Justin Lawrence has quickly and impressively made a name for himself in the world of mixed martial arts.
As the breakthrough competitor on the television show, “The Ultimate Fighter,” which airs Fridays at 9 p.m. on the FX network, Lawrence has opened many eyes in the industry.
A Pacific High School graduate, Lawrence has been dominant on the show so far, going from a relative unknown fighter to one of the heavy favorites to win and receive a UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) contract.
Lawrence, who currently is fighting at 155 pounds, turned a lot of heads after recently defeating Brazilian professional Christiano Marcello.
While the reality show is in progress in Las Vegas, Lawrence is not permitted to speak with anyone about his experiences, including his family, friends and media outlets.
Lawrence’s father, Benny Voyles, has been his coach since he began fighting at the age of 6 years old.
“A lot of people are picking Justin to win the show now,” Voyles said. “His mother (Dawn Voyles) and I are very proud of the way he’s handled being on the show, more so than even his fighting. He doesn’t get caught up in the drama. He’s there for one reason, and that’s to win.”
The season finale of “The Ultimate Fighter” is scheduled to air on June 1.
Even if Lawrence is not in the finals, Voyles said he likely will compete. Voyles will be on hand to coach Lawrence during the finale.
“A ton of people are booking tickets to Las Vegas for that show,” Voyles said.
“You wouldn’t believe all the calls we’ve been getting from people who have seen Justin fight on television. His goal is to be the best in the world. He wants to show that a local kid from a small town can make it big. Justin hasn’t done anything until he becomes world champion. He wants to win the show, but he has bigger goals. He wants to be world champion.”
Voyles, like many other of Lawrence’s fans and followers, are regular viewers of the television show.
“I like the show. One thing I don’t like is all the drama in the house. All athletes are role models and they should behave like that,” Voyles said. “Justin is not there to party. He’s there to win.”
Voyles has owned and operated 21st Century Self Defense in Pacific since 1995. He’s trained a number of top fighters, including Lawrence, his younger son, Dalton Voyles, and his younger daughter, Demi Voyles.
“I guarantee I have some fighters in my gym who are tougher than some of the guys on the show with Justin. We’ve won 35 national titles in the last five years. Safety always comes first. We have the nicest group of people here. When they get in that ring, they turn on a switch.” Voyles said. “We have rules here that our fighters need to follow. You need to keep a C average at school or you’ll be put on probation. If you disrespect your parents, I’ll kick you out of my gym. Justin lived by those rules. He’s a kid who never gets in trouble. He’s never beat up anyone outside of a gym. He’s a laid back person.”
Lawrence, 21 years of age, is an eight-time kickboxing world champion and a two-time golden gloves champion. He holds a black belt in martial arts. He’s had three professional fights and over 150 amateur fights in boxing, kickboxing and martial arts.
In the mixed martial arts ring, Lawrence can do it all.
“Justin is a great stand up fighter. He can fight free style and is a great jiu-jitsu fighter,” said Voyles, who himself was a professional boxer and kickboxer. “Justin is a stud on the ground. When he’s fighting right, Justin is unbeatable on his feet. He’s explosive and fast — speed kills.”
Lawrence, a former all-state wrestler at Pacific High School along with a standout running back and linebacker on the football field, has worked on his fighting for nearly his entire life.
“Justin’s hard work has paid off. Anybody can do anything if they want something bad enough,” Voyles said. “Justin grew up like anyone else, but when other kids were out getting in trouble, he was out running hills. It’s hard for a 21-year old when your buddies go out and you go to bed. Right now, it’s paying off for him.”
Following the season finale of “The Ultimate Fighter,” Lawrence will return to Pacific and prepare for his next fight.
“If Justin’s head is right, we should win the show. He’s focused and hungry. A few other guys in the house might be able to give him a good fight, but I think the Brazilian (Marcello) will be his toughest test, and he’s already beaten him,” Voyles said. “As long as he doesn’t act like an idiot on the show, Justin has some sponsorships lined up. He’ll take a week off after the show, we’ll get him a fight and he’ll get his professional career going.”