Mauricio Rua, Wanderlei Silva and Mirko Cro Cop are just a few of the many legendary fighters who have physically gotten a lot slower because of the high amount of prolonged, brutal, back-and-forth wars they have participated in throughout their lengthy careers. As exciting as these epic battles are to watch, they take a significant toll on a fighter’s body and on their ability to move as fast as they should for their age. It’s like over-training, taking in so much damage that it makes the body weaker instead of stronger.
These fights have had such a significant effect on the aforementioned competitors’ performance rate that it prevents them from fighting with the energy that an athletic male in his late twenties-early thirties usually contains.
That explains why the next victim of this tragic transformation is only twenty-eight years old. Five Fight of the Night bonuses later, Joe Lauzon’s thrilling match with Jim Miller at UFC 155 gave a lot of fans the impression that the grappling wizard has already begun to fade.
Joe Lauzon let Jim Miller take complete control of the fight in the first round, primarily because he was being overwhelmed by Miller’s intensity and speed. Even before Lauzon sustained that horrific cut over his eye, it’s safe to say that he was doing a pretty poor job defending Miller’s opening barrage of strikes. Rather than quickly circling away or countering the attack with his own arsenal of combinations, Joe literally just let Miller get right in his face, grab the back of his head and proceed to batter him with vicious elbows and punches.
Not to take anything away from Jim Miller, but it simply shouldn’t be that easy to gain the upper hand on a top contender like that. Joe Lauzon just did not seem like he was fighting back with the same intelligence and athleticism that he usually showcases inside the octagon.
Once the number of unforgettable wars that Lauzon has been through in the UFC is taken into consideration, however, we really shouldn’t be too surprised by his newly-slowed reaction time.
While various other lightweights such as Gray Maynard or (former lightweights) Frankie Edgar and B.J Penn have been involved in several incredibly strenuous clashes that went the distance, Lauzon’s reputation for back-and-forth fights filled with scrambles, knock-downs and blood is hard to rival at 155 lbs. His fights are action-packed, strenuous tests of will for both fighters, that tend to feature thrilling shuffles of dominance and momentum until the very end.
Lauzon always seems to have an answer for any strategy that gets thrown at him, which is why most believed that he was just caught off guard by Miller’s aggression, almost like the way he didn’t see Anthony Pettis’ kick coming last February. Yet we have seen Lauzon deal with similar offensives in the first moments of a fight with much more efficiency in the past.
Take his matches with George Sotiropoulos and Sam Stout for example. When Stout and Sotiropoulos immediately closed the distance with punches or a take down in round one, Joe either used his agility to evade their presence or pushed right back with a takedown or flurry of his own. These bouts were roughly two years ago, and there is a blatant difference in the way Lauzon countered his opponents’ attempts to impose their will in those fights compared to his lack of urgency displayed in the beginning of the co-main event of UFC 155.
The Joe Lauzon of 2010 or 2009 wouldn’t have taken all that punishment from Miller when he was fresh and full of energy. He would be able to quickly move away, strike back with technical precision or most likely bring the fight to the ground with his superior grappling.
The idea of someone slowing down at such a young age would seem a lot more ludicrous if Lauzon was the only lightweight in his twenties currently facing this dilemma. Sam Stout, also twenty-eight, is known for his ability to swiftly weave in and out and to rapidly fire off punches in close quarters at an intimidating pace throughout the fight.
But after fourteen fights in the UFC, Stout is no longer as fast or consistently light on his feet as he was in 2007 or 2008. John Makdessi easily timed Stout’s movements at UFC 154, avoiding his punches and continuously scoring with his own straight jab. Stout's history of fifteen minute cardio-fests has come back to haunt him, and that’s why he recently lost to a mid-tier fighter he would have definitely out-pointed in his prime.
If Lauzon keeps getting in more of these wars, his body will soon refuse to respond to his will to fight vigorously and intensely when he needs to most. Joe Lauzon is fading, and it’s almost inevitable that the many, up-and-coming lightweights will collectively use this disadvantage against him in the not-so-distant future. Hopefully, Lauzon will notice this hole in his game and focus on finishing his opponents as soon as possible, as it is difficult to imagine how much slower Lauzon will become in 2013 if he finds himself in yet another incredibly grueling fight.