Monday, January 24, 2011

There's a new kid on the block

Anderson Silva, Jose Aldo, Junior Dos Santos, Lyoto Machida, and Justin Lawrence; if you're wondering why the name Justin Lawrence doesn't seem to register with the names of four of the greatest MMA fighters on the planet, wonder no more. That's because Justin 'The American Kid' Lawrence is the latest addition and rage of the coveted 'Blackhouse' family. Only 20 years old with one professional fight under his belt, this kid is about to take the MMA world by storm.

It's okay if you're skeptical that I may be over hyping a kid with just one pro fight. However, when you impress both the management and fighters, especially UFC Middleweight champion Anderson Silva, of such a high level selective team like 'Blackhouse', one need to stop and take notice. This is exactly what I and everyone else is starting to do. Yet, when you realize his background, you begin to understand he's been preparing for this practically his whole young life.

Raised in Pacific, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, Justin's been training as long as he can remember. His father Benny Voyles, a former professional boxer and kickboxer with a background in Kempo Karate, owns a gym called 21st Century Self Defense. At just six years of age, Justin began training in his father's gym, first in Kempo, then eventually kickboxing. "If it weren't for him, I wouldn't be where I'm at today. I'd probably be looking for some dead end job in Pacific," Lawrence said.

A natural athlete, Justin also has wrestled since the third grade and played high school football. He excelled so much in both, that he placed in states multiple years in wrestling and in football; he helped snap a six year winless streak, 0-60, that is a national record for consecutive losses. With a 4.4 seconds time in the 40 yard dash, his junior year he ran for 275 yards and three touchdowns against St. James High School to help end Pacific's losing streak. They went on to win three games that year and three the following year. Besides himself, he credits the coach hired his junior year George Hinkle. "He inspired me so much; he didn't just coach me, but taught me that discipline, just like in the fight game, translates to everyday life."

However, it was boxing and kickboxing that Justin lived for and he excelled there as well. He's a six-time national kickboxing champion and also a two-time St. Louis Golden Gloves champion. When I asked him why he chose to pursue MMA versus boxing he said, "When I was 12, 13, 14 years old, all I dreamed about was being the next great boxer; at that time MMA wasn't as big yet. However, all of sudden MMA exploded in this country and seeing that I was also a wrestler I thought it was a natural fit for me."

It's been so natural that a family friend who also happened to know Ed Soares and Anderson Silva took it upon himself to suggest to Soares that he needed take a look at Lawrence as a prospect. So, on that word Justin was flown to Blackhouse for an opportunity to train and assist Silva for his fight against Chael Sonnen. "When I flew out there, I wasn't expecting anything. I was just going to get that experience of training with the greatest fighter in the world."

Noticing Soares and the Blackhouse fighters weren't going to give him any respect he didn't earn, he was thrown to the wolves as he was put to spar with arguably the best pound for pound fighter in the world in Silva. "It's the hardest I've ever been hit, but I held my own," he said. Also holding his own on the ground, he not only earned respect from Blackhouse, but something else.

He was offered a contract to sign with Blackhouse management and to be a part of one of the most revered fight teams in the world. After discussing it with his parents, there was nothing further to think about. Since then, he had his pro debut on the undercard of the December, 2010 'Strikeforce: Henderson vs. Babalu 2' event. In a fight where he was listed as a 3-1 underdog, he won a unanimous technical decision, totally dominating his opponent.

Not officially signed with any promotion at this time, Justin and his team are currently fielding offers for his next fight. When asked where he would like to be 10 years from now, his response was simply, "I just want to be known as the best, most well-rounded fighter in the world. What Georges St. Pierre is now, I want to take to the next level."

A strong believer in "I believe everything happens for a reason," Justin goes into every fight with '2 Corinthians 2:14' tattooed on his chest and 'Jesus Saves' embroidered on his shorts. "If it weren't for him to give me the talent, to give me the discipline to do what I do, I wouldn't be here." Look out world, there's a new kid on the block; an 'American Kid'.

Justin Lawrence would like to thank first and foremost, his parents, especially his dad, for giving him the opportunity to do what he loves and for pushing him when he needed to be pushed. He also wants to thank Ed Soares and the entire Blackhouse family. 21st Century Self-Defense Academy along with Pat Benson, his first Jiu-Jitsu coach and Nick Bellon for stepping up on short notice when it was needed.

I want to thank Justin Lawrence for his time during this interview and also Mike Ramirez from Blackhouse for helping to arrange it.

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