Bellator 157: "Dynamite 2" comes to Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Mo., this Friday night (June 24, 2016), featuring a 215-pound Catchweight main event between Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Satoshi Ishii.
Earlier in the night, in a fight that will headline the Spike.com "Prelims" undercard, two Featherweight fighters with huge upsides will collide in "The American Kidd" Justin Lawrence and Isao Kobayashi. Each man has something to prove after recent losses in the Bellator cage. Kobayashi is a former "King of Pancrase" and was highly touted on his Bellator debut, but Goiti Yamauchi wore him down and choked him out at Bellator 144.
Lawrence was on a fourfight win streak since his departure from the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fold; however, at the moment he could have emerged as a Bellator title contender, he lost a split decision to Emmanuel Sanchez at Bellator 145.
Today, Lawrence spoke with MMAmania.com as he looks forward to another fight in the friendly confines of the Scottrade Center, which is less than an hour's drive away from his roots in Pacific, Mo., but not nearly so close to his training partners.
"I'm just ready to get back in the win column. I made a good transfer back to Alliance (MMA), so honestly this is probably the best shape I've ever been in. My weight's real low and I'm just super excited to get back in the cage and redeem myself."
That desire for "redemption" is in part because he hasn't accepted that he lost to Sanchez, which gives him extra motivation to prove something this weekend.
"He clipped me when I was exiting out just because of a simple error on my part. If he tagged me with that kick a half-second sooner, it would have hit my elbow, a half-second later it would have been past me. I really feel like that head kick that he landed kinda won him the fight, but at the end of the day, it didn't drop me (or) put me to the canvas."
Lawrence blames himself, though, for not working with Alliance before fighting Sanchez. Now that he's back to training with some of the sport's top athletes, he says that his performance will be vastly improved.
"100 percent, man. I finished up a camp with Dominick Cruz, I finished up a camp with Jeremy Stephens, and when you're hanging around with all those savages like that you become a savage. You start thinking like them, you start acting like them, you start being like them, you start fighting like them. Everything happens for a reason though. Me leaving kinda made me realize what I had here."
The part of the proposition that presents a problem for Lawrence is that Kobayashi has the exact same motivation and goals at "Dynamite 2" -- he also wants to prove he's better than his last fight. Lawrence knows it will be a war.
"I'm sure he's wanting to get back into the win column as much as I do, but it's not gonna happen. I belong at the top of the division and I know I'm the best in my division. Everyone tells me at the gym, 'You're a beast -- go believe it!' I'm believing it and I'm going to go out there and show it June 24th."
Even though his confidence is high as he prepares for another return home to Scottrade Center, Lawrence still gives Kobayashi the credit he deserves as a tough and all-around skilled competitor.
"He's definitely tough. He's 18-3, that's not a slouchy record, but at the end of the day, records don't mean a lot when you do step in that cage, you know? I know he's a southpaw and that's going to be tricky, I've been working nothing but southpaws my entire camp so I'm well prepared for that. I feel like he's gonna really try to be taking me down (and) holding me against the fence just like everyone does once they feel the power and the speed difference. As long as I sprawl and brawl and I keep it my fight I should be winning -- no problem."
I asked Lawrence how he felt about the international flavor of "Dynamite 2," with him fighting Kobayashi and Jackson fighting Ishii later in the Bellator MMA main event.
"Yeah, you know what? I think that it's great for St. Louis and the fight game around St. Louis. I think it's an awesome event. I feel like the Scottrade Center is a great venue. I'm really comfortable there. I fought in Strikeforce there when I was only 20 years old. There are a lot of international fighters on here (so) it's going be an exciting event for St. Louis and all around the world I believe."
Even though Lawrence is by no means looking past Kobayashi, there are fights out there in the division he still wants to have; in fact, a rematch with Sanchez looms large on his mind.
"At the end of the day I'm really still hunting that fight with Emmanuel. I feel like that fight should have been mine. I have to rematch him, that's the fight. He agreed to it verbally, but he's fighting another fight so at the end of the day we really know who he wants to fight. He doesn't want to fight (me) again, but I would love that fight again, man."
Winners in this sport generally get to call their own shots more than the losers, so if Lawrence gets that "W" over Kobayashi, it won't be a surprise to hear who he calls out.
Complete audio of our interview is below and complete Bellator MMA coverage can be found right here on fight night.