Bellator 145: "Vengeance" takes place this Friday night (Nov. 6, 2015) inside Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Missouri. The five-fight Spike TV-televised main card will feature three grudge matches and two world title defenses.
One match that doesn't fit into either of those categories is Justin Lawrence vs. Emmanuel Sanchez; nonetheless, it's a critical Featherweight showdown worthy of the Spike TV treatment.
Lawrence was supposed to battle Pat Curran in the featured Featherweight fight, but when "Paddy Mike" had to withdraw with an injury, Sanchez stepped up on short notice, having just beat Henry Corrales at Bellator 143.
Meanwhile, Lawrence returns to the venue where he made a successful Bellator debut, needing just one round to finish veteran fighter Sean Wilson. The Pacific, Mo., native received a rousing ovation in St. Louis for the finish.
Lawrence spoke with MMAmania.com before his Bellator MMA debut (read it here), and he is back today to talk to us again about moving up from the undercard to the main card and how he plans to handle Sanchez.
"I feel like it's a really big test. I feel like he is about my age, young and hungry just like me, but he hasn't been doing this his entire life. I've been doing this since I could walk. I didn't just graduate high school or graduate college and decide to become a MMA fighter. I was put on this planet to fight, you know what I'm saying? That's the difference."
The change of opponent from a former champion like Curran to an up-and-coming fighter like Sanchez could have disrupted some training camps, but Lawrence says it didn't change his preparation at all.
"I had everything to gain fighting a guy like Pat. Stylistically (though) they're both good strikers, they're both well rounded so, training didn't really change a whole lot for me ... just the name."
No matter the name it's another big opportunity for Lawrence, who has to impress the same hometown fans who saw him get a late finish in the first round last time. He didn't realize at the time just how close that finish was.
"Totally in the zone man. It was literally like two seconds left. I had no idea, I just wanted to get the fight over with, and I did ... luckily. I was definitely in the zone and I had no idea where I was at. It was just straight tunnel vision."
Lawrence would love to get another finish like that at Scottrade Center, but he doesn't discount the skills Sanchez brings to the table, including picking up 45 percent of his wins (five out of 11) by submission.
"I feel like his submissions are there, but I think he's good everywhere. He's not great, but he's good everywhere, you know what I'm saying? I feel like his striking's good, it can't be overlooked. His wrestling is gonna be there it can't be overlooked -- and his ground game's gonna' be there. You've gotta be able to put me in those bad positions (though) and Emmanuel Sanchez, he's not going to put me in a bad position and he's not the one that's gonna' hold me back from holding the world title -- I promise you that."
Speaking of that world title, "Pitbull" Patricio Freire defends the Featherweight title later that evening, going against Daniel Straus for a third time. I asked Lawrence to give me his breakdown of the main event.
"I feel like Straus is gonna come through this time, third time's the charm. I feel like Straus, to be honest with you, is the more dangerous of the two. For me if I were to fight, Pitbull is a smaller 145-pounder, I'm a much bigger 145-pounder, and that's where the fighting is evolving -- how big can you be at your weight class? I feel like Daniel Straus is very big, very athletic, and poses more of a threat."
Lawrence is aware that you can push it too far in trying to be a huge size in a small weight class. He says every fighter needs to take their diet and their discipline seriously, using sports cars as an analogy.
"This isn't a hobby, this is a lifestyle. When I see a guy who gets that heavy out of camp, when they don't have a fight, that's your own stupidity and that's your own fault, and you're going to have to suffer for it. You have to watch what you eat, day in and day out. If you want to go in there and perform at your very best, you gotta be eating clean. If you've got a Ferrari, you're not going to be putting unleaded gas in it."
Lawrence takes every part of the fight game serious. And he hopes that Sanchez is just as serious this Friday night.
"It's going to be a scrap. No one's going to be looking at each other. It's going to be hands and feet flying, fireworks."
Complete audio of our interview is below and complete Bellator MMA coverage can be found right here on fight night.