The opening of Easton's newest business may have made the Shovel Town the new Massachusetts capitol of mixed martial arts.
Lauzon Mixed Martial Arts, a gym offering classes in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, submission grappling, boxing, kickboxing and wrestling recently moved from its former location in Bridgewater and opened its doors in the Easton Industrial Park.
"We were kind of passively looking to find a new spot," owner Joe Lauzon said. "Then, we got word that Bridgewater State might be buying our building, so, there was panic and we started to look around. Then, we found this place. This place is perfect – if we found it four years ago, we would have been here."
Lauzon isn't just any local business owner or fitness enthusiast.
Since breaking on the scene in 2007, the 28-year-old has become one of the premier lightweight fighters in the Ultimate Fighting Championship - the world's largest mixed martial arts promotional company.
Originally from Brockton, he grew up in East Bridgewater and currently lives in Bridgewater. Now, he trains in Easton, and so do some notable UFC competitors including Lauzon's younger brother, Dan, Tom Lawlor and Joe Proctor (who is scheduled to fight next in a UFC event on Dec. 8)
"As I’ve gotten better, they’ve gotten better and they’re great training partners," Lauzon said. "We just push each other. That’s really how Proctor got so good. He’s been a training partner for me the whole time. As I got better, he got better. We’re both kind of pushing each other, so we have a real, close, tight-knit team."
Lauzon co-owns the gym with Joe Pomfret, a vice principal in the Brockton school system.
After finishing his stint in the Marines as a Scout Sniper in 1995, Pomfret opened Reality Self Defense as a karate instructor.
"I had a couple of friends that came in one night and they were doing Brazilian jiu-jitsu and the UFC had just started out," Pomfret said.
Thinking he could take on his friends, he put his karate skills to the test and was quickly taken down.
"They knew all the techniques and I did not know any of the techniques," he said. "A couple of years later I started [MMA] fighting and learned as I went. Everything I learned I taught my students."
One of his students was Lauzon - a high schooler who got his start emulating pro wrestling moves on a trampoline with his friends.
"It went from us taking turns with power bombs and choke slams and things like that to actually having a legit wrestling match and not letting the other person do stuff, but actually trying to force them," Lauzon said. "It was a jiu-jitsu match. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were doing jiu-jitsu. For whatever reason, I was squirmy and I could get behind them and get them in a choke, so, I was like the king of the neighborhood."
When some of Lauzon's friends began training with Pomfret, just being squirmy wasn't cutting it anymore.
"I’m super competitive so I can’t go from being top dog to being choked out by everyone," he said, "So, I was like ‘I’ve got to do this.’"
Lauzon trained with Pomfret and the Reality Self Defense team throughout his stint at Wentworth College, where he earned a computer science degree. In 2007, he competed on the Ultimate Fighter - an MMA competition and TV show run by the UFC.
"I never intended it to be a full time thing," he said. "I feel like a lot of people find a hobby or you find something you’re really good at, you just become obsessed with it. That was training and fighting for me."
It paid off. Since breaking onto the scene in a big way, Lauzon has a 22-7 record as a professional, including 18 submissions and four knockouts.
Reality Self Defense has since become Lauzon MMA, but the people remain the same and the gym hasn't moved out of the area.
"A lot of other guys start off at smaller gyms and then they go and migrate and join one of these super teams, like these really well-known teams like the AKA’s or the American Top Team," Lauzon said. "Very few guys actually come up with a team that nobody has heard of and stay there. But, for me, it works out perfectly. I have all my own coaches. I have great training partners. We’ve been really lucky to have guys that have stuck around for so long that they’ve always been there right with me."
It is fitting that Lauzon and his teammates fight out of an area where Rocky Marciano once called home.
While the boxing shorts have become board shorts and the ring now has eight corners instead of four, fighting has been a proud tradition in Southeastern Massachusetts.
"It’s just a really lunch pail, blue collar part of the country in a lot of respects," Pomfret said. "In a lot of respects, it’s very educated and intellectual, but I can see how a group of men that are cooped up three months out of the year in the ice and snow need to let some aggression out and find something to do."
MMA, and the UFC in particular, have taken off in recent years with many hailing it as the new generation's boxing.
"Boxing has lost its popularity for probably one of many reasons and there’s a need for that kind of entertainment, I guess you could say," Pomfret said.
"I think all sports are entertainment for anybody that watches. You’re watching it to be entertained whether that be football or baseball – it’s all entertaining. It’s not like it’s entertaining to watch someone get beat up and knocked out. That’s really not it. It’s more that it’s highly skilled athletes where people have honed skills in not just boxing, but wrestling, and jiu-jitsu and karate. And, that intrigues people: What if a boxer fights a wrestler? What if a karate guy fights a kung fu guy? You do get a lot of that."
Lauzon invites anyone interested to check out his new gym, regardless of age or gender.
"Everything is beginner friendly – every class," he said. "We have boxing classes, we have grappling, jiu-jitsu, we have wrestling classes – all that kind of stuff. We do our team training which is our advanced guys getting ready for fights, but that stuff is different... Anyone else can jump in at any of our classes and it would be completely fine."
And, he'll be fighting out of Easton.