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Robbie Lawler Wants To Put His Best Foot Forward

"Ruthless" Isn't Dwelling On The Past Ahead Of His Long-Awaited Rematch Against Nick Diaz At UFC 266

Seventeen years after first standing across from one another inside the Octagon, Robbie Lawler will once again take up that position with Nick Diaz on the opposite side of the cage this weekend, as the well-travelled veterans meet in the middle bout of this weekend’s loaded UFC 266 pay-per-view main card.

They first met at UFC 47 — Lawler had just turned 22 and a vaunted powerhouse; Diaz was a few months away from turning 21 and known for his Brazilian jiu jitsu game, and they were positioned as two of the top young talents in the welterweight division. Most saw it as a classic “striker vs. grappler” clash, but Diaz flipped the script, not only by choosing to stand with Lawler, but by getting the better of the initial exchanges and finishing the fight with a short right hand a minute-and-a-half into the second round.

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“Right after, it’s one of those things that you want to get back,” began the now 39-year-old Lawler, speaking with just a few days ahead of facing Diaz for a second time. “But the further you get away from the fight, you’re more focused on different things and not dwelling in the past; at least that’s how I am.

“He was a big name, but I was always focused on who they put in front of me, and he was never a name that came up until now,” added Lawler, who competed under the same banner as Diaz for several years, even sharing the same card a time or two, but never crossed paths with Stockton’s favorite son.

That changes on Saturday, when Lawler welcomes Diaz back to the Octagon for the first time in more than six years, the former welterweight champion stepping in on a four-fight slide, but focused exclusively on the opportunity in front of him this weekend at T-Mobile Arena.

Robbie Lawler | Fighter Timeline
Robbie Lawler | Fighter Timeline

“I’ve focused on being ready and being in tip-top shape on Saturday,” the veteran standout offered when asked whether there was added pressure or importance to this weekend’s contest, given his struggles as of late. “I don’t really believe in pressure — I believe that every fight is important, and everything is the same; you’re just going out there to compete and you’re trying to do your best on that day.

“Whatever that looks like is whatever that looks like, but you’re trying to put your best foot forward and make sure you’re competing at your best.”

That’s a terrific approach no matter the situation, and one doubly valuable when preparing to step into the Octagon with the mercurial and enigmatic Diaz.

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As mentioned earlier, the now 38-year-old fighter hasn’t competed since squaring off with Anderson Silva at UFC 183 on January 31, 2015, in a fight where he laid on the canvas and repeatedly taunted and tried to bait the equally unpredictable former middleweight champion into fighting on his terms. Diaz lost the bout, which was later ruled a no contest, and has been mostly scarce since, turning up in the odd TMZ video or when his younger brother Nathan has stepped into the cage.

At his best, the elder Diaz was the template for the younger’s fighting style — a punches-in-bunches cardio marvel with endless swagger, a fierce fan base, and legitimately world-class skills, but who often got visibly frustrated when opponents wouldn’t meet him in the center of the cage for a boxing match they were likely to lose.

Robbie Lawler reacts to his victory over Johny Hendricks in their UFC welterweight championship bout during the UFC 181 event inside the Mandalay Bay Events Center on December 6, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Zuffa LLC)
Robbie Lawler reacts to his victory over Johny Hendricks in their UFC welterweight championship bout during the UFC 181 event inside the Mandalay Bay Events Center on December 6, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Zuffa LLC)

He’s been notoriously unpredictable throughout his career, and that unpredictability reared its head earlier this week, when the Diaz camp asked the UFC to switch Saturday’s five-round non-title featured bout from a welterweight contest to one fought at middleweight.

“Obviously I was coming into this week, figuring I was going to go down to ’70, so it is what it is,” Lawler said when asked about the sudden change in fighting weight, noting that it certainly made his final few days before the fight a little less grueling. “The UFC did what they could to let me know in advance and I let my management do everything on that side so that I can focus in on what to do.”

And that meant preparing to face the best possible version of Nick Diaz on Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena, even though the former Strikeforce welterweight champion hasn’t set foot in the Octagon quite some time.

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“I have a lot of respect for him and what he’s done, who he is as a fighter, what he brings to the table when he gets in the Octagon,” began Lawler, discussing the matchup and how he prepared to face the talented southpaw on Saturday night. “He’s definitely a guy where you want to bring your ‘A Game’ because he’s so skillful.” 

“You see what he was and what he did in the past, and you think that he’s going to be similar to that,” Lawler added in terms of dealing with Diaz’s layoff. “For me, I was focused on him being the best version that he’s ever been, that I know that I’m ready for his ‘A Game.’

Top 5 Finishes: Robbie Lawler
Top 5 Finishes: Robbie Lawler

“My training partners did a good job of mimicking him,” continued the Sanford MMA representative, who had recently retired UFC veteran Nik Lentz running his camp this time around. “I trained with Jason Jackson, who would be a lefty for me, a fast guy, and a guy who pushes me, made me work, and got me tired, forced me to kick it into another gear.”

Seventeen years after they stood across from one another in their early 20s, the best years of their careers still in front of them, Lawler and Diaz will take up those same positions on Saturday, with an additional 60 combined fights of experience between them.

But just as they did all those years ago at UFC 47, up the road at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, Lawler and Diaz will both cross the threshold into the Octagon focused on having their hand raised in victory.

And this time, Lawler believes the outcome will be different.

“Nick brings a lot of good stuff to the table, but I trained with a lot of good guys that pushed me, so I’ll be in shape and I’ll be sharp,” he said. “And being sharp, with my power and my skills, I think I’m going to do very well.”