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Robbie Lawler: Seizing the Moment

"It’s awesome to be an inspiration to people, but I really just concentrate on myself and just try to keep getting better every day, and that’s all I can do." - Robbie Lawler

Robbie Lawler should be on vacation right now. But the welterweight contender has never been one to back down from a fight or shy away from an opportunity, so when middleweight champion Chris Weidman suffered a hand injury that forced him out of his December 6 title defense against Vitor Belfort, Lawler got a call, and his response was typical.

“All right, I’m healthy, let’s do it.”

Now he’s in the UFC 181 main event against Johny Hendricks in a welterweight title fight rematch that has plenty to live up to, considering that their first bout in March is the leading candidate for 2014 Fight of the Year. But if Lawler doesn’t feel any pressure to duplicate that fight in December, again, that’s typical “Ruthless,” but in his defense, he has been a bit busy, following up his razor-thin loss to Hendricks with back-to-back wins over Jake Ellenberger and Matt Brown.

It’s been a hectic schedule to say the least, and after the grueling five-rounder with Brown in July, Lawler expected to take a little time off with his wife Marci and son Glenn. But then that phone rang again. How did Marci take it?

“She was excited because it was weird for her for me to not be training and striving for something and having something going on, so she was excited and she’s looking forward to it,” Lawler said, noting that with his family now living with him in south Florida, a couple miles away from the American Top Team gym in Coconut Creek, life in training camp is a lot easier to manage than it used to be.

“It’s awesome to see my wife and to watch my son grow and be a part of that,” the longtime Iowan said. “When I was training for these fights, I was gone pretty much the whole year, so my son changed a lot and grew up a lot. So now I get to be a part of it. I’m there every day, I see him every day, and I’m training, but at least I get to see what he’s up to.”

Still just 32 years old, Lawler will have a remarkable story to tell his son one day, one filled with twists and turns and a comeback for the ages. Once considered the future of MMA when he first debuted in the UFC in 2002, Lawler was cut from the promotion in 2004 after losses in three of his previous four fights, and while he won big fights and made a good living outside the Octagon, few believed that he could make it to the top in the UFC when he returned in 2013.

Oh, how those folks were wrong.

“I was very excited to come back,” Lawler said of his UFC 157 bout against Josh Koscheck in February of last year. “I was fighting against a guy who was one of the top fighters in the UFC at 170, a title contender, and I was excited to be back in the UFC and on the big stage again, and it was my moment to showcase who I was as a person that day, not who I was a year ago, the year before that, or ten years before that. It was everything clicking at the right time and me being excited and seizing the moment.”

Lawler knocked Koscheck out in the first round, kicking off a run where he has gone on to win four more bouts, with the only loss being the close defeat against Hendricks. Currently sitting in the number one contender’s spot at 170 pounds, and one win away from being crowned world champion, Lawler hasn’t just done well for himself; he’s inspired countless fighters, several of whom have made it a point to mention how this comeback has given them hope that anything is possible. Not that they’ve said it directly to him, but he knows they’re out there and he appreciates the opportunity to give anyone – fighter or not – that spark.

“They don’t have to say anything, but I noticed that I inspire a lot of people the way I rejuvenated my career and always kept believing in myself,” he said. “And it’s awesome to be an inspiration to people, but I really just concentrate on myself and just try to keep getting better every day, and that’s all I can do. But it’s nice to mentally push someone and inspire not just fighters, but normal, everyday people.”

He’s not done yet though, as this made for Hollywood story needs a Hollywood ending, one that he hopes includes a gold belt in some way, shape or form. But if asked to explain how this all happened, he’s quick to deflect the praise off himself.

“I’m just at the right place at the right time,” he said. “I’m older now, I know how to train, I know how to take care of my body and I have really good coaches and training partners around me to make sure I’m peaking at the right time and they’re not banging me around and getting me beat up. It’s a team effort. It’s not just me out there, that’s for sure.”

But what about that vacation? After December 6 maybe?

“I’m hoping so,” he laughs. “I’m missing a vacation that we had planned, but it’s all about sacrifice. I’m excited to fight and I’m excited to do this for my family. It’s a huge opportunity and it’s gonna be nice to relax a little bit, at least for a week or so.”

Just a week? That’s Robbie Lawler.