UFC 266’s Lauren Murphy: It’s Never Been About the Belt

Lauren Murphy UFC 254
Lauren Murphy, UFC 254 Credit: Gabriel Gonzalez/Cageside Press

Flashback to the summer of 2018. Lauren Murphy was coming off an unanimous decision loss to Sijara Eubanks. That, combined with a stint of the Ultimate Fighter that resulted in an 0-1 record on the show, left her at 2-5 in her last 7 fights.

Just over three years later, Murphy is on the second longest winning streak in the division – only behind champion Valentina Shevchenko, who she faces this weekend. The run includes a pair of dominant finishes as well as tough wins over contenders like Jojo Calderwood and Roxanne Modafferi. And while a lot of people see this as a seismic shift in the fortune of the one they call “Lucky”, she doesn’t really think it was ever that far away.

“You know, a lot of people ask me ‘how did you turn your career around?” Murphy muses at the question. But when considering that the skid included fights with multiple title challenger and a UFC champion, and close fights at that, it never felt like a turn around was needed. “I would look at that and I would be like ‘man, I am right there. I’m right there – I’m right in the mix. There’s just one or two things missing.”

One of those things that was missing to her was experience. Having not come from a traditional martial arts background, Murphy knows that she doesn’t have the cage/mat time of some of her opponents who have been doing it since they were toddlers. At first, that may have meant that she was a little less confident in herself. However, that is now a testament to her team, who not only helped her put in the hours on the mat, but helped her realize just how good she is.

“I actually started working with an entirely new team. I moved to a new state. I switched camps. I got all new sparring partners,” she said. “Just a difference in the way that we trained, and the way that my coaches would give me game plans to follow, and the way that they spoke to me and about me. All of that was so different and it really helped build my confidence. So when I would fight, for the last two years, I felt much more sure of myself.”

And in those two years, the payoff has been obvious. She now stands just one fight of realizing something that nearly every fighter dreams of – a UFC belt. Although that is the dream of many, and Murphy is certainly looking forwards to it, it was never really the goal in her mind.

“Of course, I’ve visualized myself winning the belt and what it would be like for Dana White to wrap it around my waist,” Murphy admitted. “But the truth is, it that none of this has ever been about the belt.”

For Murphy, the satisfaction of her martial arts journey, all the steps that she has taken, and the mountains that she has climbed, it all comes down to precisely that – the journey.

“The belt is cool and that’s great, but none of this has ever been about belts. For me, this has always been about finding out how far I can go and seeing what I can do – what I’m capable of and what my limits are,” she said. “If the belt comes at the end of that, that’s great, but that was never actually my goal.”

Murphy believes that she can go all the way, and that the belt, while not her primary goal, is how far she can go. With many people counting her out due to the prior dominance of the champion Shevchenko, she is ready to show the world otherwise.

“Somebody is going to beat her… I refuse to put anybody on a pedestal like that,” “And one of the things we all love about MMA is that the unexpected can happen on any given night. We love to see it – we all love a good underdog story. We love to see an underdog come up and win. We love to see people that we think are unbeatable get beaten, and it’s going to happen.”

Of course, many women have said they’re the one to beat the champ. Many have come and all have gone as well. Murphy feels that she’s different. She feels she has just the right combination of things that is going to bring a dog fight to Shevchenko and a belt to Texas.

“I think that’s one of the things people fail to really take into account. Somebody is going to beat Valentina,” Murphy said. “It’s going to be somebody that is very strong. It’s going to be somebody that nobody really sees coming. It’s going to be somebody that has a lot of experience, and it’s going to be somebody that can’t be broken. And I think I fit all of those roles.”

Her chance to show that she fits those roles comes Saturday as the co-main event of UFC 266. That bout can be see only on ESPN+ pay-per-view.

You can hear the entire audio of this interview at 2:26.