What a difference massive nationwide exposure on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) can make in the life of a mixed martial arts fighter ... just ask season five alum, Joe Lauzon.
"It was ridiculous," Lauzon explains about the difference before and after the Spike TV reality-based fight program. "You’ll be going out and just get stopped by random people who say, 'I watch you fight and I saw you fight.' It’s just kind of weird. It’s kind of unreal."
Lauzon is used to the real world -- he is self-proclaimed computer geek who was working full-time as a network administrator prior to his Octagon debut against Jens Pulver at UFC 63: "Hughes vs. Penn 2" back in 2006.
The Wentworth Institute of Technology graduate from Brockton, Mass., was supposed to serve as a sacrificial lamb for the former lightweight champion. "Lil Evil" was supposed to challenge for the 155-pound title, which the promotion recently resurrected after it was dissolved in 2002.
Lauzon apparently didn't get the memo, drilling Pulver in the first round with a punch that basically ended the fight. Life as he knew it would never be the same.
"I had just started a full time job," Lauzon explained. "I’d only been training for like two years ... but I was training all the time. I was very ready to fight Pulver. I was doing all the motions. "
He had the option after surprise win, which was one of the biggest upsets at the time in the history of the sport, to either continue competing in the UFC or become a TUF contestant. He chose the show and was among the early favorites to win the 16-man tournament-style series.
Lauzon was selected by coach BJ Penn to compete on the blue team against Pulver's yellow-colored squad. And it appeared that he was on the road to the finals before being overwhelmed by the takedowns and wrestling of Manny Gamburyan in the semifinals.
It was a bitter pill to swallow. But sometimes in defeat fighters learn more about themselves than in victory. Lauzon certainly used the loss to his advantage.
"After I came off the Ultimate Fighter reality show I went back to work for a little bit," he explained. "But I just couldn’t take it. I was training twice a day on the Ultimate Fighter reality show and it was driving me nuts not to be able to go to boxing or be unable to train in the morning. The fact that I had to go into work first and then I could train after. I just couldn’t take it. I couldn’t handle it. It was like, I’d be sitting there: Oh this is a waste of time. It sucks. I want to fight. This is what I should be doing. I don’t want to slip behind. I quit my job and have been at full-time ever since."
It appeared to be the wise move -- Lauzon was enjoying a six-fight win streak (three inside the Octagon). But, of course, in the UFC no good deeds go unpunished, Accordingly, the promotion rewarded Lauzon with a fight against perennial top division contender Kenny Florian in the main event of UFC Fight Night 13 in April 2008.
Unfortunately, the fight did not go according to plan. In fact, when we asked him about it, he revealed that nothing really went right that night in Broomfield.
"Kenny is good," he said. "He beat me up pretty good. I thought I was going to win that fight. I thought I had the first round. I thought it was really close. I don’t know if it was nerves that got to me. Maybe altitude played a role in it. There was a whole mess of things that went wrong. I get fouled, the ref takes away my take down and I don’t understand why. I’m not going to hype up, 'Oh I want to fight him again,' but I wouldn’t mind it at all."
He'll have to wait -- Florian is expected to challenge for the lightweight title once again after going on to defeat Roger Huerta and Joe Stevenson after besting Lauzon. In the meantime, he'll have to settle for another former number one contender Hermes Franca.
The two aggressive fighters are slated to headline UFC Fight Night 17 in Tampa, Fla., on February 7. It's another opportunity for him to shine and leap to the next level, but Lauzon knows that it won't be easy.
"It’s a huge fight -- Hermes is super dangerous," Lauzon remarked. "He plays possum pretty much the entire fight. He pretty much just sits back and lets you do your thing then he comes with a vicious overhand or a ridiculous arm lock. He has always got cardio through the whole fight. He is dangerous."
He knows he needs to be at the top of his game and prepared 100 percent to knock off the feisty Brazilian.
"I’m working with guys who are heavier than me, who have that style, but can explode and stuff," he said about he pre-fight training. "Lots of boxing, trying to deal with the different combinations that he is going to throw, that he is going to come with. I’m trying to make sure my defense is good. I don’t want to get hit with any of those crazy bombs."
Bombs indeed -- Franca has demonstrated his punching power, which is somehow overlooked because of his jiu-jitsu prowess. But as Spencer Fisher, Ryan Schultz and even Gabe Ruediger could attest, Franca hits hard. He's without a doubt one of the most well-rounded and experienced fighters in the division.
Lauzon, however, is no slouch himself.
"I’m dangerous everywhere," he said. "I think I’m pretty unpredictable. I think I do quite a few different things well. I think I adapt very, very well. There has been certain times where I have done something in a fight or a grappling tournament that I have never done in training -- never -- and I’ve gotten a win with it. So it’s dangerous when you are fighting somebody like that. I think I’m a lot bigger than him. I’ve got a reach on him. I think there will be a pretty noticeable size difference and that is tough, too."
If his record is any indication, than Lauzon is right on the money. He has never gone the distance in 21 professional bouts win or lose. He either finishes or gets finished. It's that "balls to the wall" mentality that more than likely is the reason he is featured in high profile bouts.
February 7 will be no different.
"I really like to get in and get out," he explained. "I like to be the aggressor. I like to push the pace. I want to have an exciting fight. I don’t like putting things in the judge’s hands. I like to go out and push the pace. I’d rather lose, if the other guy is better, rather than try to squeak out a decision."
Spoken like a true engineer.