Joe Lauzon is the UFC 155 'Fighter to Watch' in Las Vegas

Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC

Recently, Joe Lauzon has begun to make noticeable improvements to his overall mixed martial arts (MMA) game, showing off impressive skills in wins over Curt Warburton, Melvin Guillard and Jamie Varner. And with a win over Jim Miller at UFC 155 in Las Vegas this weekend (Dec. 29, 2012), Lauzon may be knocking on the door of title contention in the lightweight division to start 2013.

Throughout his mixed martial arts (MMA) career, Joe Lauzon has made his mark as a hard worker with tenacious submission abilities. He has experienced the highs and lows of the lightweight division, and with the recent improvements he's clearly made, Lauzon may be on his way to really making a mark in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) 155-pound top contender "mix."

When he first burst onto the scene, Lauzon was meant to be sacrificial offering to Jens Pulver, who at that time was thought to be a premier lightweight fighter. However, 48 seconds into the fight, Lauzon's fortune was forever changed, as he put away the former champion with a big punch very early.

He followed this up with a stint on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 5, a talent-rich season that produced names like Nate Diaz and Gray Maynard. Under the tutelage of B.J. Penn, Lauzon made it up to the semifinals, unfortunately dropping a unanimous decision to Manny Gamburyan.

In the Finale, Lauzon defeated Brandon Melendez by triangle choke in the second round to register his second UFC win.

Since TUF, Lauzon has made his name as a very dangerous middle of the pack lightweight fighter. He had an apparent tendency to choke in bigger fights, as evidenced by his losses to Kenny Florian and George Sotiropoulos, both fights where Lauzon quickly faded after the first round.

The pressure of big fights wasn't all that plagued him, though. Lauzon had always been a first round fighter, bringing forward a strong effort early, but fading off quickly as the fight progressed. In the first round, he was about as dangerous as any lightweight fighter, but if the fight reached the late second or third round, he was simply not the same.

Despite amazing success in his first two wins of 2011, there was no evidence of improvement in this regard. His wins over Curt Warburton and Melvin Guillard were indicative of his regular first round rush, but never tested him past the first round. Similarly, his loss to Anthony Pettis couldn't be held against him for this reason because the loss came in the first round of their fight.

When he faced off with Jamie Varner at UFC on FOX 4, Lauzon finally dispelled the idea of his bad cardio. He went toe-to-toe with "C-4," showing significant improvement standing, as well as on the ground, putting on a great fight for almost three full rounds. When a submission opportunity showed itself in the third round, Lauzon jumped on it just as he would've in the first round, finishing Varner in a gutty performance that earned he and his opponent a nice "Fight of the Night" bonus.

As Lauzon faces off with Jim Miller at UFC 155, he'll have to be on top of his game in all regards. This will be the co-main event of the show, and he'll be in another high profile fight, which will be something interesting to see him take on again. It is also very unlikely that he can stop Miller in the first round, which will test his cardio against a very skilled opponent.

If he can keep his cool and do well past the first round, however, Lauzon may be looking at a convincing victory over a very tough opponent. With a win over Miller, Lauzon would put himself into the top of the division, possibly knocking on the door of a lightweight title shot, and finally breaking the mold of being lightweight's most dangerous middle- to high-tier talent.

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