Robbie Lawler is happy to fly under the radar. | Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog.com
Leading up to UFC 189, the featherweight title headliner has received the overwhelming majority of the attention. Conor McGregor has unfathomable popularity, and even though his proposed showdown with hated rival Jose Aldo is off the table, that's still all virtually anybody wants to discuss.
Meanwhile, UFC welterweight champion Robbie Lawler is set to defend his crown against Rory MacDonald in the co-main event. The rematch between the two stylistic polar opposites would headline many other MMA events, but it’s been relegated to second fiddle behind McGregor's trash talk and his last-minute replacement opponent, Chad Mendes. Nobody, it seems, is giving much thought to what will be the sole undisputed championship bout of the evening.
And that's just how Lawler likes it.
"That does not bother me at all," Lawler said during a conference call. "I don’t care if I’m the first fight or the last fight; I’m going to go out there and showcase my skill. [Without the media attention] it makes my life easier because I can focus on what I need to focus on."
Lawler said he has a job to do and that none of the hype -- or lack thereof -- surrounding his fight matters to him. Besides, he said, why spend extra energy on something when someone else is already doing it all for you?
"I just stick to what I do and that’s train hard and concentrate on myself," he said. "I let the UFC do the promoting. Conor's doing a great job promoting the fight, Mendes is coming in to fill in and I think it’s going to be a good fight. But I don’t concentrate on any of that. I concentrate on myself and getting my body stronger, getting my mind stronger, so I can go in there and put a show on and beat somebody up."
The person he's looking to beat up is MacDonald, one of the most well-rounded fighters in the sport. "Ruthless" already bested the Canadian via split decision at UFC 167 but, he said, that was a long time ago. Both Lawler and his first title challenger have grown leaps and bounds since their first encounter almost two years ago, so much so, he said, that Lawler isn't putting any stock into what transpired the first time around.
"I don’t spend too much time watching tape and doing those kinds of things," the champ said. "I watch a little bit of tape, but my coaches do all the breaking down of my opponents. I just go out there and train every day, and try to become a better fighter. I’m just pushing myself and I’m not too worried about who I’m fighting as much as I’m worried about how I can grow and how I can go out there and dominate. Our [first] fight doesn’t really matter; July 11 is the only date that matters."
What does matter to Lawler, though, is making sure that MacDonald doesn't last until the final horn. Lawler has always been the sort of fighter who relishes the chance to remove someone from consciousness, and he aims to do the same against MacDonald.
"It’s always the plan," he said. "The one thing I want to do is go out there and finish people. I don’t want to leave it up to the judges; I want to get in his face and either get a submission or knock somebody out. I want to put a stamp on this fight."
If Lawler can be triumphant over MacDonald, it could help to eliminate any lingering doubt about his viability as champion. He had two razor-thin fights with former 170-pound champ Johny Hendricks and when he last toppled “Bigg Rigg” to wrest away the title at UFC 181, it was under dubious circumstances. Many believed that Hendricks should have had his hand raised when they dueled last December, but it was Lawler who emerged with a contentious split verdict. Still, Lawler scoffs at the notion of the negativity and criticism, saying that it goes in one ear and out the other.
“I don’t need people to doubt me in order for me to wake up and work harder every day,” he said. “That’s inner strength that I have. I don’t need any extra motivation from the naysayers. I’m self-motivated. None of that stuff matters.”
Lawler attributes his career resurrection to his determination and a well-structured team. He believes that a more intelligent approach to training will pay dividends against MacDonald.
A man who says he never lives in the past, Lawler’s vision is simple: keep looking ahead and never stop until he’s achieved everything he’s sought.