And there’s no doubt about it: Robbie Lawler is definitely “Ruthless.”
While each of the previous descriptors are all certainly apt when discussing the welterweight knockout artist, the nickname he’s carried throughout his 13-year career has never been more appropriate than it is at the current time. Just two years back, the once highly touted prospect appeared to be well on his way to becoming a cautionary tale of potential unfulfilled, but then something happened.
Suddenly, the fighter who was once considered to be the most feared man in the 170-pound ranks looked to be exactly that as he returned to his beautifully violent ways and began settling his opposition in brutally spectacular fashion. Where Lawler was once wrapped up in a string of atypical and seemingly uninspired performances, and appeared to be asleep at the wheel of his career - literally so when former WEC frontman Reed Harris had to wake him up while sitting on the dais at a now notorious Strikeforce press conference in Chicago - the fire behind his eyes and the signature Lawler scowl had officially returned.
That was bad news for the rest of the welterweights on the planet and sparked one of the most impressive career rebounds to date in mixed martial arts.
Lawler’s return to prominence ate up headlines and article space around the sport and many writers (this one included) figured there was some newfound, almost mythical motivation behind his epic return. The history of combat sports is filled with sagas of this exact nature, and Lawler surging back to not only reclaim his elite level status, but to push further than ever before and become a title contender surely had some magic behind it. There had to be some great reason for the American Top Team fighter’s rise from the proverbial ashes.
Whether it was his chance to prove the scores of previous doubters wrong or his lifelong dream of becoming a world champion and hoisting a UFC title above his head in ultimate glory, the catalyst that ignited Lawler returning to his destructive form had to be nothing short of legendary. Some lightning to go with the thunder he was throwing inside the Octagon if you will, but then again, Lawler has never been a man to make things all too complex.
Sure, the 32-year-old veteran had remerged to great acclaim, but the reason behind his re-energized run turned out to be far simpler than anyone could have guessed. As it turns out, the chance to return to the place he felt he always belonged was the key to Lawler rediscovering the proverbial beast within.
“I’m excited to be fighting in the UFC and competing on the sport’s biggest stage again,” Lawler explained. “This is just my time and everything has gone great. I’m excited to be here and I’m excited to be a mixed martial artist. That has shown in my fights and that is going to show again in this one.
“I don’t think there was a period where I wasn’t excited to be training and be a mixed martial artist. I think it was more about whatever circumstances I was in at the time. Things just weren’t clicking on all cylinders I guess and we’ll just leave it at that.”
Nevertheless, Lawler did return to the UFC and has done so with force. The former Miletich Fighting Systems product has been nearly flawless during his most recent run, as he’s found victory in all but one of his six showings since coming over from Strikeforce. That sole blemish came when the veteran striker went toe-to-toe with Johny Hendricks in what turned into a five-round war for the vacant welterweight crown at UFC 171 back in March.
The 25-minute affair was not only deemed to be an instant classic, but was easily one of the year’s best, as both men battled to impose their respective wills throughout the fight. Each would have their moments as they traded power shots, but it would ultimately be the former two-time NCAA Division I national champion wrestler’s grappling talents that turned the tide as Hendricks stole the final round with a late takedown and finishing the frame in top position.
When the judges’ scorecards were announced, Hendricks emerged victorious via split decision and became the new 170-pound title holder. And while Lawler has won back-to-back fights to earn another shot at Hendricks’ welterweight strap, the lessons learned in their first go around have been locked in Lawler’s mind.
He knows what he needs to do to claim victory this time around and the Coconut Creek-based brawler is determined to make this title shot count when he steps in against Hendricks in their highly anticipated rematch this Saturday at UFC 181. In his mind, the biggest mistake he made was leaving things up to chance and Lawler has every intention of taking the cageside judges out of the equation when the action gets underway in Las Vegas on December 6.
“When you leave it up to the judges that happens, but Johny is a competitor and Johny knows how to win,” Lawler said. “That’s what I need to do. I need to figure out a way to win rounds and dominate the fight so that it’s my hand that is raised at the end. I worked on a lot of things since our first fight and I’m physically and mentally ready to go. I’m coming in fully ready to dominate.”
While his upcoming bout with Hendricks will be a second chance in the literal sense for the California native, the figurative sense of the phrase resonates as well. Lawler is making the most of his time under the UFC banner and giving his all for what he deems to be the best fans in the world and the biggest stage in the sport. He’s done all this by sticking to what he knows, and for Robbie Lawler that’s keeping things simple.
It doesn’t matter if he’s fighting in the biggest fights imaginable or stepping in against the most dangerous opponents in his weight class; Lawler’s focus has and always will remain on his personal path and what he has to do to ensure his hand is the one raised on fight night. That’s a true representative of spending more than a decade in one of the most physically and mentally demanding sports in the world and personal sign that things are clicking better than they ever have for the resurgent title contender.
“I like to keep things simple,” Lawler said. “I focus on my training and working with my coaches on what I have to do and I’m not worried about what anyone else is doing. I’m not worried about how my opponent prepares or how much time they’ve spent in the gym. I know how hard I’ve worked to be ready on fight night and how much I’ve put into improving my skills. I keep things moving forward and I’m always pushing myself to improve. That’s what matters to me and I’ve never been more focused than I am right now.”