It’s no surprise Conor McGregor thinks Robbie Lawler can’t retire

Is Conor McGregor's insatiable pursuit of legacy behind his doubts over Robbie Lawler's retirement?

By: Zane Simon | 3 months ago

No concept in combat sports is so ill defined as ‘retirement’. On the surface, fighting is something that seems to be a state of mind as much as it is a reflection of normal athletic competitive desire. Fighters like to fight, for some it’s the only place where they can really feel like themselves. The ‘itch’ to make a comeback can be ever present long after the physicality to compete has faded.

At the same time, what does retirement even mean in a world where the bar to entry is rock bottom low, and the variety of options is huge? GSP has been retired for more than half a decade. Is he ‘un-retiring’ to take a paid competitive grappling match this December? Is Floyd Mayweather truly retired, when he’s making bank on a series of high-profile, low-skill exhibition boxing matches?

That said, when Robbie Lawler hung up his spurs at UFC 290 this last weekend, it felt a lot more like a final decision had been made than most similar situations.

“It’s amazing, I’ve had a long career,” Lawler told the crowd after his win over Niko Price. “I’ve had a lot of people help me get to where I am today. Without them, none of this is possible. I’m blessed. I’m grateful.”

Conor McGregor doubts Robbie Lawler’s retirement, Lawler responds

All things said, what was likely Lawler’s final fight was as perfect an exit as most fighters could ask for; a former champion and fan favorite, getting that one last big win, past the point where most fans and pundits still felt he had anything left to give. A spectacular performance coupled with a farewell highlight package put together by the UFC for just this very moment.

It was special. Everyone cried.

Well, everyone but former UFC double champion Conor McGregor, who immediately took to twitter with a jab at the former Miletich Fighting Systems standout.

As mentioned above, McGregor is just saying what we’re usually all thinking. A fighter says they’re retiring? Give it a month or two and we’ll see. For his part, though, Lawler took an opportunity at his post-fight presser to respond and break down when when he says he’s done, he’s done.

“Why, does Conor want to fight?” Lawler responded when asked about McGregor’s tweet. “That’s a big fight, but no, I’m not really thinking about those things.”

“No, I’m just coaching and hanging out—I’m just retired,” Lawler added. “I’m always going to be working out. I’m always going to be in shape. I’m going to be dieting. That’s just who I am, and what I like to do, and what I’m interested in.

“But I’m going to coach and give back to others, and guys who want to compete at a high level, I’m going to try to help them do that.”

Lawler also referred back to another statement he made inside the Octagon, when he revealed that he hadn’t felt the necessary speed and fire for competition all through camp. For him, it sounds like fight day was the only day he truly felt ready to go and on point. A lot of fighters claim that they’ll know when their body can’t handle the grind any more, though most aren’t ready when that point hits.

“What makes this retirement pretty easy for me is because this is the first day I actually felt good during this whole camp,” Lawler explained. “But that’s really want you want, you try to figure out how to be really good on one day at your best. I was able to do that today.”

Conor McGregor’s discomfort with legacy

Moreso than just a general doubt about fighters and their ability to walk away, it seems like Lawler’s decision and McGregor’s disbelief may strike at something more core to who both men appear to be outside of the cage. On one side is the ‘Ruthless’ 41-year-old. A soft-spoken, understated man who has made it clear time and again that his combat sports career, alongside of a love for MMA, was one long search for respect.

Lawler spent his whole career fighting for the recognition, both from fans and from other fighters, that he was truly a great competitor and a great entertainer; things he proved by winning not just the UFC title, but back-to-back FOTY awards (even back-to-back-to-back from some publications).

After losing the title in 2016, Lawler hung around at the top for a couple more years, took a few fun action fights between 2021-23, and will walk away now with a legacy that he (or anyone else) could be proud of. The man is beloved by fans, beloved by fighters, he can ride off into the sunset knowing he did what he came to do.

McGregor has done a whole lot more, in a lot less time, but it hardly seems to have brought him any peace.

By the standard of what Lawler achieved, Conor McGregor is already a bigger success than 99.9% of fighters could ever imagine. A two division champion with a business empire that stretches well beyond the Octagon. But where Lawler seems like a fighter who spent his career chasing a goal and finally found it, the ‘Notorious’ SBG talent seems like a man pursued; as much haunted by his own success as he is proud of it.

Winning titles and fan love, gaining money and fame, all these things have been fleeting stopovers for McGregor in the constant pursuit of some unknown mountain yet to be climbed. He no sooner won his featherweight title than he left that division behind forever. Getting the lightweight crown was only a means to an end for grabbing a once-in-a-lifetime dream fight crossover against Floyd Mayweather.

Since then McGregor’s career has moved in brief fits and starts, seemingly spurred by his impulse to fame, and the knowledge that he’s never more famous than when he’s fighting. The Ultimate Fighter showed a picture of McGregor the coach, a man there for the spotlight moments, the fight nights, the highlights, but otherwise disinterested in the day to day grind of mentorship, or even of being on a reality show.

It’s hard to imagine Conor McGregor as a figure who isn’t always at least peripherally attached to talk of some kind of superfight. McGregor the man who hangs around the gym coaching, or leads the quiet life in his Mediterranean villa seems like a pipe dream, if it’s even in his mind at all. If he retired from MMA today, I’d have to imagine the siren song of celebrity boxing would be forever in his mind. He summited many of the biggest peaks in combat sports years ago and still looks like he’s searching for some new thrill to drive him onward.

But who knows? Maybe McGregor is right. Maybe Lawler will be one of the long chain of fighters who just isn’t nearly as done competing as they thought they were. It certainly happens too often to discount. From all appearances, however, Lawler seems to have found a satisfaction in his accomplishments that might just be always be out of McGregor’s reach. It’s no wonder the Irishman is so sure he’ll be back.

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About the author
Zane Simon
Zane Simon

Zane Simon is a senior editor, writer, and podcaster for Bloody Elbow. He has worked with the website since 2013, taking on a wide variety of roles. A lifelong combat sports fan, Zane has trained off & on in both boxing and Muay Thai. He currently hosts the long-running MMA Vivisection podcast, which he took over from Nate Wilcox & Dallas Winston in 2015, as well as the 6th Round podcast, started in 2014. Zane is also responsible for developing and maintaining the ‘List of current UFC fighters’ on Bloody Elbow, a resource he originally developed for Wikipedia in 2010.

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