There are a lot of reasons to love Joe Lauzon. He racks up post-fight bonuses the way youth athletes rack up participation ribbons. He’s eaten pizza to raise money to fight cancer and runs toy drives at his gym. He’s described his training as cutting into his video game time, not the other way around. He hangs out on Reddit and answers fan questions on social media even when he’s not trying to promote a fight. He’s almost (almost) as engaging and entertaining outside of the cage as he is inside of it.
But the latest reason we love Joe Lauzon has to do with his post-fight interview on Sunday night. After winning a controversial split decision in a three-round battle with Marcin Held at UFC Fight Night 103, Lauzon told the world that he thought he’d lost the fight.
— Marcin Held (@MarcinHeld) January 16, 2017
Obsess over FightMetric stats if you want, but even die-hard fans would agree: J-Lau clearly won the first round, while the second and third were Held’s. But Lauzon’s honesty in a world of posturing and hype is not only classy; it’s refreshing.
It’s also incredibly rare. If you’re an MMA fan who would prefer to watch, say, collegiate wrestling than WWE, you know what I’m talking about. Obviously, the UFC has to sell fights with a good storyline, but when two fighters pretend they’re sworn enemies and then are OMGBFFs after a fight is over, there’s a bit of a disconnect, and a lot of unanswered questions: Was this just for show? To sell tickets? Do fighters need to convince themselves their opponent is the spawn of Satan in order to motivate themselves for a fight, but once the fight is over, they can go back to reality? Is there an endorphin release after getting hit in the head a lot—or thinking you won a fight—that lends itself to post-fight hugging?
Then there’s the actual analysis. I’ll be the first to admit that post-fight interviews are a little strange in general. A lot of fighters can’t even recall everything that happened in the fight in the immediate aftermath. They need to sit and watch the tape later, ideally with their coaches. And here they’re expected to offer cogent analysis about something they can’t even necessarily remember.
So there’s that potential fuzziness. But then there’s the hype. Fighters acting like decisions were solid even when they weren’t. In these instances, impossible to know whether they even believe what they’re saying, or if it’s just something they feel like they need to do. Perhaps the comments from their corner made them feel like they were winning, rightly or not. Or maybe they’re not sure whether they won but don’t want to admit it without watching the video.
Anyone who doesn’t think fighters use every advantage at their disposal is lying to themselves. This makes it impossible to know whether cheating (for lack of a better term)—grabbing the cage, landing 90-degree elbows, you name it, etc.—is deliberate or instinctive. But even more frustrating are the lines fighters feed you that seem clearly out of touch with reality.
And then there are the raging, ongoing post-fight debates on Twitter and in troll-ridden comment sections of every MMA site. But sometimes the comments have more to do with the narrative—and which fighter is most popular—than the actual nitty-gritty details of the fight. Marketing is a powerful thing. Fan opinions and even unofficial scorecards by media pundits are susceptible to bias.
Maybe those of us who obsess over these nuances are overthinking it. Maybe we should just enjoy the fights and dismiss every bogus decision by saying “never leave it in the hands of the judges.” But there’s something about Lauzon disagreeing with the judges and admitting flat out that he thought he lost the fight. It has to do with having the heart of a fighter.
Personally, I’d never step foot in a cage or Octagon or anything resembling it, and would hope to be heavily armed in any kind of physical altercation. I also really hate getting punched in the face and try to avoid them. So far be it from me to wax poetic about what it means to be a “real fighter.” That said, I do think I’m qualified to say what a real competitor is, based on my experience of riding a long losing streak in local grappling tournaments. You see people who try to convince refs they won matches they actually lost. People who try to rely on connections to get advantage points, or weird rules to get DQs. People who would rather eke out a win due to an injury than face an opponent who’s healthy. Real competitors don’t do this. They want a fair fight. They want to see their opponents at their best rather than taking advantage of their weaknesses.
Joe Lauzon was robbed by the judges when he lost a split decision to Jim Miller at UFC on Fox 21: Maia vs. Condit, but he says being awarded a win he felt he didn’t deserve was worse. He even said he’d harass matchmaker Sean Shelby to make sure Held stayed on the roster, despite going 0-2 in the UFC.
Maybe, in his post-fight interview, Lauzon broke a bit of a taboo. He’s demonstrated to other fighters that you can unequivocally admit you lost a fight that the judges scored in your favor, and the world keeps spinning. That respect and sportsmanship and honesty won’t lose you any fans.
Besides, you still get to keep the win money.