From the first time Tom Lawlor stepped into a caged fighting structure, his mixed martial arts career has been just a little bit different than others.
The Providence-based middleweight was barely 30 seconds into his first pro bout for a promoter in Ft. Myers, Fla., when he and his opponent, Ariel Gandulla, went crashing through an unlocked cage gate and out onto the arena floor.
"We landed and he got the worst of it," Lawlor said. "I got back in the cage and celebrated as if I won the fight like a countout in pro wrestling. I mean, that's how it would go if it were a fight in the street and something like that happened, right? One guy's down and out and one guy's standing, the guy left standing should be your winner."
Well, not quite. The 2007 fight was ruled a no-contest. But it served as a launching pad for one of the most colorful careers in a sport already overflowing with quirky personalities. Lawlor will look for his third win in his past four fights when he meets Francis Carmont at UFC 154 on Nov. 17 in Montreal.
"How many guys in the middle of the card just blend together?" Lawlor asked during a recent phone interview. "You can't pick them out of a police lineup. You have to make yourself stand out."
A mainstay on the UFC scene since appearing on the eighth season of The Ultimate Fighter, (where he lost to eventual winner Ryan Bader), Lawlor is known for spicing up fight-week festivities by assuming characters for his weigh-ins and fight walkouts.
Lawlor's costumes have ranged from the mainstream, like Apollo Creed and Hulk Hogan, to references only long-time MMA fans would understand, such as the time he did a spot-on imitation of early UFC star Dan Severn.
"I mean, look, I'm not a superstar like Anderson Silva," Lawlor philosophized. "But, even though I'm a guy with a 4-3 UFC record, I've been able to make a name for myself. I've been able to generate attention. I need to sell myself and and this is just a way to keep my name out there and have a little fun while I'm at it."
Speaking of having fun, Lawlor is just getting warmed up. In the course of a staccato phone interview, Lawlor dropped gems on a wide range of subjects:
• On fighting a resident of Canada (Carmont, from France, now lives in Montreal) for the fourth time in his past five fights: "It's pretty weird. For a while there they only had me fighting people from Arizona. I fought Ryan Bader and then Kyle Kingsbury, C.B. Dolloway, and Aaron Simpson, back to back to back. Pretty much anyone who ever trained in Arizona got a fight with Tom Lawlor. Once I got done with Arizona it was all about Canadians. I actually requested the theme from Team America: World Police as my walkout music for this fight, but they wouldn't let me do it."
• After being told the reason he gave for his recent move from Florida to Providence (Lawlor got a deal on a foreclosed downtown condo) was boring: "OK, you want me to make up something interesting? Here goes. I was visiting Providence and someone hit me in the head with a donut and knocked me out. I woke up and all of a sudden felt the urge to live in the place with the most per capita Dunkin Donuts in the world. There's literally six of them within about two blocks, including one in my building. It's all about the donuts."
• On costume ideas which were left on the cutting-room floor: "After Michael Jackson died, I thought about coming out to the weigh-ins dressed up as him and carrying a big bottle of pills. But we decided that one would be over the line."
• On the UFC's choice of on-hold entertainment: "I'm kind of pissed off right now. I was on hold waiting for your call, and instead of some nice Muzak, they're playing UFC Primetime [a promotion vehicle pushing UFC 154]. I'm hearing all about Georges St-Pierre and Carlos Condit, and Martin Kampmann and Johny Hendricks, but nothing about Tom Lawlor and Francis Carmont."
Ah yes, the match with Carmont. For all the talk about Lawlor's entertainment value, at some point he's going to have to sink or swim as a contender in the middleweight division. Since returning to New England, where he was born and lived until he was 13 -- Lawlor has shown renewed focus, as he's trained with Rhode Island jiu-jitsu specialist Tim Burrill and Boston UFC lightweight standout Joe Lauzon.
While Lawlor recognizes he won't be able to fight forever, he won't bite on the idea that the fight with Carmont could be make-or-break for his title contender prospects.
"I mean, here's the thing, I'm 29 years old," Lawlor said. "It's not like I'm nearing the end of the road. I want to do this as long as I can and make a good living at this and I know this means I will have to win to be relevant, but, when you're this close to a fight that's really all you're thinking about. It's about the next fight coming up, I'm not thinking of getting in line for a title shot or anything, I just want to win my next fight."
The 34-year-old Carmont, a native of St. Tropez, France, has fought as a professional since 2004, but he's really come into his own since moving to Montreal and training at the famed Tri Star gym, MMA home of superstar Georges St-Pierre. Carmont has won all three of his UFC bouts to date, the last two via submission.
"I think we're similar-but-different fighters," said Lawlor. "If you look at his record, he's got a pretty healthy mix of submissions, knockouts and decision on his record. I'm the same. I think my wrestling is better and I know he has knockout power, but I mean, if he wants to stand and bang it's not like I'm going to drop to the mat and turtle up."
The conversation takes a 180-degree turn, as Lawlor is struck by a moment of inspiration.
"The Coneheads," Lawlor said. "Ten days left until the fight and I still don't know what I'll dress up as. The Coneheads. Might be doable. That's something to think about."