No matter where he goes, Julian Lane can't escape his memorable stint on The Ultimate Fighter reality series, not even more than 600 miles east of his hometown.
As he prepares for the first defense of his CES MMA lightweight title Friday night in Rhode Island, Lane is waiting out this week's blizzard cooped up in the same hotel as former TUF teammate Jon Manley, who is also fighting on Friday's card.
The two never saw eye-to-eye while sharing the spotlight on national TV, with Manley going as far to suggest Lane's drunken exploits were nothing more than a ploy to get himself kicked out of the house instead of having to face the pressure of fighting on one of the sport's biggest stages.
"I don't know if he wants to see me or not," Lane said Wednesday after wrapping up a promotional vignette for AXS TV. "We really weren't that cool on the show, but he's a nice guy and all. I'm sure we'll say hi. I have no beef with the guy."
Lane (8-3-1, 1 KO) has matured since his breakthrough in 2012. He's still the same brash, outspoken fighter who nearly punched holes in the walls during his intoxicated rant on TUF, but after beating hometown favorite Luis Felix on AXS TV in August in front of a sold-out crowd at Twin River Casino, he's finally earning recognition as a legitimate contender in the 155-pound weight class, not just "the drunk on TV."
"Everybody said I couldn't fight, or that I was just there because of my Mohawk or my tattoos or how I run my mouth," said the 27-year-old Mansfield, Ohio, native, "but now everybody sees I'm full of talent.
"I've got a gift God gave me and I'm using it to my advantage. Hopefully, it gets me all the way to the top."
Fighting on AXS TV under the promotional guidance of CES MMA has allowed Lane to reinvent himself as a fighter. He'll get the opportunity to continue climbing the ladder Friday, Jan. 30th, 2015 when he defends his title in a five-round bout against Boston's Lucas Cruz (7-2, 2 KOs) on the main card of "CES MMA XXVII" at Twin River, one of two title fights scheduled for Friday's AXS TV broadcast.
Tickets for "CES MMA XXVII" are on $40.00, $55.00, $100.00 and $125.00 (VIP) and can be purchased online at www.cesboxing.com or www.twinriver.com or by phone at 401-724-2253/2254. All bouts are subject to change.
"There's nothing like fighting on national TV," Lane said. "You're on the spot right there. It's not prerecorded."
Life has changed for Lane since choking out Felix five months ago on national TV. No longer the underdog, Lane finds himself in an enviable position as the fighter everyone else is chasing after, desperate to get their hands on that championship belt.
"I've actually never been the guy holding the belt," Lane said. "Like they say, it's lonely at the top, man. It's true. But you've got to earn your keep. That's what I'm going to do."
The win over Felix also sparked a flurry of social media backlash from some of the region's top fighters, many of whom openly challenged Lane to put his title on the line.
"I'm basically like, 'Dude, catch up. You'll get your shot when you have your chance. Work hard enough to get your shot.' I put all my hard work, all my dedication, all my sacrifices for my kids and my family," Lane said. "I've earned my shot at the title. I'm here to prove my point. I'm the champ. I've got the belt, so of course everybody is coming at you now because you've got the gold and they're trying to get a meal ticket off of you.
"Everybody's trying to get their shot, man, and if it's by running their mouth, if they try to get it that way, then that's cool. I'm like, "Fuck that, man." Earn it with your hands. Earn it with your skill."
Felix controlled the pace in the fight against Lane, circling the cage and keeping Lane at a distance with solid right hands and leg kicks, but Lane wasn't just picking his spots. The reigning champ admits he sprained both of his ankles during the fight, which limited his mobility and forced him to switch up his game plan.
"He pulled back on some of the kicks I threw and I guess, like, if you graze someone with your kicks and land with your toes it really hurts bad, man, and I slam my kicks in there, so it caught me off guard," Lane said. "I slowed up kicking.
"As you could see, I wasn't kicking and in the third round that's why I was just standing in the cage. I was standing in the cage like, "Fuck it. I'm not moving no more. I'm just going to stand here and wait for him to come. I'm just going to fake that left and I know he's going to circle to my power." That's what happened. I faked that jab and threw the overhand."
Lane landed a clean shot, sending Felix crashing to the canvas, and quickly finished the fight with his "bread and butter" move, the guillotine choke. He admits he had trouble throwing high kicks during the fight - "whenever I do, I fall on my ass," he said - but has since fixed the problem with an impromptu trip to the spa.
"I went to get a pedicure the other day," Lane said with a laugh. "My feet are really soft, so now I've got some grip. You're going to see a hell of a lot more kicks."
Asked to describe Friday's opponent, Lane grimaced and offered only a generic scouting report, noting that Cruz "throws a lot of kicks and punches or whatever" while focusing more on what he plans to do once the door closes and the bell rings.
"I really don't look at what he's going to do. I worry about what I'm going to do," he said. "When I get in that cage I'm focused on what I'm doing and I'm going to work my game plan, push the pace and look for the finish."
It's business as usual for the reigning CES MMA champ, even after driving through blizzard-like conditions from Ohio to Rhode Island earlier this week to get an early jump on Friday's fight. On the surface, Lane is the same loose cannon who gained popularity with a nationwide audience on TUF - complete with all the tattoos and the unconventional hairstyle - but he's finally out from under the shadow of reality television, ready to earn praise for his skills inside the cage.
"I'm trying to build another name just to show my real character and show people the real me," Lane said. "They can actually see me fight instead of two-round exhibitions with no audience. I get my rage from the crowd, from the fans, from the hate, from the love, so that's what fuels my fire. There's nothing like fighting live."
The main event of "CES MMA XXVII" stars Bourne, Mass., welterweight Chuck O'Neil (14-6, 4 KOs) defending his CES MMA title against Jersey City's Manny Walo (7-1-1, 1 KO) in a five-round bout. Also on the main card, Dedham, Mass., welterweight Brett Oteri (12-5, 1 KO) battles Ludlow, Mass., vet Jon Manley (8-2) while Felix (11-8, 4 KOs) returns to face D'Juan Owens (11-8-1, 4 KOs) of Richmond, Va. East Providence, R.I., bantamweight Dinis Paiva (5-5, 3 KOs) opens the main card in a three-round bout against Matt Doherty (3-1, 4 KOs) of Salem, Mass.
The undercard of "CES MMA XXVII" features six bouts, including a three-round featherweight showdown between Kyle Bochniak (3-0, 1 KO) of Boston and Long Island vet Thomas English (5-5, 2 KOs) and a lightweight bout between battle-tested veteran Jeff Anderson (11-9, 2 KOs) of Pawtucket, R.I., and Andres Jeudi (6-4, 2 KOs) of Dorchester, Mass.
Middleweight Eric Spicely (5-0, 2 KOs) of Providence faces Kevin Haley (3-2, 1 KO) of Rollinsford, N.H.; and South Boston's James Murrin (2-1, 2 KOs) battles Baltimore's Robert Sullivan (4-3) in a featherweight bout. Flyweights Chris Cole (3-2) of Andover, Mass., and Dan Cormier (4-4, 1 KO) of East Providence, R.I., battle in a three-round bout and featherweight Rico Disciullo (3-0, 1 KO) of Peabody, Mass., faces newcomer Mak Kelleher of Selden.
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