“Filthy” Tom Lawlor (9-5) is set to return to the UFC after a two year lay-off, gearing up to face Gian Villante this Saturday July 25, 2015 at UFC on FOX 16. He’s known for his creative walk-outs and weigh-in costumes, plus time spent on the eighth season of The Ultimate Fighter: Mir vs Nogueira.
Born in Fall River, Massachusetts, he moved to Florida where he lived for 15 years, attending high school and college.
“After college, I was in the process of fighting in an American Top Team affiliate in Orlando, Florida,” Tom explained. “Seth Petruzelli and Mike Lee and I kinda went our separate way. We opened up a school in Orlando called Jungle MMA Fitness, which is still running today and doing phenomenal.”
Lawlor stayed there for two or three years, splitting time between trying to train himself and running classes all day. Money isn’t prevalent with new gyms, and at the time for him the juice wasn’t worth the squeeze.
“It was a great experience and a fun time in my life, but I decided to take the bonus money I got from a couple Fight of the Nights and buy a home in Rhode Island.”
He was there for two years training with top fighters such as Joe Lauzon and Tim Burrill, but the cost of living was high. He was given a chance to go to Richmond, Virginia and work for Rick McCoy, who owns MMA Institute. A year later, he was contacted by some people in Australia to move there and help them open a gym as a head instructor.
He jumped at the opportunity with the expectation of making more money than actually materialized, and found it not to be the best situation for him after all. He decided to return to the States.
“Vegas was the first place I wanted to come, because I was previously dating a girl who was here before I went to Australia. So I came back and got involved with her again, and here I am. I reached out to Vinny Magalhães because I had known him for years to see where he was training and teaching, and he told me come on in to Syndicate MMA. I started training, trying to re-piece my life together. [Head coach] John Wood gave me an opportunity to get more involved [coaching the team,] and I took it.”
Tom will be facing face Villante at light heavyweight, which will be a move up from his previous stint at 185-pounds.
“Originally my first fight was at heavyweight in 2003,” Tom began. “I had a four-year layoff where I was doing amateur wrestling, and then some WWE style professional wrestling. When I got back into MMA, I started fighting at my walk-around weight of 205-pounds. Once I got on The Ultimate Fighter [Season 8] in 2007 and started going against some top level competition, I realized the size difference was going to be too much.”
The 32-year-old decided to drop to 185-pounds. Typically fighters cut water during the last week before their fight. He would start at 205 and drop 20-pounds down to 185.
“But the last time I did that in 2013, I started throwing up green bile. I essentially I had to stop the weight cutting process, go back to the hotel room, and basically just passed out for about 10-hours. I got up the next morning and felt okay enough to cut the last five-pounds, but I never felt like myself going into that fight. I didn’t have energy, and I kind of attribute my injury in that fight to the weight cutting process, because I felt absolutely terrible and didn’t react the same way as if I was fully hydrated. I’ve put on weight since then, so I feel that for my long term health this is the better option for me at 205.”
What does Tom think about his opponent?
“I like him as a person – a very stand up guy. But my job as a fighter is to go out there and defeat him as quickly as possible. I see a lot of holes in his game that I can take advantage of. I think fighting at 205, I’ll have a speed advantage and a cardio advantage on him. Those are two of his biggest weaknesses.”
Will Gian have a significant size advantage on Tom?
“I think he’s going to be bigger, but he’s not as big as I thought. Fortunately for me, I have one of the biggest training partners who fights at 205 — Vinny Magalhães, who’s huge at 235 or 240, despite what he tells you! So I’ve been used to training with larger guys. I think he’s going to be a little bigger but it’ll be to his determent, not mine.”
Lawlor has been training full time at Syndicate MMA, and coaching some wrestling and MMA classes on the side. A lot of factors go into getting ready for a fight.
“Each place I’ve been to has different dynamic,” Tom explained. “At Syndicate, I can get great work at any time of the day. I can do a morning gi class and learn something from [BJJ blackbelt, UFC and WEC vet] Fredson Paixao or Vinny. I go to MMA practice at noon, and I could come in at night. Also being able to be involved with some of the younger fighters has been great for me.”
Tom had been vocal on social media about his displeasure with Reebok for the portrayal of his name on the new UFC Fight Kit “Thomas Lawlor,” as opposed to his coined nickname “Filthy” Tom Lawlor.
“Reebok changed my fight kit mistake two days later,” he said. “I have to give them props. They won me over with that by changing it right away.”
The sponsorship money situation isn’t always “good” or “bad” as people may think. It depends on the situation, as Tom explains.
“My last fight was ‘Fight Pass main event’ on the prelims on an overseas card, and Fight Pass had just launched, so it didn’t have a lot of viewers. Sponsoring companies don’t throw much money at fighters on Fight Pass, so I didn’t do very well – maybe $2,500 or $3,000. If I’d had the Reebok deal then, I would have done better. Now in this upcoming fight I’ll make $5,000 because I’m in the 2nd tier. After this fight I’ll be in the 3rd tier and make $10,000 which is REALLY good. But this upcoming fight is going to be broadcast on FOX which gets millions of viewers, so with the previous setup I probably would’ve made more money without Reebok. But that’s not to say in the future that’ll still be the case. So the money situation kinda varies depending on what fight it is.”
Reebok is still getting to know the MMA market.
“I understand that they’re trying to push the jerseys and fight kits, but they’ve priced themselves out of the market by putting them at $95. Football or baseball jerseys are $100, but the players actually perform in those during the game, whereas MMA fighters only wear them for walk out. Sometimes a fighter’s walkout footage is cut, like at a Fight Night on FOX. There’s a big issue with product visibility.
“Since then they’ve gone back and started releasing individual T-shirts. I’m a big fan of Khabib’s, which has a Russian bear wearing Reeboks – the bear is memorable from his childhood. To me, stuff like that is awesome! And I actually think the uniforms themselves look good and add a level of professionalism. But I think Reebok would serve themselves well by changing the color up a little bit or letting the fighters at least have an input into the color pallet. I think just letting the fighters have an input would go a long way and would appease them a lot.”
Tom is known for his funny and crazy costumes and style during walk-outs and weigh-ins, and wears the fanciest pants in the gym. He admitted, however, that he is unwilling to take a chance on getting fined by not wearing Reebok, but usually figures something out the day of the weigh-ins last minute.
According to him, Pro Wrestling is the next evolution of MMA.
“There’ve been people who’ve straight up stolen personas. Like Chael Sonnen kind of patterned himself after a guy called Super Star Billy Graham, who was a big time pro wrestler back in the 70’s. Conor McGregor I think stole Ric Flair’s braggadocios fancy persona. As far as interview styles go, people can definitely learn a lot from pro wrestling.”
Success for a fighter is to not only win, but be remembered and talked about after the fight. Many fighters just thank their coaches, fans, and deity and that’s the end.
“A month ago Ben Rothwell had a big win. He got on the mic and I forgot what he said but he had some demonic laugh. For a couple of days afterwards, even if people were making fun of it, they were still talking about it. Even if you’re not going to use a different persona or display yourself with a character, you gotta have something that you’re planning to say.”
Lawlor was out for two years to recover from a knee injury, and ring rust is a big concern for him. Recently, a FOX TV crew came to the gym to film him, and he found himself tensing up under the bright lights and cameras.
“I’m glad that they came here and took that video because it made me realize that if this was the first time I’d been with those cameras on me, I would have reacted in the wrong way. Now in the back of my head when I get back in there to spar, I constantly tell myself to relax.”
He’s been doing a lot of visualization to mentally prepare himself for fight day.
Pro wrestling is something he wants to get more involved with in the future. He has worked with Ring of Honor and a tag team called “Red Dragon” that uses lots of mixed martial arts moves.
“Eventually it’ll get to a point where no matter how much I love it, my body’s not going to be able to take fighting anymore at the level I want. Then I’ll step away a little bit, continue to train, and see if I can get back into to pro wrestling and make some money.”
In his free time, he loves biking, watching pro wrestling and going to pro wrestling shows.
“I’m also real big into reading exercise science books, trying to help not even myself but how to learn how to help out fighters in the future. I also love this board game called Settlers of Catan. I play that a few times a week with my girlfriend and some friends.”
“Vegas isn’t my favorite city in the world,” he said with a laugh. “But it’s great for training. I’m having fun here. It’s the epicenter of MMA in the world, I have great training partners, and I think it has the best food. I can go to a neighborhood restaurant and get some really good meals at any time of the day. That’s a big deal!”
Lawlor is also involved with two podcasts: he is co-host for the FRB show with “Front Row Brian,” who is a character known for rumors and trash talking. (http://frontrowbrianshow.podomatic.com/) He also does one on “Figure Four Online” every Monday. (http://www.f4wonline.com/)
Follow Tom on social media: twitter: @FilthyTomLawlor , Instagram: filthytomlawlor