The Ultimate Fighter
She hails from Alaska and currently calls Houston home, but there was a long and seminal stretch of Lauren Murphy’s career where Arizona was her main stomping ground, and she’s thrilled to be back.
“It’s awesome. Coming back here I’ve got a lot of old teammates and training partners and friends. A bunch of people have contacted us and been like, ‘Hey, anything we can do to help out, let us know.’ They’re cheering us on. I think I’ll have a lot of fans in the audience, which is really nice. It couldn’t really go any better. It’s really cool to be back in Phoenix. I’m excited. We’re making some good memories here.”
She even has her post-fight meal plotted out.
“In walking distance is the State 48 Brewery and they have a peanut butter and jelly burger. I cannot wait.”
It’s not unusual for fighters to be daydreaming about food during fight week, but having that level of decadence in her crosshairs is commendable.
First, of course, there’s the little matter of her pivotal flyweight bout with Joanne Calderwood, a match seen by many as a potential title eliminator.
“I’m actually really grateful for this fight, I’m looking forward to it and I like to test myself. I want these challenges.”
She’s certainly put in the work. Only the flyweight division’s champ, Valentina Shevchenko, has a longer win streak, and her moniker “Lucky” applies less and less to her Octagon output.
Always thoughtful, grounded and gracious with her time, we sat down with her ahead of UFC 263 to talk about Saturday and what lies beyond.
UFC: After years of being known as a striker, how did it feel to finally get your first submission victory last October?
Lauren Murphy: Really good. I really wanted to round out my record. I have so many TKOs and some decisions and split decisions. I was like, ‘Man, this is the perfect fight to go out there and get a submission.’ I love jiu-jitsu. My husband is a black belt. I’m a brown belt. I train jiu-jitsu all the time. It just felt good to finally get that submission win on my record.
UFC: With a win Saturday, that would be five in a row for you. Do you feel like this is the last stop before a title shot?
LM: I hope so, but everything depends on my performance. I’ve learned in this sport that anything can happen. We haven’t even made it through all the COVID tests yet, so… [laughs]. This fight hasn’t even happened yet, and you can’t count on it happening until you’re in the cage. And then it really depends on your performance. Even after that, there was a time when JoJo [Calderwood] was supposed to fight for the title and the champion got injured. So things changed for her. Anything could happen. So I don’t really like to predict what’s going to happen months down the road.
UFC: With that in mind, does this fight feel more high stakes than usual?
LM: I think all fights are high stakes. I was just talking to my coach about this. I felt pressure even when I was fighting on the regional scene in Alaska. Every fight felt like a lot of pressure, and it felt like a must-win situation. But I’m really getting better in my career about having some mental flexibility. After my last win, I was like, ‘Yeah, I deserve a title shot.’ Then it didn’t happen, and so it’s like, ‘Okay, then I’m going to go out and test myself against Joanne Calderwood and it’s going to be a really fun fight.’ It’s going to be a good test for me and this is just the next stop on the block. I think things are happening for me and not to me.
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It’s good for me to get more cage time. And it’s good for me to face a good striker and a good opponent like JoJo to build up my confidence to face the champion. I really would not want to face somebody like Valentina without knowing that I’ve beat some really tough girls in the division. My last opponent [Lillya Shakirova] had to take the fight on short notice [replacing Cynthia Calvillo]. She was quite a bit smaller than me, and I think it would really mess with my confidence to go in against a monster like Valentina knowing that I hadn’t beat anybody as good as Joanne Calderwood.
UFC: You mentioned mental flexibility. When did you develop that sort of awareness and how do you maintain it?
LM: I started working with a sports psychologist a couple years ago and that’s helped quite a bit. I started meditating several years ago and that’s really changed my life. I wish I was better at it (laughs). I’m not great at meditating, I’m not even always consistent with it. But I have noticed that it helps me stay in a really good frame of mind. It has just taken some practice. There have been times when I’ve fallen flat on my face and had to pick myself back up. You kind of learn that life goes on. Those lessons have taught me about having mental flexibility. There’s been times when I’ve been very rigid in my thinking, really amped up and not staying in the moment, you know? Thinking too much about the future, thinking too much about the past. It has just taken some time and some practice to develop that mental flexibility.
UFC: Calderwood is obviously a veteran and a notoriously tough out. What goes into preparing for someone like her versus other opponents?
LM: I’ve fought high-ranked fighters my entire UFC career. My first fight in the UFC was against Sara McMann. She was ranked No. 3 at the time and her only loss at that time was to Ronda Rousey. I fought Liz Carmouche next. I mean, who’s more of a veteran in this sport than Liz Carmouche? I’ve fought some really tough people. I fought Katlyn Chookagian for her UFC debut not even knowing how good of a fighter she was, what a monster she was. I took that fight on short notice. I fought Barb Honchak. She was considered the best flyweight in the world for a very long time.
I’m not afraid of her veteran status. I’m happy to be fighting veterans. Like I said, it wouldn’t do anything for my confidence or my position in the division to fight a newcomer or even an up-and-comer. It feels good to finally be facing other women that are considered veterans in this sport. Because people said it about me long before I considered myself a veteran. I like the position I’m in and I like who I’m fighting.
UFC: It’s a testament to the strength of this card that this fight is on the prelims. Am I crazy for thinking this is a dark horse candidate for Fight of the Night?
LM: I hope so. I think it is going to be a good fight. I’ve never seen JoJo have a boring fight. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a boring fight. After the fight with Liz Carmouche, I swore I would never have another one [laughs]. I think it’s going to be a great fight. I’m happy to fight early on the card so when we get done, I can go eat. All the restaurants will still be open [laughs] and we can watch the rest of the card. I’m going to be cheering for Marvin Vettori in the main event. It is a really sick card, so I’m happy to be fighting early. I can get back to hotel and watch the rest of the card.
I think it will be a good fight. She’s going to throw a lot of long kicks. It’s going to be a fight about range, for sure. She’s going to either be keeping me at distance with her kicks or she’s going to be closing distance to look for the clinch. If this fight takes place in the clinch, I’m very happy there.
UFC: And now you’re fighting in front of a capacity crowd in your old hometown. Sounds like you’ll be very happy there as well.
LM: It’s going to be awesome. It’s a different kind of energy. At the UFC APEX, some of it was nice because you walk out, you can hear everything. It’s very quiet in there when you fight. It really freaked me out on The Ultimate Fighter that there was no crowd, no energy to feed off of. I felt very…exposed. I kept telling myself [at the APEX], ‘This is your chance to do it over. This is your chance to get those moments back and do them better.’ And I did like it better in that respect because I thought I performed very well. I loved being able to hear my coaches. I could hear my opponent’s coaches. It was kind of a cool experience; it felt a little more like a sparring match. But the crowd brings an energy that can just not be beat, and I really do feed off of that and I love that…it’s going to be a lot better, I think. Walking out with the crowd cheering and people screaming and when something happens in the fight you can hear the crowd go nuts…that’s unmatched.