Robbie Lawler stood in the Octagon with Joe Rogan at UFC 189 bloodied and bruised. His right eye was barely visible from the swelling and the right half of his lip was detached.
He had just finished Rory MacDonald for his first ever title defense in what was one of the greatest title fights in UFC welterweight history.
Still high on emotions from the five-round war, Lawler unleashed.
“I showed everyone I’m a true fighter. I come to fight. I keep coming and I’m coming to knock people out,” he yelled to Rogan through the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Often humble and soft spoken, it was a moment that illuminated the fire inside of Lawler and how he’s been able to blossom into one of the best UFC fighters of all time.
He started fighting in the UFC at 20 years old and he was out by 22. Lawler spent the next 8 years fighting as a middleweight in EliteXC and then Strikeforce, mostly going back-and-forth between wins and losses.
”I’ve always been a really good fighter but sometimes it didn’t show in my fights and I looked terrible,” Lawler said at a media event for UFC 195 on Oct. 21, where he’ll headline in the main event against Carlos Condit for the welterweight belt.
“But I kept going and I’ve always been one of those guys who says: if I can take that guy from the practice ring and bring him to the fight then people are in trouble.”
For Lawler it was all about building on one or two things he was doing right. He joined American Top Team and came back to the UFC at age 30 and began a run many didn’t see coming. Lawler knocked out his first two opponents and then beat MacDonald by decision to earn a fight for the vacated welterweight belt against Johny Hendricks.
The May 2014 title bout against Hendricks was the biggest stage he fought on in his 12-year career. He ended up losing to Hendricks by unanimous decision in a five-round battle that saw 308 combined strikes.
But Lawler kept coming.
He took a fight with Jake Ellenberger at UFC 173 just two months after his battle with Hendricks. He knocked out “The Juggernaut” and then two months later beat Matt Brown by unanimous decision.
To recap: Lawler went 16 rounds with MacDonald, Hendricks, Ellenberger and Brown over an eight-month period before earning a rematch and a second chance at the welterweight belt against Hendricks at UFC 181.
Hendricks took Lawler down five times at UFC 181 and through 24 minutes the strikes were about even. But Lawler was able to dig deep and he unleashed a series of savage-like blows on a defenseless Hendricks over the final 30 seconds, overcoming fatigue and punishment he had taken in the Octagon from months prior.
“I’ve wanted to fight and be a fighter my entire life,” Lawler said. “So it’s like I’ve learned all these moves and techniques. But when you take all that away you just have this little kid who’s mean and nasty and loves to fight.”
His eruption on Hendricks netted a split decision victory and his first ever UFC belt. Seven months later he defended it successfully and delivered one of the most gruesome, dramatic fights UFC fans have ever seen.
Thirteen years; Twenty-six wins; Lawler has been through it all. And on Jan. 2 at UFC 195, the little kid who just loves to fight will attempt to defend his belt for the second time and continue his climb up the UFC’s all-time ranks.
Jon Gagnon is a digital producer and writer for UFC.com Follow him on Twitter at @jgagnonUFC