Today is July 12th, 2015, and Robbie Lawler is the UFC welterweight champion coming off his first successful title defense. On July 14th, 2012, Robbie Lawler suffered a shutout loss to Lorenz Larkin in a Strikeforce middleweight bout which dropped him to 3-5 in the promotion.
Just try and let that sink in for a moment, because I still can’t comprehend it, and I’m not sure I ever will.
This really shouldn’t be happening. A guy who has been in the sport for 14 years, having once washed out of the UFC more than a decade ago, shouldn’t be able to return to a weight class where he previously hadn’t competed in since the first term of the George W. Bush administration, and rattle off 7 wins out of 8 against high-level competition (and Bobby Voelker) en route to becoming the unquestioned best welterweight in the world. He shouldn’t be peaking at 33 years old with more than 35 fights under his belt.
Last night’s war with Rory MacDonald was the defining moment of Robbie Lawler’s career. He was slowly but surely establishing firm control of the fight after 2.5 rounds — by establishing I mean his fists were colonizing MacDonald’s nose — before a MacDonald head kick set up a full-on onslaught from the Canadian that would’ve finished just about any other welterweight in the world. But Lawler, he of the epic comeback vs. Melvin Manhoef, isn’t one of those guys. And despite a lip so split that it you’d have thought he had two fat worms dangling from his mouth, as well as being down 39-37 on the scorecards after 4 rounds, he emptied what he had left in the tank, triumphantly felled MacDonald in the final round, and left the 25-year-old Canadian phenom facially unrecognizable.
This is what ruthlessness from “Ruthless” looks like. No one has ever managed to inflict that much damage on MacDonald before. It’s the type of blood, gore, and carnage that could make even the most hardcore, blood-thirsty of combat sports fan turn away in pure shock, discomfort, and horror.
The violence factor and the raw power never left Lawler’s skill set even on his worst of days. He’s nuked Niko Vitale twice, Frank Trigg once, Scott Smith, Matt Lindland, Manhoef, and a host of other notable fighters in various promotions during his UFC exile. But Strikeforce-era Lawler was frustratingly inconsistent to the point where it seemed like a return to the UFC would be a brief stay, and his legacy as one of the sport’s most entertaining but underachieving fighters would be etched in stone. Those days are long gone now.
What changed? Who knows. It’s hard to nail any specific thing (or things) down. He admitted to not sparring in camp for years, moved to American Top Team from Pat Miletich’s storied camp, and the mental side of the sport seemed to affect him significantly. As far as his in-cage performances, he has become a technically proficient and deadly accurate striker with outstanding anti-wrestling maneuvers and superb cardio. He can win in patient, tactical battles and then turn into a mean, lean, face-shredding, soul-killing machine in an instant. Even when he’s taken down, he’s not been nearly as easy to pin down & out-grapple as, say, his loss to Tim Kennedy four years ago. This is a Robbie Lawler adapting to MMA in 2015 and he’s kicking everyone’s ass in the process. No one could’ve foreseen this when he lost to Larkin nearly 3 years ago to the day, and any lingering doubts about his abilities were erased with his remarkable victory on Saturday night.
I have no idea how long Lawler’s reign is going to last. Looking at the current 170 lbs landscape, fights against Johny Hendricks (who already beat him once and arguably beat him the 2nd time), Carlos Condit, and yes, even MacDonald again, are the toughest match-ups for him on paper. You also can’t discount Father Time finally catching up with Lawler and abruptly ending the dream run against any one of these guys. But at this point, I don’t care if his time as champion lasts all of 1 defense or 7, what Lawler has accomplished over the past two years improbable, inexplicable, and absolutely incredible.
You don’t have to rationalize it, just enjoy the ride, accompanied with Sam and Dave.
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