauzon, but Bridgewater’s “J-Lau” is also well aware that as far as the fans are concerned, Ruediger is still “that guy” from TUF who couldn’t make weight on the show.
“I know that Gabe’s got good jiu-jitsu, I know that Gabe is good at certain things, but everyone’s just gonna say, ‘oh, he’s the fat guy from The Ultimate Fighter who couldn’t make weight, he’s so lazy, he sucks, he’s this, he’s that,’” said Lauzon. “But Gabe’s good. He wasn’t cast in the best light (on the show), and he wasn’t cast in the best light for his own actions, and I still think the show was accurate, but at the same time, he’s still got good jiu-jitsu and he’s got the skillset to end a fight quick. I know a lot of things have changed, and I just can’t compare me today against him three years ago, but I think that I’m definitely gonna be very well prepared for anything Gabe has.”
And he’s going to do it in Boston, a hop, skip, and a jump away from home, and a place where he will unquestionably be the crowd favorite. It’s the perfect scenario for Lauzon – fighting at home, friends and family in the crowd, sleeping in your own bed, and the best part of it all…he knows where the Best Buy is in town to pick up his Starcraft II on Sunday.
That may be better than a Fight of the Night bonus, right?
“Well, let’s not get crazy,” he laughs, “but it’s close.”