The story was set to ‘legendary’ status as soon as Joe Lauzon declared that at one time as a teenager, he was the King of the Neighborhood. But then it just got better.
“At the time, professional wrestling was really big,” said the Massachusetts native by way of explanation for his coronation. Then he pauses, maybe for dramatic effect, or maybe just to fill in the mental picture. “And I had a trampoline.”
What’s more legendary than legendary when it comes to a pro fighter’s origin story? This is probably it, but as Lauzon – who opens up this Saturday’s UFC on FOX main card with a bout against Jamie Varner – picks up the story, there is a method to this seeming madness that makes you sympathize with Mr. and Mrs Lauzon.
“We would end up on the trampoline murdering each other, like power bombs and choke slams and all that kinda stuff,” laughed Lauzon, who earned King status because as the bouts turned into real grappling matches, his cousin (who had some submission grappling experience) gave him some helpful hints in the art that allowed him to choke his buddies out.
“I kept that to myself, and I just kept getting everybody’s back and choking people out,” he recalled.
At around the same time, Lauzon’s high school was rewarded for a positive showing on the MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) tests with two days of assemblies that involved everything from concerts to demonstrations. One demo mixed karate and jiu-jitsu, and leading things was a United States Marine Corps veteran, karate black belt and Jiu-Jitsu purple belt, Joe Pomfret.
The light bulb went on in the teenage Lauzon’s head.
“That’s what we’ve been trying to do on the trampoline,” he told his group of friends, which included brothers Chris and Jay Palmquist and Chris “Biggie” Richard. “If we sign up, we’ll rule the neighborhood.”
The only problem was that the King wasn’t old enough to drive by himself to the gym. His buddies were.
“They all signed up and started doing jiu-jitsu,” said Lauzon, 16 at the time and unable to drive alone until he turned 16 ½. “I’m getting triangle choked, I’m getting armlocked, all these things are happening to me. This has gotta change.”
A month later it did, and the lanky future IT professional walked into Pomfret’s gym.
“He was just really special from the first day,” said Pomfret of Lauzon. “He almost caught me in a leg lock his very first night just because he saw it on TV once. And I was a purple belt. The kid walks in off the street and almost taps me out. He’s a special kid.”
“Jiu-Jitsu always clicked with me,” said Lauzon, whose field of play moved from the trampoline to the gym. He became a quick study in jiu-jitsu, and he fell in love with it. Along the way, Pomfret became a coach, mentor, and someone who would remain in his corner to this day, through seemingly endless grappling tournaments and 28 pro mixed martial arts fights.
“I’m super close to my dad and I always talk about how great my dad is, but Joe is like a second dad to me,” said Lauzon. “I was in the gym all the time. Me and Jay Palmquist would be the first ones in the gym, we’d be the last ones to leave when they kicked us out, and I’d see Joe Pomfret probably more than I’d see my parents. I’m super close to Joe. We’d butt heads here and there, but he’s been such a huge part of everything I’ve done training wise and he’s got such amazing insight right before fights. He knows me so well and knows exactly what’s going on in my head.”
Perhaps the most amazing part of the relationship between the two Joes is that Pomfret raised Lauzon in a fighting sense from the cradle to the pinnacle of the sport in the UFC. And in a region that has only started to get the respect it’s deserved in the last six, seven years for the fighters it’s producing, Pomfret has sent Lauzon, his brother Dan Lauzon, and recent TUF competitor Joe Proctor to the UFC, with TUF alumnus Chuck O’Neil also getting his start in the Bridgewater gym, now known as Lauzon MMA. Is there a secret to their success? Pomfret thinks there is.
“In our gym, we work hard, but there are a lot of people out there that work hard,” he said. “I think you gotta work hard, but you gotta work hard in the right way. You gotta work hard and you gotta work smart. And we never turn down an opportunity to learn ourselves and learn from somebody else – ever. We had a kid in the gym who’s in the Olympics (Team USA judo team member Travis Stevens) and I picked his brain clean as much as I could. We have a philosophy in our school that whoever comes in that gym, we commit ourselves to them, and the secret is, the faster we get you better, the faster you make me better. And that’s the key. I’m not gonna withhold any secrets from you, and I’m not going to blow you off because you’re not one of the fighters.”
“Joe Proctor walked in off the street as a construction guy who just wanted to do some jiu-jitsu because his friend said it would be cool to check it out,” Pomfret continues. “Six years later, look at him. He started at ground zero. If there’s one thing I can say about me and Joe’s school is that we produce good fighters from ground zero. It’s not like we take good guys and then put our stamp on them and say ‘hey, this guy’s from us.’ We committed ourselves from the beginning, and we cherish everybody. Anybody that’s willing to learn, anybody that cares, anybody that wants to be a good student and a good listener and a respectful training partner, we’re gonna give you our one hundred percent. And people love it and respond to it.”
None more than Lauzon, who, with his degree in Computer Science, former day job in tech support, and unofficial title as the Godfather of MMA Social Networking, is far from the stereotypical fighter. But he is a fighter, one of the top lightweights in the game, and a bonus-gobbling machine who has nine post-fight awards in 12 UFC bouts. He does give a different look to things though, especially since combat sports have historically been the home for those looking for a way out of a bad economic situation.
“I think it’s great for the sport where there’s a young man like Joe,” said Pomfret. “He’s college educated, his expertise in computers has obviously been well-documented, he’s well-mannered, well-principled, doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, and he makes us all look bad. (Laughs) It’s just great for the sport. He’s not the only one out there like that in the sport, but we could use a lot more of him. MMA, like boxing, is really a way for some youngsters out there to change their life for the better, and a lot have. There are a lot of young men, and now young women, who come from a difficult background and don’t really have any other option but to fight their way to a financially secure life. Joe didn’t have to do it that way. Why did he do it that way instead of going the 9 to 5 route? I don’t know. I think we all wish we had that kind of ability, because he has a pretty cool lifestyle where he doesn’t have to go in and punch the clock. He’s doing it his way and it’s pretty cool to see.”
This Saturday, Lauzon returns against Varner in his first fight since a February knockout loss to Anthony Pettis that snapped a two fight winning streak. If you’re judging the fight based on momentum, Varner certainly has that on his side after three straight wins that include an upset knockout of previously unbeaten Edson Barboza in May that marked the former WEC lightweight champion’s triumphant return to the Octagon. Ask Lauzon about the benefit of having that full head of positive steam on your side heading into a fight, and he can see the benefits, but he also notes that coming off a loss can light a pretty hot fire in your belly as well.
“I think momentum definitely has an influence on your attitude in training and things like that, but sometimes it’s better when you get someone kicking you in the butt every time, telling you to go train because you got kicked in the face last time,” said the 28-year old, whose bout against Pettis ended via head kick. “So it depends on how you want to look at it. I had great momentum after I beat (Curt) Warburton and Melvin (Guillard), and then I got my loss. So for me, I’ve never lost two fights in a row, so whenever I lose, it’s like the old quote, ‘I like winning, but I hate losing.’ That is very, very true. You’re only as good as your last fight, and you can have ten great fights, but if you have one bad fight, that’s the one people are gonna remember. I’m coming off a loss, and I feel like that’s when I perform my best.”
His personal history has proved it, and while Lauzon is putting in the hours in the gym to prepare for the bout, Pomfret is doing the same thing for his prized pupil. It’s been a long time since the trampoline days, but you get the idea that no matter where Lauzon’s career goes, he’ll have a loyal hand on his shoulder the entire way.
A Tale of Two Extraordinary Joes
"I’ve never lost two fights in a row, so whenever I lose, it’s like the old quote, ‘I like winning, but I hate losing.'" - Joe Lauzon