Thrown to the Wolves

These days, there are plenty of places for a professional mixed martial artist to fight, but everyone has their eyes on one prize: the Ultimate Fighting Championship. It’s the pinnacle of the sport, and without a doubt the biggest show in town. Walk into almost any bar or barbershop and to start a conversation on MMA. The response will usually go something like, “you mean Ultimate Fighting?”


Fight fans are still evolving, and so are the fighters themselves. To make it to the top in today’s game, a fighter has to have it all: cardio/stamina, striking, submissions, and good takedowns. Missing just one piece of the puzzle can spell disaster, and so can an untimely loss.


With so many fighters to choose from, the UFC has made a habit of throwing new talent to the wolves in an effort to see who will come out on top – the experienced fighter or the young guy with raw ability and a good work ethic? It’s a formula that has created many exciting match-ups, but hindered some careers in the process.


Dan “The Upgrade” Lauzon is the youngest fi ghter to compete in the UFC. He made the jump to the big leagues after only four fights, and debuted against Spencer Fisher. But despite the tough task laid in front of him, it was a challenge HE asked for.


“They called [my brother] because they wanted him to fight Fisher the following month [after he knocked out Jens], but Joe took time off to train. Our manager, Chris Palmquist, said, ‘His brother will fight him.’ I guess they asked like three or four other people and no one wanted it. So they gave the fight to me,” Lauzon said.


Most fans remember UFC 64 as the event where Rich Franklin lost his middleweight title to Anderson Silva, but after a shocking first-round knockout of Jens Pulver by Joe Lauzon at UFC 63, everyone was eager to see if lightning could strike twice for the brothers from Bridgewater, Massachusetts.


Despite some killer hands, The Upgrade chose to try and attack Fisher’s ground game (having won each of his four wins by submission in the past), but to no avail. In the end, it was Fisher who won by TKO at 4:38 of the first round. Since then, the younger Lauzon has yet to return to the Octagon, but has been on a tear ever since. He’s now 7-2, with every win since UFC 64 coming by knockout or TKO.


“They wanted to bring me back for doing them a favor and taking the [Fisher] fight on short notice, but I didn’t really want to come back right away due to lack of experience,” he said.


“My first four wins were all by submission. I would go in, and all I would do is grapple, not really throwing punches. Then I had two close fights, and my last three have all been (T)KOs, mixing in my strikes. Everything is coming together real nice.”


Kevin “The Shaman” Jordan was also pushed to his limits upon entering the Octagon back at UFC 53, when he faced Paul “The Headhunter” Buentello. Jordan was no slouch, holding a 7-3 record with plenty of wins by decision as well as TKOs. But when it came time for the fighter’s UFC debut, the UFC threw him in the cage with Buentello, a man with almost three times as many fights.


Jordan lost by guillotine in the first round, but got another chance at UFC 55 against Gabriel Gonzaga. Those two had one hell of a fight, but in round three, it was Gonzaga who finished the fight by KO.


After two consecutive losses on MMA’s biggest stage, Jordan returned to fight in smaller

shows while Gonzaga became a household name, knocking out Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic and making a run at Randy Couture’s UFC Heavyweight Championship.


Today, The Shaman is a champion in his own right, after beating Carlos Moreno for the Battle Cage Xtreme belt in Atlantic City. He hasn’t lost a step, even though he lost twice in the Octagon.


Even the undefeated fighters picked up by the UFC have targets on their heads. Whether it’s 5-0 or 10-0, at this level competitors have to be ready to kick it up a notch if they want to keep a donut in the loss column.


That’s what Frankie “The Answer” Edgar (8-0, 5-0 when he entered the UFC) had to do when pitted against Tyson Griffin (10-0 before fighting Edgar). Edgar took all three rounds of his first UFC fight with Griffin, but got caught in a knee bar, late in the final round.


“When I first got caught, I was telling myself, ‘Oh shit,’ but at that point, I couldn’t tap. I felt I was ahead on the scorecard and had to tough it out,” he said. “The last ten seconds, I got out
of the knee bar and started hitting him, trying to get that back.”


Since then, Edgar has gone on to defeat both Mark Bocek and even Spencer “The King” Fisher in front of a home crowd at UFC 78 in Newark, New Jersey.


“I think that’s the way to go, especially now in the UFC,” Edgar said. “You might as well fight a guy who’s a name. If you want to go up in the rankings and make this a career, the best thing you can do is go out and fight the best guys.”


That’s what the “Barn Cat” was thinking, when he signed up to fight Akhiro Gono. A 10-0 welterweight with an almost legendary reach, Tamdan McCrory has never had a problem picking on the older guys. After all, he did defeat 30-year-old Mike Littlefield for the N.A.B.C. Welterweight title, and submitted 36 year-old Pete Spratt with a triangle in his UFC debut.


“He’s definitely the most experienced of all the fighters I faced, but I look at it as another way to make my stock rise,” McCrory said. “I’ve been fighting a lot of guys that are his age and older, so I guess I’m starting to get used to it.”


McCrory took the fight to Gono the entire time, but after winning the first round hands down, he made an error that cost him. Gono mounted the 6’4” welterweight, and waited for him to turn over, catching him in a deep arm bar from which there was no escape. McCrory lost by verbal tap at 2:19 of the second round, and felt defeat for the first time in his three years as a mixed martial artist.


The talent pool of fighters in MMA is growing, and the road to the top has gotten even more rigorous. In today’s world, a UFC fighter has to win, keep winning, and do it in an entertaining fashion.


“There are a lot of tough guys competing out there. I think it just comes down to good match making,” Lauzon said.


It’s a lot like King of the Mountain, that game kids play, where one boy would run to the top of a hill and do his best to keep everyone else in the class off the peak by any means necessary. One wrong step and it’s back to the belly of the beast.

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