It never mattered who Arturo Gatti was scheduled to fight. It didn't matter where it was, or when it was on, or what else there was to do. If there was one certainty for boxing fans in the 1990s and early-to-mid 2000s, it was this: If Gatti was fighting, they were watching.
Gatti was never close to being the most talented fighter in the world, but he became an almost mythic figure because in the ring he turned Rocky movies into real life.
UFC president Dana White said when he bought the company, he envisioned signing fighters who brought the same mentality to the cage that Gatti did every night.
One of the guys he discovered who does just that is Joe Lauzon, an otherwise non-descript lightweight whose bouts are repeatedly compelling theater.
Lauzon has won 12 fight-night bonuses awarded by the UFC, tied with former middleweight champion Anderson Silva for most in company history. He'll get a chance to hold the mark by himself on Saturday, when he takes on Michael Johnson at Ultimate Fight Night 26 at TD Garden in Boston.
All fighters on the card have an opportunity, but Lauzon has become something of a bonus specialist.
"I would never bet against Joe Lauzon winning one of those bonuses," White said.
Lauzon represents everything White values most in a fighter: He's fearless, he's eager and he's determined. He never fights safely and takes risks that could cost him because he pursues the bonuses so vigorously.
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The UFC offers four bonuses of $50,000 apiece after each fight card. It awards two $50,000 bonuses for Fight of the Night, and one $50,000 bonus each for Knockout of the Night and Submission of the Night.
That puts an additional $100,000 on the line each time out for the fighters on a given card. Lauzon is one of those who fights with the bonus money in mind.
"You hear some of these guys talking about fighter pay, and they're complaining about not making enough money, and it drives me up a [expletive] wall," White said. "There is $100,000 in money out there we're giving away. You want it? Go out there and fight your [expletive] off and get it."
It's what Lauzon does, and it has created something of a unique problem for him. He's getting called out at least as often, if not more, than lightweight champion Benson Henderson.
Prospective opponents know that if they sign to fight Lauzon, there's a better-than-average chance they'll earn a Fight of the Night bonus at the very least.
He's earned Fight of the Night five times in 14 UFC fights. He's earned six Submission of the Night bonuses and one Knockout of the Night bonus.
After a Fight of the Year-type battle with Jim Miller at UFC 155 – which followed a fight of the night battle with Jamie Varner – Lauzon, within days, had seven or eight guys calling him out.
He's not crazy about it, only because he views it as a slight (and thus all the more incentive to fight harder against the opponent he ultimately signs to face).
"I kind of feel that calling out someone is almost disrespectful a little bit," Lauzon said. "If they're calling me out, what are they really saying? I think they're saying, 'I'm better than you, and I want to show that.' That's not my style. After the Miller fight, I had like six or eight guys who had called me out in the course of a week, maybe a week-and-a-half.
"People obviously want to get that bonus money, and they think they have a better chance to do that by fighting me, but it's also like they're saying, 'I'm better than you.' [Expletive] those guys. Really. I don't believe in calling someone out. It's not my job to call guys out. It's Joe Silva's job. When he tells me who I'm fighting and when, then I get ready to go out there and fight my [expletive] off."
It's why Lauzon will always have a job with the UFC. There is nothing White loves more than a Gatti-esque guy who takes on all comers, no questions asked, and puts on a show every time out.
There have been many fighters who came into the UFC with a higher profile than Lauzon who didn't deliver nearly as many memorable moments.
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"The reason that HBO kept signing Gatti over and over for fights was that they knew that people love those stone-cold warriors, and that they were the kind of fights people want to see," White said. "I hate this [expletive] with a passion about, 'Oh, I have a plan and I have to stick to my plan and not take any risks.' No, dumb [expletive], you're in a [expletive] fight and people want to see you go out there and bring it. When does the crowd go crazy? When you see two guys out there absolutely going at it.
"How many guys have come off 'The Ultimate Fighter' or have fought on our undercards that people never remember? I [expletive] guarantee you they remember this kid [Lauzon]. He puts his [expletive] on the line every time, and that's what people want to see."
Lauzon has had only three UFC bouts in which he hasn't gotten some kind of a bonus, but it wasn't for a lack of trying. He didn't earn one when he was knocked out less than 90 seconds into the first round against Anthony Pettis, and he didn't get one despite scoring a TKO over Kyle Bradley at a UFC Fight Night in 2008 and despite submitting Jason Reinhardt at UFC 78.
The one-sided loss to Pettis, White said, is proof of his theory.
"He lost that fight but how many people did you hear saying, 'Oh, Lauzon got knocked out last time, so I don't want to see him fight this fight?' " White said. "I'm pretty sure the number was zero. Win or lose, you know what you're going to get with this kid every time and that's the kind of guy I want fighting for me."
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