Lauzon’s Penn pal has fighter ready

17 November 2007
Boston Herald

It didn’t take B.J. Penn long to recognize there was something special about
Joe Lauzon. Penn was a coach on the fifth season of “The Ultimate Fighter”
reality show earlier this year and he knew after seeing Lauzon in tryouts
that the young fighter had potential.

“I just had a feeling about him,” Penn said. “When they were in the trials
to test who you want to pick, Joe wasn’t going real hard or doing a bunch of
things, but there was just something about him. He had some kind of fire.”

The only reason Penn hesitated to pick Lauzon was because Jens Pulver was
the opposing coach. In Lauzon’s UFC debut last September, the East Bridgewater
native knocked Pulver out and Penn was amused by the thought of watching the
two have to work together.

“I was looking at all of the picks and I was wondering who we were going to
pick. At first, I was like, `We shouldn’t pick Joe; we should put him on
Jens’ team just to mess with Jens’ head.’ But later on I was really glad
that me and Joe got together.”

The partnership was successful, as Lauzon won three fights during the
season, but lost in the semifinals to Manvel Gamburyan. More importantly for his
future, Lauzon forged a bond with Penn, one of the top lightweights in the

After the season, Lauzon (14-3) accepted an invitation to join Penn in his
native Hawaii to train. Lauzon, 23, spent two months training with Penn in
preparation for his fight tonight at UFC 78 against Jason Reinhardt (18-0).

Lauzon jumped right into the five-hour, six-days-a-week training sessions,
something that didn’t surprise Penn.

“He was right there; he didn’t wimp out,” Penn said. “That’s one of the
reasons I wanted him to come (to Hawaii). He’s the kind of guy that gives
100 percent. On the show he was the one guy that anything I asked of him, he did
it in a heartbeat.”

Working with Penn was Lauzon’s first opportunity to train exclusively
without having to balance work, school or television, and Penn thinks the focus
solely on fighting will make a difference.

“Without a doubt (people are) going to see a new Joe Lauzon,” Penn
said. “I’m not going to sit here and say it’s because of me. It’s because of him. He
went there and he did the work. I know he definitely improved a lot in that

Now that the 5-foot-10, 155-pound Lauzon has the skills to match his
determination, Penn thinks he’ll be even tougher to beat.

“His best attribute is his intensity,” Penn said. “I was going to say
explosiveness or his heart, but it’s his intensity. That’s what he brings.
Every time he learns a new technique it’s just icing on the cake. When Joe
wants to turn it on, he can turn it on. That’s what makes him a great

Penn expects Lauzon to prevail over Reinhardt tonight, which would move him
up another notch in the lightweight division. As Lauzon continues to
improve, the possibility of a teacher-student fight could arise. It wouldn’t be
something that either would enjoy, but Penn understands that there could be
a time when the two meet in the Octagon.

“This is the UFC and it could happen,” Penn said. “As far as that, it’s not
even on my mind. Anytime he needs my help, I’ll help him and I know it’s
vice-versa. If it happens, it happens. There’s nothing we can do about it. If it
did ever happen I’d hope it would have to be for some kind of title fight.
I’m not looking forward to anything like that.”

If the two were to fight for the lightweight title down the road, Penn knows
what he’d tell his prized pupil.

“If I was the champion and Joe made it up there one day to fight me, I would
tell him you have to follow your dream,” Penn said. “And his dream is to be
the champ so you have to do what’s right and you have to go get that
championship belt.”

Interim OK with Penn

While Penn spent time training Lauzon, it’s not as if his fighting days are
over. Penn is scheduled to fight Joe Stevenson at UFC 80 on Jan. 19 for the
interim lightweight championship. The division is currently in flux while
current champion Sean Sherk appeals a positive steroid test.

Sherk failed the test following a win at UFC 73 in July and the appeals
process has been a long one, with his latest hearing postponed until Dec. 4.
Sherk isn’t happy about the fight for an interim champion, but Penn is

“I guess Sean Sherk doesn’t like the fact that we’re fighting for the
interim title,” Penn said. “He says it’s a fake title, but I sit here and say his
title is no more real than Marion Jones’ gold medals. Sean has to realize
that if you call this fake, you have to look in the mirror.”

Penn has his sights set on winning the interim title and then fighting
Sherk, assuming he wins his appeal. While Penn wants to win the title, he wished it
didn’t have to come under these circumstances.

“It’s kind of in shambles and it’s kind of sad,” Penn said. “But that’s
where the sport is right now so we’ll see what happens.”

`Ultimate’ reality

The headline bout tonight pits “The Ultimate Fighter 2” heavyweight winner
Rashad Evans against “The Ultimate Fighter 3” light heavyweight winner
Michael Bisbing in a light heavyweight matchup.

The event takes place at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey,
marking the first UFC event on the East Coast in more than two years.