Joe Lauzon was on his way to putting together a very nice succession of wins yesterday at UFC 144 as he stepped into the cage with the WEC’s final lightweight champion, Anthony Pettis. The bout took place in front of a sold-out crowd at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.
After stopping Melvin Guillard in just 47 seconds at UFC 136 last October, it appeared as if Lauzon was finally ready to step into title contention. That was before Anthony Pettis sent him back to the middle tier of the division with a lightning-quick head kick. The knockout came just 81 seconds into the first round.
Lauzon’s career in the UFC thus far has been characterized by an ebb and flow of wins and losses that places him definitively between the medium and top competition in his division. Give him a Gabe Ruediger or a Curt Warburton, and Lauzon will grind them into powder; give him a Kenny Florian or an Anthony Pettis, and it’s a different story.
Though Lauzon is at somewhat of an impasse, he isn’t there alone. Fighters like George Sotiropoulos, who Lauzon lost to in 2010, Evan Dunham and even Donald Cerrone inhabit essentially the same territory. The difference for Lauzon is he’s been there longer.
None of this is to say that Lauzon isn’t exceptionally talented. It’s just that for the UFC’s insanely competitive lightweight division, exceptional talent isn’t a singular trait and may not be enough on its own. Bensen Henderson and Frankie Edgar, for example, are both where they are because they’re consummate fighters who are proficient in every aspect of the game.
Lauzon’s skill set strongly resembles his old mentor B.J. Penn’s. As Penn’s last two performances at lightweight demonstrated, the boxing and BJJ tandem may not be enough in the upper reaches of today’s lightweight picture, where fighters are quick, mobile, and capable of threatening with the full arsenal of strikes.
After yesterday’s loss, it will be interesting to see if Lauzon makes any significant changes to his camp.
Although he has his share of professional talent to train with at Lauzon MMA, his gym in Bridgewater, MA, and has worked with grappling wunderkind Ricky Lundell recently, maybe the answer is to shake things up. One could argue that those home gyms tend to get a little insular after a while.
Whatever he decides, Lauzon is good enough to continue winning fights in the UFC. At this point, though, it seems fair to suggest that he’ll need to expand his game if he wants to continue to thrive in the jungle of 155.
Let’s hope he does, as he’s one of today’s most furious and exciting fighters to watch.