Mixed martial arts (MMA) judges have increasingly come under the spotlight in recent months after a series of bizarre decisions, but Tom Lawlor's loss to Francis Carmont still stands out. When a Canadian fighter who lives and trains in the area wins and the Montreal crowd still boos at the end, you know something's not right.
In the past, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has paid out win bonuses to the losing fighter under these circumstances, for instance when Riki Fukuda 'lost' to Nick Ring at UFC 127, but for Lawlor, neither cash nor sympathy was forthcoming as promotion president Dana White tweeted the following response to fans complaining on Twitter about the decision:
Who cares? Both guys lost.
It was the second time that Lawlor had found himself on the wrong end of a controversial split decision defeat but, while the loss to Aaron Simpson earned him a 'fight of the night' bonus, this time there was no such consolation prize with White's disparaging tweet ringing in his ears long after the boos of the Canadian crowd had died down.
Lawlor feels he did enough to win the decision but also feels that his opponent's spoiling tactics contributed to making it such a forgettable fight.
"I think some of the crowd were booing, the fight was pretty boring and I feel like I was the only one of two guys trying to fight and it's kind of tough to be in a situation where one guy defends the whole time, doesn’t attempt any offense and is able to squeak out a decision victory. I’m not saying it was the worst decision I’ve ever seen, I’ve seen worse, but I am a little disenfranchised with the judging and the way scoring is."
Despite being 'disenfranchised' with the MMA scoring system, Lawlor is still looking to get back inside the cage as soon as possible and plans to refine his tactics to try to first win, and second, be a bit more fan friendly in the process.
"I have to go back the drawing board a little bit and maybe formulate an entirely different game plan for fighting from now on. In retrospect, it's easy to go back and say, ‘I should have done this, I should have done that,’ but in my head, I feel like if I'm going to lose by split decision and people are going to say it was contentious, I may as well just put my hands down and run at the guy and see what happens. I obviously thought I was winning the fight, otherwise I would have gone crazy in the last round but I guess I will try and make some changes and hopefully come out on top."
Lawlor's UFC record currently stands at 4-4 leaving him in danger of being cut from the roster after five years of being under the Zuffa banner, starting with a spot on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 8 and eventually earning an actual contract. Two of his four losses were split decisions which could, and many feel should, have gone in his favor and he admits it's difficult not to reflect on what might have been.
"I'm in a situation where a lot of people think I should be 6-2 in the UFC and I’m stuck at 4-4, or .500, it doesn’t look as good. I’ve managed to squeak out some bonuses at shows so financially I've done okay and if I look at the overall picture, I guess I can't be upset with my career at this point, but if you look at my record I've got an 8-5 record, 4-4 in the UFC. It's not a stellar record to have and that eats at me a little bit."
Part of the problem for Lawlor, at least in terms of his record, is that when he got into the TUF house he had only six fights under his belt, all of which had finishes in the first round. He's had to learn 'on the job' under the intense UFC spotlight.
"Because I have less fights than a lot of guys in the UFC so from the outside looking in you think ‘He's got an 8-5 record why's he in the UFC?’ I wish I had the chance to pad my record before getting in the UFC because it would have allowed me a bit more leeway, but over half my fights have been in the UFC so every time I fight it's like a trial by fire."
Lawlor, who has a reputation for lightheartedness, is still able to see the funny side of his situation.
"I guess I am making up for the lack of cage time by having boring 15 minute fights like my last one! I should use that as my excuse, I’m trying to get more cage time!"
Last month, he was in Singapore helping light heavyweight Jake Butler (pictured with Lawlor) prepare for his professional MMA debut and, predominantly a wrestler, Lawlor says he took some time to work on his Muay Thai.
"There's not a lot of larger guys in Singapore for Jake to train with so I came out to Evolve MMA to help a little bit and to get some training in myself. A lot of the trainers at Evolve are straight from Thailand and you don’t have as many guys from Thailand in the U.S. so you get a different look at some of the training."
This proved something of a culture shock for Lawlor who found that the style of training was a little bit different from what he is used to getting put through back home.
"They start off the Muay Thai sessions with a long run and then jump rope, a lot of conditioning at the beginning and then do bag work for an hour and padwork for an hour so it was tough at first, they push a very high pace and it took a little bit of time getting accustomed to it. As far as the MMA stuff goes, Heath (Sims) has been one of the top trainers in the U.S. for a long time and I always pick up stuff from him."
Lawlor was born and raised in Massachusetts and has spent his entire career competing in the U.S. and Canada and admits to being surprised to find such a sophisticated level of MMA training in a region where the UFC has yet to gain the same sort of foothold as it has in the west.
"Singapore is not like the U.S. market where the UFC is being pushed nonstop and to see such a collection of talent in one place was kind of impressive. I can't say enough good things about my experience there. I did a little bit of work on my Muay Thai and I can now kick at about a waist level, I got up from the shin to the waist! I am sure that I threw at least one head kick, but people are saying I didn’t, it’s a point of contention!"
Butler won his fight by beating Indonesian Antoni Romulo in the opening round at ONE FC: 'Kings and Champions,' so Lawlor can reflect on a productive trip, his only regret is that he did not try to fit in the start of an actual fight camp.
"I asked Joe Silva for a little bit of time after I get back from Singapore because when you are travelling overseas you don’t really know the training situation is. Now I kind of wish I would have said ‘Hey, book me as soon as you can,’ because the training was really good and I’d be happy starting a fight camp at Evolve."
Lawlor might not be back inside the Octagon for a few months but he is under no illusions as to just how significant his next fight will be and knows that, regardless of the opponent, he will be fighting for his UFC future.
"I've been in this situation before, twice coming off a loss and feeling like if I lose again, I'm going to get cut and I'm pretty sure that’s the situation. Both of those times I was able to pull through and get decent wins. I got a win over Patrick Cote and I got a win over Jason McDonald so I kind of feel like when my back's against the wall I do well but for sure it is definitely in my mind that my next fight is do or die."