Rivalries: Robbie Lawler

By Brian Knapp Aug 25, 2020
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Scorched-earth punching power and a flair for the dramatic made Robbie Lawler one of MMA’s most revered figures. Nearly two full decades into his career, time may soon reveal whether or not he has one last run left in him.

Lawler will return to the Ultimate Fighting Championship stage for the first time in more than a year when he toes the line against Neil Magny in the UFC Fight Night 175 co-main event this Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. A short-notice substitution for Geoff Neal, he enters his three-round showdown with Magny on a three-fight losing streak. Lawler, 38, last appeared at UFC on ESPN 5, where he lost a unanimous decision to former American Top Team stablemate Colby Covington on Aug. 3, 2019. He remains one of the sport’s preeminent home run threats, as evidenced by the 20 knockouts present in his 28 professional victories.

As Lawler prepares for his battle with Magny, a look at some of the rivalries that have helped shape him through the years:

Nick Diaz

When Lawler locked horns with Diaz at UFC 47 on April 2, 2004 in Las Vegas, the emotional electricity charged the Mandalay Bay Events Center and rippled through the crowd of more than 11,000. Fists flew, and the two 20-something prospects refused to back down in their version of Russian roulette. Diaz spent a chaotic first round spinning his web around “Ruthless Robbie” with insulting taunts and disrespectful hand gestures. Lawler remained unaware of the danger that was encroaching upon him. They traded punches in the center of the cage at the start of Round 2, as the Miletich Fighting Systems product stung Diaz with a left hook, only to whiff on his bid to piece together a combination. Lawler never saw the counter, as he was blindsided by a right hook from Diaz’s southpaw stance. He nosedived into the canvas, tried to stand and staggered across the Octagon before collapsing again, his short-circuited equilibrium refusing to cooperate. Despite Lawler’s protests, the stoppage was called 1:31 into the second round.

Johny Hendricks

Lawler left the cage with the Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight title fastened to his waist when he took a split decision from Hendricks in the UFC 181 headliner on Dec. 6, 2014 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. Two of the three cageside judges—Marcos Rosales and Glenn Trowbridge—ruled in Lawler’s favor by 48-47 and 49-46 scores, while Sal D’Amato cast a dissenting 48-47 nod for Hendricks. A little less than nine months after their first unforgettable encounter at UFC 171 saw Hendricks walked away with a unanimous verdict, the two high-caliber welterweights engaged in another back-and-forth battle for 25 minutes. Lawler stormed out of the gate with stunning aggression, tearing into the incumbent champion with repeated knees to the body. Hendricks survived the initial onslaught, carried the fight into the second round and found his groove. The Oklahoman smashed Lawler with two-, three and sometimes four-punch combinations, often punctuating them with heavy leg kicks. Lawler seemed frozen at times, but he never went away. Late in the fourth round, Hendricks jumped on a single-leg and held on for too long, eating punches and elbows in a crouched position. The sequence seemed to turn the tide. Lawler shut down the “Bigg Rigg” again in the fifth and forced him into the same position of vulnerability, punishing his head with hammerfists and his body with digging elbows. Hendricks returned to his feet, only to be met by a blitzkrieg of winging punches from Lawler, the challenger clearly the fresher and hungrier of the two. His metamorphosis was complete.

Rory MacDonald

It took savagery to new heights. Lawler retained the welterweight championship with a technical knockout of Rory MacDonald in the fifth round of their gory UFC 189 co-main event on July 11, 2015 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. “Ruthless Robbie” closed out the Canadian 60 seconds into Round 5, bringing a decisive conclusion to an instant classic. MacDonald forced the Pat Miletich protege to rally to keep his title. He withstood a ghoulish onslaught from Lawler in the second round, the champion leaving his face mangled with a seemingly endless volley of punches down the pike. Straight lefts followed digging jabs, as Lawler slammed one fist after another into his face. MacDonald shifted the momentum in a blink, as he wrapped a head kick around his opponent’s defenses. Lawler staggered and absorbed a barrage of punches, standing elbows and knees from the challenger but refused to wilt. Round 4 provided more of the same from the two welterweights, who stood and traded. MacDonald seemed to get the better of the exchanges, especially early in the frame. However, the damage to his face left him vulnerable. Less than a minute into the fifth round, Lawler sent a straight left crashing directly into the Tristar Gym mainstay’s nose. He crumbled to his back in visible distress, and Lawler finished him with follow-up punches.

Carlos Condit

Neither man blinked, and neither man cracked under the enormous pressure of the moment. Lawler kept the Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight title on his mantle with a contentious split decision over Condit in the UFC 195 headliner on Jan. 2, 2016 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. All three judges scored it 48-48: Derek Cleary and Chris Lee for Lawler, Tony Weeks for Condit. The statistical data favored Condit. The former World Extreme Cagefighting champion outpaced Lawler in total strikes (177-93) and significant strikes (176-92), and he outlanded him in all five rounds. Of course, not all strikes are created equal. Lawler floored the “Natural Born Killer” with a right hand in the second round, blasted him with a forearm shiver in the third and had him reeling with a wild assortment of punches, elbows, knees and kicks in the fifth. Force oftentimes trumps volume in the hurt business, and Lawler connected with more of the impactful blows. Still, Condit’s effort was beyond admirable. He threw a whopping 497 total strikes—nearly 20 per minute—in the five-round fight and was clearly the busier man throughout. He was at his best in Round 4, where he staggered the champion with a left hook-overhand right combination and outstruck Lawler by a 47-6 margin. Nevertheless, he came up short where it counted most. Advertisement
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