Even after he was bounced from Season 14 of The Ultimate Fighter, and despite a TKO loss to Johnny Beford at The Ultimate Finale, Louis Gaudinot has a job in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. But until the creation of the flyweight division, Gaudinot wasn’t a precise fit. He was undersized competing at bantamweight. And while size of the fight in the dog allowed him to qualify for the quest to win a six-figure contract, he needed to be if not bigger, stronger and faster, then lighter, quicker and much more comfortable.
During the TUF tapings Gaudinot and Team Bisping colleague John Ferguson, along with Team Miller’s Jon Dodson (the eventual 135-pound winner), continually nagged UFC president Dana White about establishing a flyweight division. White told him the goal was the end of 2011. Once the four-fighter UFC flyweight championship tournament began on March 3, 2012 at UFC on FX 2, Gaudinot was homeward bound.
“Six-seven years ago, the UFC didn’t even have lightweights. I thought I’d be fighting in the WEC; at the time they were talking about adding the flyweights,” Gaudinot said. “Then they did the merger, so that kind of got put on the backburner. I never thought the UFC would have flyweights.”
He won’t be fighting for the title anytime soon, but Gaudinot has a bout on the undercard of the promotion’s third appearance before a national television audience – and he’s home. The native of Yonkers, N.Y., is booked against former Jungle Fight bantamweight champion John Lineker Saturday night at UFC on Fox 3 10 minutes from his current home in Hoboken. Naturally cut at 5-3 and weighing 125 pounds, Gaudinot is beginning at ground level. If he scales the highest of mountains he may one day be looked at as pioneer, a legacy equal to Jens Pulver and B.J. Penn, each of whom turned something new and unknown into a thriving, invigorating weight class that’s the deepest in all of MMA.
“My goal is to take it as far as I can,” Gaudinot said. “I definitely can see myself being the champ in the flyweight division. I may actually have a size advantage on some of the guys. It’s about staying focused.”
Gaudinot’s focus helped keep the pressure on White and matchmaker Sean Shelby to book him at the IZOD Center while also taking to Twitter to campaign Shelby and his followers. Crowds don’t win matches, but the creature comforts of home have Gaudinot confident he’s ahead of the game. There are no travel headaches. He’s trained in his own gym, dined in familiar establishments, gets from Point A to Point B via his own car and has remained with his family.
The home-team advantage has kept “Goodnight’s” mind sane and there’s no denying the adrenaline surge before the horn.
“You definitely feel the energy during the walkout and in between rounds,” Gaudinot said. “When the fight is going on I really only hear my coach. I can signal into his voice. The times when my mom is at the fight I can hear her screaming too. Everything else kind of rounds out.”
It was in New Jersey where Gaudinot, handed his fourth-degree black belt by Tiger Schulmann’s Mixed Martial Arts, began his pro fighting career for Ring of Combat, compiling a 5-1 record before getting the call from TUF producers and earning a place in the house with a third-round TKO of Paul McVeigh. Despite a second-round submission defeat to Dustin Pague that eliminated him from the competition, both combatants earned $25,000 when fans voted their match as the Fight of the Season.
There was something extra that stood out besides Gaudinot’s quickness and bright green hair )upgraded from a blond Mohawk at the suggestion of a college roommate), his attitude. Gaudinot’s look may scream brash, but his actions reflect the example he’s set as head sensei of the Hoboken-based Tiger Schulmann.
“I think my personality is pretty good,” Gaudinot said. “I’m pretty straightforward. Everybody I’ve talked to, they said they really liked how I portrayed myself in the house. I have my students and teammates watching me on the show. I don’t want to act like a jackass. But after awhile with the cameras on you 24/7, you start acting like yourself, so I’m glad that’s the way I came across and a lot of fans liked me for that.”
More than 200 students ranging from ages eight to 60 were part of an audience that saw an undersized Gaudinot fight gamely but fall to Bedford in his first official UFC fight. The third-round TKO left Gaudinot with a red and swollen eye, and also a broken heart. He approached his coach with advice on what to tell his four-year-old daughter.
“He said ‘Tell him daddy’s face hurts, but his heart hurts more, because this means a lot to him,’” Gaudinot said. “When you fail or mess up, you get back up and try again. I try and lead by example not just my students, but also for her. That day when I went home, I said ‘Daddy’s face is fine but he’s a little sad because he trained hard and didn’t win.’ She said ‘That’s OK daddy, you’ll win next time.’ I have my family who I have to lead and I have my students who I have to lead.”
There were other variables that led to the Bedford loss. He took extended time off following the TUF tapings and didn’t watch his diet; he walked around at 140 pounds and once failed to cut a mere one pound after spending 10 minutes in a sauna. “It was easier to make the weight cut,” Gaudinot said of his preparation for Lineker, “but when you fight in the ring you gain five pounds and the other guy gains 25 pounds, it’s not fun.”
In Lineker, Gaudinot scouts an opponent as a smaller Chris Leben who throws with power and thoughts of a knockout, but also debuting at 125 pounds. “I’m kind of wondering how the flight up here to New Jersey from Brazil and the weight cut, how that stuff will factor into the fight,” he said. “Cardio. Cardio. Cardio – that’s what I’ve been working on. It doesn’t matter if the guy is better than you. If got better cardio, if you wear them out, anybody can be beat if they’re tired.” Gaudinot knows what’s at stake. A defeat on Saturday may mean Goodnight and good luck. An impressive win and he makes an immediate case for the upper echelon of the UFC’s newest division.
Next to his family and students, that’s something he knows is worth fighting for.
-- Follow Jon Lane on Twitter: @JonLaneNYC