Being proactive paid off for Joe Lauzon last week. The UFC lightweight contender signed on to fight Gray Maynard and says he was the one pushing for the tough match up.
“I saw Gray say in an interview that he wanted to coach the next season of TUF against Nate Diaz,” Joe explains.
“He’s banking on Diaz beating [Ben] Henderson [when the two face off for Henderson’s title] and wants that title shot and, I guess, a third fight between him and Nate. So I contacted [UFC matchmaker] Joe Silva and said that I thought Gray and I could be a cool angle as coaches of TUF. They didn’t do that but later I got a call asking if I wanted to fight Gray on December 29th. Its on the main card of a huge card.”
Lauzon is coming off of a record-setting submission of the night and fight of the night performance in beating Jamie Varner earlier this month. Maynard is coming off of a controversially-close split decision win over Clay Guida. Before that, Maynard fought then-champion Frankie Edgar twice in a row, first drawing with him and then losing via TKO.
Lauzon doesn’t know if a win over Maynard would put him in the #1 contender’s spot for the lightweight title for certain, but he says it would be a “step in the right direction.” “Gray is a monster. He’s only lost to Frankie. He’s super tough. Me beating Gray would make a big statement because he’s smashed everyone except for the champ at the time. Even in those fights he had the champ hurt badly at times,” Lauzon says.
The last time Lauzon was in a fight that appeared to have immediate title shot implications was back in 2008 when he fought, and lost to, Kenny Florian. Lauzon says that he’s a different fighter than the kid that lost to the future hall of famer Florian over four years ago.
“I’ve grown so much since then,” he says.
“I’m a hundred times stronger now than I was then. At that time I hadn’t touched weights at all. The last couple of years I’ve been much more serious about strength and conditioning. My boxing has gotten much better…I was really just a grappler then. Now I’m much more comfortable on my feet. My defense is better. I’m quicker. And I love Jiu Jitsu and so am constantly improving that.”
Perhaps most important, according to Lauzon, is his improved mental state. Though he’s been fighting since he was a teenager, Joe says that he’s only now really begun to enjoy himself during fights.
“My last fight was the first fight where I really had fun,” he says. “I was enjoying every second of that fight. That was a big change for me, mentally.”
Lauzon says that he’s given a sore elbow time to heal over the past three to four weeks and but that soon he will begin training for the Maynard fight, which is still a while off. The outspoken fighter won’t offer an opinion on whether or not he feels Maynard deserved the decision win in his last fight against Guida – saying he hasn’t watched it closely enough – but simply says that if fighters let fights go to the judges, they never really have anyone to blame if things don’t go their way.
Because of his nearly flawless record and championship-level experience, many observers will no doubt have Maynard picked as a solid favorite over Lauzon. The Massachussets native readily admits he faces a big challenge against Maynard.
“Back in the [TUF 5] house we used to even joke with Gray because he was the number one pick, had the pedigree and all that. We’d say that Gray Maynard pisses excellence,” Lauzon says with a laugh.
“I also know that I probably can’t get hit as often by Gray as I did by Varner. Jamie is probably a better boxer than Gray but Gray probably has more power.”
That said, Lauzon is confident that he will have the skills to best Maynard on the feet or on the ground. “I’m very lucky that I’m comfortable no matter where I go in this fight,” Lauzon says.
“I really don’t think Gray wants to take me down and sit in my guard. I think I’m a little bit too crafty off of my back, too quick with submissions and sweeps. Like most of his other fights, he will probably want to stand and box. It is probably going to be a kickboxing match and, though I’ve got to be careful, I can do well there. I’ve gotta bring it to him.”