This is a guest feature by Shaun Al-Shatti.
Lorenz Larkin is trying not to get ahead of himself, though that's easier said than done. To say the ride has been swift is an understatement. Having been plucked from obscurity by Zuffa officials just five months ago, Larkin suddenly finds himself headlining Friday's Strikeforce Challengers 19 event against late replacement Nick Rossborough. "It's crazy," he says in amazement. "It was surreal enough just to be in Strikeforce. From fighting in the smaller shows, to now I'm headlining? Everything's moving pretty fast for me."
But those close to him aren't as surprised. Born and raised an hour away from the sandy beaches of coastal California, the Riverside native grew up the youngest of nine children. After a brief shot at football, Larkin moved to boxing, before eventually turning to mixed marital arts.
Fighting upwards of twice a month, Larkin quickly collected a 15-0 record on the amateur circuit before making the leap to the professional ranks in mid-2009, where he knocked out Lateef Williams with a vicious elbow 40 seconds into his debut. The ensuing two years were spent blazing a dazzling highlight-laden trail across California, capped by a ridiculous "Rampage"-equse slam over world ranked grappler Joao Assis.
On the heels of a six-fight knockout streak, Larkin finally got a call from the Strikeforce brass and was promptly tasked with fighting Scott Lighty on just one week's notice. With few offering him little more than a puncher's chance, Larkin stunned pundits by steamrolling through the K-1 veteran on route to a brutal second-round TKO victory. Proving the performance was no fluke, Larkin followed up a month later with an even more impressive victory over former NFL prospect Gian Villante. The community was buzzing. "The Moonson" had arrived. "It was just finding my future," he sheepishly says. "All the hard work that I've put into this sport."
Such a whirlwind six months could be jarring for any 25-year-old, but Larkin seems to be taking it in stride. "I've been sitting back and really thinking about my career," he explains. "It is hard, but I think I'm pretty good at looking at all my options, weighing them out, and then making the decision, instead of just diving in headfirst and going all crazy." In a sport clashed with pomposity and cookie-cutter personalities, Larkin's unconventional self-awareness is a breath of fresh air. The youngster eschews the token callouts, instead fixing his gaze only on improvement. "I don't want a title shot right now." he states plainly. "That's not important to me yet. Right now I'm just trying to develop as a fighter."
More after the jump.
Though don't be fooled, under the modest demeanor rests a monster. A representative of the new generation of hyper-athleticism, with lightning in his feet and thunder in his hands, Larkin has abruptly emerged as one of the most exciting prospects in mixed martial arts. Aided by a dazzling stand-up arsenal, eight of his eleven victories have come by way of knockout, with six in the first round. Yet the fighter's fan-friendly style is neither deliberate, nor a contrived attempt to feed into the thirst for violence. "That's just how I fight," he flatly explains. "I couldn't change it if I wanted to. I've just been doing that my whole fight career, even amateur. Not trying to be conceded, but most of them have been really exciting."
As wrestlers slowly take over the sport, Larkin's fearless approach will go a long way to endear himself to both fans and the powers at be. For the same reasons that Jon Fitch hasn't gotten a second title shot while Dan Hardy remains employed by the UFC after four straight losses, fans are rapidly becoming less and less tolerant of lay and pray practitioners. "I think your longevity in MMA is if you're exciting," Larkin explains. "It has nothing to do with whether you win or lose."
"Look at [Chris] Leben. When he comes in he's always 50-50 to win. But I don't ever see the UFC cutting that guy because he is just one of those exciting fighters that people will always want to watch." After finishing the thought, Larkin pauses, as if rerunning the words through his head. "I think that's what helps me out," he eventually concludes. "I'm not so focused on ‘oh my god, I can't lose'."
Outside of a lackluster first round against Villante, Larkin has eluded any risk of staining his immaculate run. The weight of an undefeated record has swallowed fighters in the past, but for Larkin it's just another perk in an already surreal ride. "I'm not too worried about it," he says when confronted with the notion of his inevitable first loss. "Knowing that your family is behind you and they want you to do good, it helps out a lot. For somebody to beat me, they're going to have to really seriously hurt me."
That balance between conviction and awareness is a determining factor in any young fighter's career, and Larkin's groundwork was laid surprisingly early. Fresh off his first professional victory, Larkin tried out for the UFC's flagship launching pad, "The Ultimate Fighter." Though his audition was a brief one. "I didn't even get past the first round," he bitterly recollects. "I was kind of fed up, you know, thinking this is all gimmicks." So the young fighter went back to the grind, eventually earning his shot the hard way.
Years later, after being signed by Strikeforce, Larkin inadvertently ran into UFC President Dana White. "I told him, ‘you know, I'm not going to lie to you. I just thought you were the biggest a**hole and I f**king hated you'," he says, a laugh escaping from his informal drawl. "But I told him ‘you know what, it probably helped me out the best, because afterwards I wasn't going to take the easy way up to the UFC. Just keep on fighting and winning and I'll get there eventually.'" Such frank honesty is hard to find, and was exactly what White coveted. "He was cool about it," Larkin gleefully recalls. "He said ‘you know what, that's the sh*t that I want to hear man.'"
Just days from the biggest fight of his career, Larkin flashes a wide grin as he remembers the story. It's bizarre to think that it was only two years ago. To have come so far in so little time is an accomplishment in of itself, yet Larkin isn't content. For him the ride is just starting. "I don't want to go back," he says with a wry smile. "You guys got me, now I'm staying. I'm going to be a red-headed stepchild around here."