When the chips are down, that’s when Robbie Lawler is at his best.
With his championship reign hanging in the balance, the American Top Team product authored a furious fifth round, a rally that likely clinched his split-decision triumph over Carlos Condit in the UFC 195 headliner on Saturday night.
“He’s our Evander Holyfield. He’s never in a boring fight,” UFC President Dana White said at Saturday’s post-fight press conference. “When he gets hurt he continues to go toe to toe. I respect so much when you’re in a fight like this and you have to come out in that fifth round and do what Robbie did.”
For most of the bout, Condit kept Lawler at bay with a versatile offensive attack that saw him hold a significant edge in both significant strikes landed and attempted. The champion had his signature moments, however, most notably a knockdown in the second frame and the aforementioned fifth-round blitz that appeared to have Condit on wobbly legs for the better part of two minutes.
“I want to always put my foot on the gas. Condit’s tough. Everyone I’ve been fighting for the last two years is tough,” Lawler said. “I’m just going out there trying to knock someone’s head off and get a quick victory, but for some reason these guys won’t stay down.”
Lawler is proving to be his own toughest act to follow, but the longtime UFC veteran continues to deliver exciting fights. On the heels of his classic war with Rory MacDonald at UFC 189, Lawler-Condit immediately leaps into contention for 2016’s “Fight of the Year.” And that doesn’t even mention his UFC 181 showdown against Johny Hendricks, which ended with Lawler capturing gold for the first time via split decision.
With the win, Lawler joined Benson Henderson as the only two fighters in UFC history to win a pair of championship fights via split decision. Considering the nature of the competition, it shouldn’t be surprising that Lawler’s recent fights have been so closely contested. Still, many observers thought that Condit should have had his hand raised on the basis of sheer volume alone.
Don’t expect Lawler to apologize for walking out of the Octagon at the MGM Grand Garden Arena with his belt in tow, however.
“I’m not trying to defend anything,” he said. “I laid it all out there. I did all I could to win, and I got the victory. It’s all about getting better and moving forward and pressing to become a better champion than I am today. That’s what I’m gonna continue to do.”
It was the type of bout that builds mutual respect between those involved, and Lawler had plenty of praise for his opponent as they shared the dais on Saturday night in Las Vegas.
“His movement was awesome. He’s clever, he’s sharp and he can take a shot. Those guys put together a great game plan,” Lawler said. “He’s in shape. He’s a champion. He’s a guy who’s been doing this a long time. Carlos was everything they said he was, and I had to dig deep. Hat’s off to him.”
In the end, the lasting image of the bout will be those final moments in the fifth round, where Lawler kept the pressure on and Condit didn’t blink. Even as the current version of Lawler is lauded for his new-and-improved approach in the cage, sometimes the old brawler needs to make a cameo.
“I wanted a firefight. I just had to come forward. My coaches always say let’s not leave it up to the judges,” Lawler said. “So I said I’m gonna move forward and try to stop him. I should have done it a little earlier. He’s crafty. You can’t be stupid out there.”
Added White: “He needed to get that fire lit under his ass. Both guys made it one of the greatest rounds you’ll ever see anywhere in any fight.”