Robbie Lawler’s Resurgence Epitomizes Mixed Martial Arts

Robbie Lawler defends his UFC welterweight championship on Saturday night at UFC 201. After two incredible defenses back-to-back, that statement is nothing out of the ordinary, but it’s not that long ago when it would sound alien.

Lawler’s resurgence since returning to the Ultimate Fighting Championship has been nothing short of extraordinary. Nonetheless, it epitomizes the chaotic nature of the sport. Entering mixed martial arts at just 19 years old, he was a phenomenon of sorts. He went 7-0 with six knockouts, with three of those fights taking place in the UFC.

However, the fairy-tale didn’t last forever, as it never does in the cruel fight game. He went 1-3 in his next four fights with one of those defeats coming by way of knockout. It still stands isolated as Lawler’s only loss by strikes.

He departed from the UFC shortly after and made his home in EliteXC and then Strikeforce following a mostly successful stint jumping from promotion to promotion. In the EliteXC, he captured gold, and when the time came to make the move to Strikeforce after EliteXC fell, he went with lofty expectations.

But that fairy-tale fizzled out once again.

While his time under the Strikeforce banner provided an instant-classic and a trio of memorable knockouts, he suffered defeat in five of his eight outings in the promotion. And the worst part: many of his performances were uninspired. The ruthless one looked uninterested. This was famously demonstrated by falling asleep at a pre-fight press conference days before losing a lackluster three-round decision to Tim Kennedy.

– Robbie Lawler falls asleep at Strikeforce press conference.

He would fight twice in the Strikeforce organisation following that loss, producing one spectacular knockout and losing one unanimous decision. Typical of his career in the San Jose based promotion.

In March of 2011, ZUFFA, the then-parent company of the UFC, purchased Strikeforce. This purchase included their stable of contracted fighters. After a brief period where Strikeforce operated as a separate entity, ZUFFA absorbed Strikeforce’s fighters and they joined the UFC’s ranks.

It was another promotional move for Lawler, but the momentum that he once had had stagnated. He was certainly still considered an exciting fighter, but his career over the years had played out in a series of irregular peaks and valleys that nobody in the know believed the UFC inherited a future title contender.

His first assignment in the UFC was against his perceived kryptonite: a high-level grappler. This time around it was in the form of Josh Koscheck. With the odds certainly against him, and fighting his alleged kryptonite, a reinvigorated Lawler presented himself that night and knocked out Koscheck in the first round.

This victory set Lawler on a journey to supremacy of the welterweight division, defeating both late-replacement Bobby Voelker and perennial top contender Rory MacDonald in 2013 to earn a shot at the vacant welterweight championship against a surging Johny Hendricks. Lawler lost that title bout by a razor-close decision, which was arguably decided by a decisive fifth round effort by Hendricks.

However, that wasn’t where the story ended. The best was yet to come.

Within four months of that loss, Lawler had beat Jake Ellenberger and Matt Brown to earn another crack at the welterweight champion Hendricks. It wasn’t a return to the career of peaks and valleys. This was a man on a mission.

That mission was realized after a closely contested five round battle with Hendricks for the second time. Mirroring their first fight, the victory was perhaps decided by an aggressive push in the fifth round, but this time it was Lawler who rallied and captured the title.

What followed was a pair of classic title defenses against Rory McDonald and Carlos Condit, which has cemented Lawler’s championship journey and run as a mixed martial arts epic and one of the finest in the sports history.

The next chapter of the story will unfold this Saturday night. Lawler enters UFC 201 against Tyron Woodley as a significant favorite for the first time as champion, but betting odds in this sport don’t matter. The odds were heavily against Lawler when he resumed his UFC career, but look how that worked out.

If the story of Robbie Lawler’s resurgence has taught us anything it’s you can’t be so certain about being certain in this chaotic sport.

Robert Pallin is one of the hosts of Obviously Fight Talk podcast on Found also on iTunes & Stitcher. You can also check them out on Facebook and Twitter.

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