On Saturday, July 11, the UFC welterweight title will be on the line when champion Robbie Lawler faces Rory MacDonald in a rematch of their 2013 battle. The UFC 189 co-main event may not be getting the attention afforded to that night’s main event between Jose Aldo and Conor McGregor, but here are 10 reasons – five from the champion and five from the challenger - why it should.
UFC welterweight champion
If you didn’t like Robbie Lawler and everything he was and everything he represented during his first run in the UFC, then you’re not a fight fan. Hailing from the famed Miletich Fighting Systems camp, Lawler was a home run hitter of the highest order and he made no bones about it. And while he didn’t knock out veteran Aaron Riley – because you just didn’t knock out Aaron Riley – their fight announced that a new young gun had arrived in the Octagon, and he wasn’t taking prisoners.
If you’re reading this, you know the story of Lawler from that first UFC fight until his return in 2013. After a fast start to his UFC career, with wins in four of his first five, back-to-back losses to Nick Diaz and Evan Tanner prompted his release. It wouldn’t be safe to say he was out in the wilderness, as he continued to get high-profile fights outside the UFC, and one of them was for Strikeforce in 2010 against Melvin Manhoef. In that fight, which lasted just 3:33, Lawler’s leg was brutalized by the K-1 veteran, leaving him hobbling around the cage. But in typical “Ruthless” fashion, it took just one punch for Lawler to get the knockout win and make his fans stand up and cheer once more.
On paper, this probably wasn’t going to work. Lawler, returning to the UFC after over eight years away, was a great story, but he was 1-3 in his previous four bouts and making the cut to the welterweight for the first time since 2004. Koscheck, on the other hand, was 2-1 in his previous three, and the one fight he did lose was via controversial decision to Johny Hendricks. But in less than four minutes, Lawler knocked Koscheck out and had a new lease on his fighting life. He was home, and he was dangerous.
Following the win over Koscheck, Lawler knocked out Bobby Voelker, and his comeback was the talk of the MMA world. Most assumed those good vibes would come to a momentary halt at the hands of Canadian contender Rory MacDonald, who appeared to be one win away from a shot at the welterweight title that his good friend and training partner Georges St-Pierre was about to vacate a month later. It didn’t happen though, as Lawler put MacDonald in serious trouble and simply outworked his foe over the course of the three-round bout, earning a decision win and that shot at the title that was going to be MacDonald’s.
Johny Hendricks II
By the time Lawler and Hendricks locked horns for the first time in March of 2014, the narrative had changed from Lawler the comeback kid to Lawler possibly becoming a world champion. And though he barely missed that mark at UFC 171, nine months later at UFC 181 in December of 2014, Lawler – who won bouts over Jake Ellenberger and Matt Brown while waiting for his rematch with “Bigg Rigg” – made the most of his second crack at world title honors, pouring it on in the final round and breaking open a close fight en route to a split decision victory and the UFC welterweight championship.
You couldn’t tell by looking at the poker face of Rory MacDonald, but the 20-year-old had to be under enormous pressure heading into his UFC debut against veteran Mike Guymon in January of 2010. He was the heir apparent to the welterweight crown, the protégé of champion Georges St-Pierre and someone with the potential to one day surpass GSP’s laundry list of accomplishments. And all before his 21st birthday. Well, the young man then known as “The Waterboy” didn’t disappoint, submitting Guymon in less than a round. The UFC career of Mr. MacDonald had begun.
MacDonald appeared to be on his way to victory against former WEC champion Carlos Condit in his second Octagon bout before getting halted with just seven seconds left at UFC 115 in June of 2010. It was MacDonald’s first pro defeat and could have been a crippling one, but when he returned 10 months later in front of over 55,000 people in Toronto, he not only rebounded from the loss, he threw Nate Diaz around like a rag doll during one remarkable sequence that put a cap on his impressive three-round victory over the Stockton standout.
A young prospect can beat all the contenders and fellow prospects he wants to, but what happens when he faces a legend? BJ Penn wasn’t the prime killer he was at 155 pounds heading into his 2012 bout with MacDonald, but as the old combat sports adage goes, the great ones always have one great performance left. Unfortunately for “The Prodigy,” MacDonald didn’t let him have it in Seattle on December 8, as the rising Canadian star won a lopsided three-round decision to continue his rise up the welterweight ladder.
MacDonald followed up the Penn win with a workmanlike decision victory over Jake Ellenberger before losing an upset split decision to the surging Robbie Lawler in November of 2013. Again, the question was, would this defeat set him back mentally to where he would be gun-shy in upcoming battles? The answer: no way, and the victim was fellow contender Tyron Woodley, a dangerous fighter who could put opponents on their back with a flush right hand or a blast double leg takedown. But MacDonald, showing off some of his best boxing to date, stood in the pocket and pecked and poked his way to an impressive three-round decision win. MacDonald was back.
Headlining in his home country of Canada, MacDonald got a taste of what life would be like as a champion before facing former Strikeforce titleholder Tarec Saffiedine, and after the bell rung for their October 2014 bout, he fought like someone who was ready for a title shot, stopping Saffiedine in three rounds while picking up Performance of the Night honors. Now all that’s left for the newly dubbed “Red King” to fulfill his potential is to earn a victory on