Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald took turns punishing each other throughout their UFC 189 co-main event at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas Saturday night, but it was the champion who left with the belt, Lawler successfully defending his welterweight crown for the first time with a fifth-round knockout.
“That was the accumulation of a beatdown,” Lawler said. “It wasn’t one punch, it was years of fighting right there coming to fruition. I’m the champ. I’m here to stay.”
The victory was Lawler’s second over Montreal’s MacDonald, having won a split decision over the “Red King” at UFC 167 in November of 2013. This one was just as close, but even more exciting.
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“It’s exciting because I showed everybody that I was a true fighter,” Lawler said through a badly split lip. “I come to fight. No matter what happens, I keep coming, trying to knock people out.”
Lawler got his wish, and he needed it, as he trailed 39-37 on all three judges’ scorecards at the time of the stoppage.
MacDonald shot out range finding kicks to the body as the bout opened, Lawler opting for his usual punch-based striking attack, even though he got in his share of kicks to the leg. MacDonald was the busier of the two, shooting out jabs while still staying perilously close to the champion. With less than 90 seconds left, Lawler tossed aside MacDonald’s first takedown attempt, and the war of nerves continued.
MacDonald’s face was reddened by Lawler’s punches, yet the Canadian continued to be the more active fighter, working his jab with ease and occasionally ripping off a combination or a kick to the head. Lawler’s southpaw jab was doing damage, but he wasn’t being busy enough with his power shots or combinations. As the round wore down, Lawler began picking things up with hard 1-2s, quickly opening up MacDonald’s face with the blows that were changing the complexion of the fight.
Warmed up and beginning to loosen up, the two welterweights started exchanging more in round three, but after another failed takedown attempt by MacDonald, the challenger’s face was covered in crimson courtesy of Lawler’s heavy hands. MacDonald kept pressing, and with 38 seconds left, a partially blocked kick to the head rocked the champion. MacDonald went on the attack, and Lawler, visibly hurt, fired back, but he was fortunate to make it out of the round.
MacDonald went right back to the right kick to the head to start round four, and Lawler got staggered again. Picking up the pace, MacDonald fired shot after shot at the bloodied champion, who threw back and made it clear that he was all right. He wasn’t though, as MacDonald was taking over the fight. Lawler appeared to have his legs under him again by the midway point of the round, and the Iowan made MacDonald know it, as he surged his way back into the fight. As the round ended, the two bloody warriors stood and stared each other down, drawing a roar from the crowd.
After 20 minutes of battle, neither fighter was about to give in for the final five, but after a hard left to MacDonald’s already injured nose, the Canadian fell to the mat. He covered up, but a couple hard shots by Lawler and referee John McCarthy had seen enough, stopping the bout at 1:00 of the fifth round.
“My coaches told me to stay basic, just pick him apart, and eventually I’d knock him out,” Lawler said.
With the win, the 33-year-old Lawler improves to 26-10 with 1 NC; the 25-year-old MacDonald falls to 18-3.