09 Dec Long and Winding Road: Robbie Lawler Caps Impressive Career Comeback With Hard-Fought Title Win
It was one of heck of a 13 months for Robbie Lawler and it ended the best way possible for him, too.
“Ruthless” squeezed out a controversial but very deserving split-decision victory over Johny Hendricks to claim the UFC welterweight championship at UFC 181 in Las Vegas, Nevada. It was tight and it was close, but the only opinions that mattered Saturday night turned out in favor of the American Top Team standout.
Judges Marco Rosales and Sal D’Amato gave both fighters 48-47 for Lawler and Hendricks, respectively, while Glenn Trowbridge had Lawler by a mile, 49-46.
Lawler, 32 and already on his 13th year in the sport, went out of the gate like a loose cannon, all guns ablaze at “Bigg Rigg” and landing with a combination of punches and knees to the body. Hendricks, however, weathered the storm with grace and proceeded to go back to his wrestling pedigree by controlling Lawler at the fence.
As Lawler suffered what could be a crash from the initial surge of adrenaline, Hendricks displayed a widely diversified striking game in the majority of the middle rounds, repeatedly tagging the challenger with left straights and crisp low leg kicks.
The obvious difference of the fight and what could have presumably catapulted Lawler to the title was a frenetic point at the end of the fifth round. The Coconut Creek-based slugger stuffed a takedown attempt from the Oklahoma State University alum and proceeded to sprawl atop the latter, teeing away with dozens of elbows to the bodies and punches to the head. Hendricks continually adjusted to get out of the dangerous position and then pushed Lawler away, but “Ruthless” unleashed a berserker barrage right at the end.
(Fight Metric had Lawler up slightly in accuracy and significant strikes landed. Lawler= 167/253 for 57% and Hendricks= 145/264 for 48%.)
For Lawler, it was lessons learned and lessons earned.
When the pair fought in a similarly close fashion at UFC 171 last March, Lawler failed to capitalize and seize the moment in the last round, succumbing to a late takedown by Hendricks. Many believed, including Lawler, that the move sealed the deal for Hendricks and he made sure there was no deja vu.
“That’s how we fight in the UFC. That’s how you fight championship fights,” Lawler said, referring to the late-game reprisal that had everybody on their feet.
How the fight went Saturday night was a perfect summary of how Lawler went through the ups-and-downs of his career.
Now the first UFC champion of Filipino descent, Lawler won eight of his first nine fights from 2001-2003 but everything went downhill from there. He bounced from promotion to promotion and while he did hold the EliteXC championship belt at middleweight, he was basically a living fossil, his story being more of a warning example than a pattern to imitate. If anything, all of it still mattered to Lawler.
“It’s just been an amazing journey. I’ve got a lot of guys behind me. Thanks to the fans. But this wasn’t easy,” said Lawler.
Hendricks was gracious after the fight, congratulating Lawler and pointing out a long-existing flaw that needs to be changed.
“The fight tonight helped me learn a lot about myself, about what I need to do and what I have to correct in my camp,” Hendricks said via Yahoo! Sports. “A lot of it revolves around walking around at 215 [pounds between fights]. I’m going to make that decision to work with Mike Dolce and stay around 195.
“I’m going to do everything right. I had that belt and I want it back. I love food, too. Don’t get me wrong. It’s going to be a tough decision, but I love that belt more than I love the food.”
Most, if not all, indications point to third event likely happening and who of us does not want that except maybe, Rory MacDonald? After seeing the two fight their hearts out, there’s nothing wrong about sitting back and being a fan for one moment.
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