Hindsight can cloud your memory significantly, but if you can cast your mind back to July, can you remember how you thought Robbie Lawler’s first title defense would go against Rory MacDonald?
The MMA world was full of back slaps and congratulations for the ATT man when he was crowned as the UFC’s welterweight champion in December 2014. While close decisions are usually tediously polarizing when it comes to championship bouts, everybody pretty much agreed that Lawler’s toil and effort over his 14-year career had made him deserving of his spot at the top of the 170 lbs pile after his split decision victory over Johny Hendricks.
Given what happened between Lawler and MacDonald on July 19, 2015, as I previously mentioned, things can get a bit foggy when you start to remind yourself of how you thought the matchup would go.
MacDonald had been like a coiled spring waiting for a championship date. From the same global MMA powerhouse that brought us pound-for-pound great Georges St-Pierre, there might have been only a handful of respected analysts that couldn’t see the young Canadian going on to eventually claim the crown. While it didn’t make sense for MacDonald to contest for the title while his teammate held it, when GSP took a step back from competition it seemed like it would only be a matter of time before he would hold the coveted strap.
His patient and technical approach was deemed to be the perfect foil for Lawler’s championship reign, even though Lawler had already claimed a shocking split decision win over him at UFC 167. Although the whole world had heralded him as the rightful champion after the Hendricks bout, even though he had yet to defend it, the vast majority of people were writing off Lawler off when he was slated to meet MacDonald again.
Personally, I was one of the people who picked MacDonald. When I appeared on Ariel Helwani’s show the week before the bout, I forecast that “two new world champions,” meaning Conor McGregor and MacDonald, would come out of UFC 189. However, when I arrived in Las Vegas to cover the event, my opinion changed dramatically once I saw the two athletes who would meet for the welterweight championship in the event’s co-main attraction.
This, of course, was nothing to do with any energy that I got off MacDonald. As stoic and confident as ever, ‘The Red King’ went through the motions with his usual grace during the various media events during fight week. If anything, it was quite unnerving to see how underwhelmed he was by the whole occasion, at least publically, given that he would finally fight for the prize that he had geared his whole life towards.
When Robbie Lawler thundered his way to the matted area for his open workout on the Wednesday before the action went down, he had bad intentions written all over his face.
There was a reluctant nod to the fans in attendance as he began to loosen up. He peered at his training partners from under his brow and scowled as he clattered the pads. There were no jokes shared between him and his entourage and there was no awkwardness given the presence of the gathering who watched on. It was completely evident that Lawler was a man completely geared towards defending the title. It was an obligation, it was a mission and in his mind, it was absolutely going to happen.
His disdain for the media was clear for all to see as he stood in the allocated position for this scrum. His was the shortest of the day. It is quite probable that he got an inclining about how the media were predicting the bout, even though he stressed his lack of concern for anything outside of the actual combat during his session. It was like he was standing there, furrowing his brow, telling us as little as possible, but giving off an energy that said:
“I’m going to show all of you motherfuckers what I can do on Saturday night. Just watch.”
And show us, he did. Without the fire in his belly and the chip on his shoulder, I still wonder, could Robbie Lawler have broken Rory MacDonald that night? There will never be enough words, enough insight and enough time to truly describe what happened in the Octagon that night, but its essence is something that will live in the hearts of MMA fans forever.
Returning to the scene of July’s epic championship meeting with MacDonald, Lawler seems a lot less pent up. At this week’s open workouts he smiled and waved to his now adoring public. He speaks freely with the media, unfazed by their speculation and inklings. No one will ever put anything past Lawler again after July’s dramatics. He has nothing left to prove to anyone. His whole resurgence under the UFC banner has been absolutely unbelievable, literally.
Maybe it was that chip on his shoulder, the doubts of some of the community, which enabled him to find that little bit extra that saw him come out on top in his painstakingly close bouts with Hendricks and MacDonald.
This weekend, for another contest that could go either way on paper against Carlos Condit, it’s hard to detect any point to prove in Lawler’s relaxed demeanor. Despite the lack of what I believe was a key ingredient in his victory over MacDonald, you won’t find me doubting Lawler’s ability to take the victory.
Throughout his whole rebirth with UFC, it feels like Lawler has used the doubts that everyone had about him as his fire. As people become more and more convinced of his championship aptitude each time he performs, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for one of the great success stories of modern day MMA.
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