Believe it or not, the transition from computer wiz to MMA fighter isn’t that much of a stretch. Listen to Joe Lauzon elaborate on his former role, and he may as well be talking about the latter.

“When I was younger, I used to ruin my computers just to see how they worked,” he says. “That way I could learn how to put them back together again. There’s something satisfying about figuring things out or trying to come up with solutions. It’s why I also liked math when I was growing up. I’ve just always loved the challenge of a problem.”

Lauzon not only loved it; he was damn good at it – so much that when he was a teenager, he was put on his high school’s payroll to repair and upgrade its computers. (When asked if he had access to change his own grades, he casually boasts, “I didn’t need to. I was an A student.”)

Almost a decade later, his natural talent is still put to good use. Only take motherboards, microchips, and other techie mumbo-jumbo and replace it with a man standing across the cage. He swears there’s no difference.

“You observe your opponent and just find the tough parts,” says Lauzon. “The problem solving also applies to me. I’m always asking myself, ‘How can I get better at fighting?’ and I’m constantly coming up with new ways to improve my game. It borders on an obsession.”

Lauzon’s analytical approach isn’t for everyone, but it works for him. Since wrapping up his college education with a degree in computer networking, he’s parlayed his skills into a promising career in the UFC lightweight division. First came the knockout of former champion Jens Pulver at the 48-second mark of Lauzon’s 2006 Octagon debut. (To no surprise, the brainiac says he juggled his senior project with training for the biggest fight of his life.) Next was an impressive run to the semi-finals of The Ultimate Fighter 5. Since then, the 25-year-old has finished almost every one of his fights, whether by TKO or one of various submissions.

But it hasn’t all been a cakewalk for Lauzon – to date, two separate issues have thrown a wrench into the equation.

The first and most recent obstacle was damage to his meniscus and ACL, which he suffered just one week after his victory over Jeremy Stephens at February 2008’s UFC Fight Night. In the blink of an eye, Lauzon went from headliner to sideliner. It’s a role he’s been relegated to for almost a year while working on knee rehabilitation.

“Physically it was okay,” he says. “I think anyone who fights is good at dealing with that side of things. But mentally it was very painful. I was in bed for almost four weeks before I even had surgery. Forget not being able to walk – imagine not even being able to hop to get around, and lying around while your muscles atrophy. It was just depressing.”

Wallowing is self-pity didn’t suit him though, and so just as quickly as he went into the hospital, he was out and back on the mats at Lauzon MMA.

“I’ve been moving around for five months now and I way over-exceeded anyone’s expectations about my recovery,” says Lauzon. “Some people worry during training and check to see if I’m okay to keep going, but I like to think that I push myself harder than most people.”

First problem solved. But the second one hasn’t stopped nagging him for almost two years, and that’s his first and only UFC loss at the hands of fellow Massachusetts native Kenny Florian. Unable to find the answer to KenFlo’s strikes – at least not yet – Lauzon lost April 2008’s UFC Fight Night (his first headline event) by TKO in the second round.

“Honestly, it’s the only loss that gets to me,” he says. “I worked so hard and still got the short end of the stick. Once I was fouled

[ed.: Florian was warned for landing strikes to the back of the head], I felt my advantage was taken away. On one hand I’m happy when local guys like Kenny do well, but on that night, I think it should’ve been me.”

Quickly, Lauzon tempers his frustration with some perspective on the matter.

“It’s just tough to swallow,” he admits. “We both had one chance and he took advantage when he could and won, so I can’t really be that bitter. I can only hope for a chance at redemption.”

If he’s to get another shot in the future, Lauzon, 17-4, will first have to get past Canadian striker Sam “Hands of Stone” Stout, who he’ll face on January 2 at UFC 108.

Stout, who is 15-5-1, was last seen in April at UFC 97, where he won a unanimous decision over Matt Wiman. There were consecutive losses to Terry Etim and Rich Clementi just behind that, but Lauzon is confident that this match-up will be the kind that gets the entire MGM Grand Garden Arena on its feet.

“Looking at the entire lightweight roster, I thought Sam would be great a choice,” he says. “He’s always exciting and looking to beat people up, and I like guys like that. Put me in there with someone who has a different style, say a wrestler, and I think that there’s a chance of the fight being boring or lackluster, which I, or no one else, likes.”

Lauzon adds that despite both of their extended absences, he doesn’t expect either to show signs of ring rust.

“He’s either going to knock me out or I’m going to work my ground game and catch him in a submission,” he says in a matter-of-fact way. “And even if it doesn’t go my way, those are the kind of fights I want to give.”

Don’t get him wrong – Lauzon wants the win. And maybe another bonus award to add to the two he’s already earned. He also wants the Florian rematch and, eventually, the title. And you can bet he has a method for achieving it all. (Brace yourself for the last geeky metaphor.)

“The best way to tackle a big math problem is to work in parts,” he says. “You start by solving the easiest ones first. Same thing in fighting.”

If he can get them right, he’ll be one step closer to the big payoff.