Justin Lawrence had his eyes on the prize on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 15.
After upsetting experienced mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter James Krause to earn his way into the house, coach Dominick Cruz made him his No. 1 pick, stamping Lawrence instantly as a future prospect regardless of the show's outcome.
Lawrence ultimately did not win the tournament, but after a successful Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) debut, he dropped down a weight class in the hopes of going on a big run. Unfortunately for him, after dropping two straight fights to Max Holloway and Daniel Pineda, UFC cut Lawrence from the promotion.
Shortly thereafter, Lawrence rebounded by claiming a title in Resurrection Fighting Alliance (RFA).
Now firmly established at Featherweight, Lawrence is ready to go on a run in Bellator MMA, bringing a three-fight win streak into the promotion along with the knowledge that he's already held championship gold.
Lawrence recently spoke with MMAmania.com about his promotional debut at Bellator 138 against Sean Wilson this Friday night (June 19, 2015) in St. Louis, Missouri.
"I feel like I have grown leaps and bounds into becoming a better person and a better fighter. Training for five-round fights, defending five-round fights, that really makes you as a fighter. Dominick Cruz has really helped me because he basically lived his career off of five-round fights and defending his title in WEC and UFC."
In one fell swoop, Lawrence addressed both his past as the RFA Featherweight champion (which he vacated to go to Bellator) and his current home away from home, working with Cruz at Alliance MMA in southern California.
Lawrence goes even further, crediting Cruz for his career resurrection.
"I lost at UFC 150 ... I lost to Max Holloway. It was my first loss of my professional career. I took it pretty hard, I locked myself in my room for three to four days (and) didn't talk to nobody. I got this weird 619 number calling me. I didn't know who it was or what it was but I had a weird feeling so I ended up answering it. 'Justin?' I'm like 'Yeah - is this Dominick?' He's like 'This is Cruz! What are you doing?' 'I'm being a baby and crying in my room' and he was like 'You need to get out San Diego and join me!'"
Slowly but surely from that point forward things turned around for Lawrence, culminating in him winning his last three fights in a row, a win streak that started under the RFA umbrella in Des Moines, Iowa.
"I went to RFA, the first fight I had, I fought in the home guy's town. It was kind of one of the first times I ever got booed. 'Oh, okay that's kind of unusual! I've never been booed before.' But, it was awesome to go out and collect that win in his home town. He had a pretty good record, 7-1, 8-1, a four-fight win streak, but it was quite the experience."
Lawrence is all about the experience, whether it's fighting in the cage or doing extreme sports outside of it.
"I ride a lot of dirt bikes, and I play a lot of paintball. Those are the two things that I really, really splurge a little bit on and enjoy my time. Every time I'm back home, every Sunday or Saturday, I'm playing paintball or riding a dirt bike."
And speaking of "back home," the Bellator 138 card is a chance for Lawrence to come full circle, given he hails from Pacific, Mo., and had his first-ever professional fight on a Strikeforce card at Scottrade Center. He gets a lot of comp requests as a result.
"My dad owns a gym, 21st Century American Marital Arts, so I just tell 'em 'Hey go to my dad's gym, he'll hook you up.' So with all that, I just try to be nice and let everyone know that if you want tickets, go to my old man's spot. For the most part (though), I really try to just focus on me being in the best shape of my life, getting my game plan, and just go in there and executing it -- be the best Justin Lawrence come fight day."
Whether you love or hate the Bellator 138 main event between Kimbo Slice vs. Ken Shamrock, it's the kind of spectacle that will draw eyeballs. And Lawrence is thrilled to be part of a such a "super" Spike TV-televised card.
He's even got a main event prediction.
"It's a tough one, huh? It's hard to bet there, but I'm gonna have to go with Kimbo. He's got those hands, and it's just going to come down to whether or not he can stop that takedown."
Lawrence admits he's swimming upstream in a Bellator featherweight division where "the water runs deep," but he expects great things against Wilson this Friday night.
Listen to our full interview below and stay tuned to MMAMania.com for our ongoing coverage of Bellator 138.