UFC welterweight Robbie Lawler has spent more than a decade entertaining mixed martial arts fans across the globe with his fist-first fighting style and never-say-die attitude inside the cage. Currently in his second go-round with the world’s premier fighting organization, “Ruthless” is riding the high of a historic career resurrection and adapting to the ever-changing landscape of a sport he helped shape.
Making his promotional debut at the ripe old age of 20, Lawler defeated Aaron Riley in just his fourth professional fight at UFC 37 in May 2002. He would go on to have six more fights in the UFC before leaving in 2004 after suffering back-to-back defeats to Nick Diaz and Evan Tanner, respectively.
Still in the good graces of the UFC, Lawler fought outside the promotion for almost a decade, so he could maximize his value.
UFC President Dana White recalled to media back in November 2013 at the UFC’s 20th anniversary, how Lawler spent his first run in the company eager to make a buck. The president claimed the young scraper was only interested in the biggest fights, against the biggest names. He wanted money and he wanted fights.
"When Robbie was younger, his thing was money,” recalled White to Examiner at UFC 167. “You know, 'I want to fight for whoever is going to pay me the most money. I need money,'
"There were so many times that Robbie and I had talked over the years when he was fighting for other organizations where Robbie would call me and say 'I want to come back and fight for you guys. I want to come back and fight for the UFC.' I said 'Kid, it makes no sense. I'm not going to pay you what they’re paying you. They need you over there and they're going to pay you whatever the hell they have to pay you to keep you.'"
With a return to the UFC in 2013, after what seemingly must have felt like a lifetime away, Lawler finally finds himself back in his fighting home. Currently at 3-1 during his second stint with the company, the American Top Team standout was most recently seen in a spirited, albeit losing effort at UFC 171 in March against welterweight champion Johny Hendricks. This Saturday, Lawler will take on “The Juggernaut” Jake Ellenberger at UFC 173 inside the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas, Nev. The fight will come nine-weeks removed from his slugfest with “Bigg Rigg” and finds the veteran at a crucial point in his career, as the welterweight division is rife with talent and contender spots are hard to come by.
So, why do it? Why risk it? Why face Jake Ellenberger on short notice coming off a brutal, five-round war against the welterweight champion mere weeks ago? Was it the money? Was this a sign of the ‘old’ Robbie Lawler rearing his head?
“It was nothing like that,” said Lawler to Examiner as a guest on Monday’s episode of Majority Draw Radio when asked if the decision to fight was money-driven. “They needed someone to step up. I’m ready. My body feels good and I’m working out again. So, it was kind of right place at the right time, and I’m ready to go.”
When asked about Dana White’s comments, Lawler shows an honesty and willingness to share that seemed to be lacking in year’s past.
“Maybe so. But not to the point where that was distracting from how competitive I was and how much I wanted to win,” he said matter-of-factly when asked about the president’s comments. “Obviously making money is something huge, but I would say that was number three on a list of things that were most important.”
Okay, so what were the other two?
“Training and competing... and winning. I guess that’s three things but they’re all one and the same. “
After 13 years as a professional fighter, the Ruthless one seems to be embracing his role in the modern MMA landscape. In the past Lawler has come off as stoic, and what some may call ‘robotic’ in his approach to the sport. Whether it was media or the actual fight, Robbie Lawler was old school; he figured the fighting would speak for itself.
“Which it does, that’s why I’m still here today,” he said flashing a grin. “But I feel I can become bigger by letting people know who I am and maybe add some new fans.“
Maybe it was the near-decade away from the UFC that lead Robbie Lawler to this point. Perhaps it was the fact that while Lawler would sit back in the Miletich gym and train for fights in B-level promotions, his teammates were brandishing belts inside the world famous Octagon. Maybe it was thoughts of dreams unachieved and a future yet to be fulfilled.
Whatever the motivation might have been, the details are undoubtedly moot. Because as he stands now, the heavy-handed bruiser is finally taking the right measures to maximize his potential.
“I’d say I’m more ready to do those things -- jump through those hoops and let people know who I am,” said the 32-year-old. “That’s a big part of the sport. That’s a big part of being with the UFC -- letting people know who you are so you can build a brand.
“When I first started fighting all I cared about was fighting, enjoying myself and competing. I wasn’t worried about having fans, necessarily. I just wanted to compete. “
With a legion of new fans earned after his classic with Hendricks, Lawler’s stock had never been higher. In fact, after the fight, numerous fans and pundits demanded Lawler be issued an immediate rematch. The scrap with Hendricks was so close, and so entertaining, that the MMA world seemed to be clamoring for a second viewing of a fight that most consider the leading candidate for 2014’s Fight of the Year.
In a sport where disgruntled fighters are constantly voicing their displeasure with pay, or placement on the roster (see: the Diaz Brothers, Renan Barao), Lawler could have -- quite justifiably -- sat back and demanded a rematch. After all, Lawler has a substantial fan-base and a fight library that spans more than a decade in the sport. Heck, Lawler could have demanded another title fight based solely on his first performance against Hendricks, alone.
He could have demanded.
However, Robbie Lawler is about action. So, rather than run his mouth or posture for position, the fan-favorite will once again take a fight against a dangerous opponent in an effort to prove his worth – something he’s been doing for the entirety of his lengthy career. And if the time ever comes for a rematch against Johny Hendricks, the Iowa-native will leave nothing up for debate. He will solidify his place in the upper echelons of MMA superstardom with impressive performances and hard work.
Simply put, he will do his job.
“You know, the thing is, it’s just not me to sit around and bitch about anything, and say, hey, ‘I deserve this,’ or, ‘I deserve that,’ said the former Miletich Fighting System standout. “It’s my job to get better as a fighter and it’s my job to make sure that if there is a title fight that I’m in the discussion. So, let’s just keep moving and getting better and keeping myself near the top, so that if something happens, I’m right there.
“I mean, you can’t just wait, hope, wish and pray that you’re gonna get that title fight. You might be waiting the rest of your life. So, I’m just gonna get back in there and do what I do. I’m gonna put as much of the title fight in my hands as possible.”
Robbie Lawler content with letting his hands determine his future? Something tells this writer that "Ruthless" is just fine with that scenario.
Listen to National MMA Examiner Ryan McKinnell's weekly podcast with Danny Acosta (USA Today Sports, Sirius Satellite Radio), Majority Draw Radio: The Precision of Indecision
Subscribe to Ryan's YouTube channel
Follow Ryan on Twitter