Lawler, MacDonald and the “Fight of the Ever”

Fightland Blog

By Dan Shapiro

Photo by Christian Petersen/Zuffa LLC

UFC welterweights Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald were unavailable for comment after their UFC 189 Fight of the Night. The pair was immediately transported to the hospital following an epic battle.

But new interim featherweight champion Conor McGregor and President Dana White were quick to sing the praises of the 170-pound athletes, cementing the contest as one of the finest in promotional history.

“That Robbie and Rory fight was absolutely phenomenal,” offered McGregor at the post fight press conference. “I must pay my respect to that—a two absolute warriors took every shot and still came forward. This is what this sport is about.”

With both Lawler and MacDonald entering UFC 189 in the midst of three-fight winning streaks, the stage was set for the champion’s first title defense. A rematch of their UFC 167 battle, the results will ultimately go down as a thing of legend.

From the opening bell, Lawler didn’t look like his normal, aggressive self. He was timid, pawing with feints and jabs, seemingly fighting not to lose, rather than going for the win.

MacDonald, who traditionally brings a more patient approach to the Octagon, mirrored Lawler’s game plan in the first round. After five minutes, this title fight was destined to be a low point in an action-packed, knockout-filled main card.

And then the second round began.

Quickly escalating from dud to MMA folklore, Lawler and MacDonald went at it in the second frame. The pair traded jabs and hooks, and Lawler broke MacDonald’s nose as he took the round, despite the Canadian out landing the champ 22-20 in the significant strikes department.

The third was all MacDonald, who attacked Lawler with endless head kicks, even stunning and wobbling the American Top Team product. MacDonald pressured forward, unloading standing elbows and knees against the cage wall. And for a moment, it appeared as though we might have a third new UFC welterweight champion in as many title fights.

Luckily for Lawler, the period ended before MacDonald could inflict any more damage.

Photo by Christian Petersen/Zuffa LLC

Heading into the championship rounds, MacDonald was up two-to-one on the cards. But this was to be uncharted territory for MacDonald, who had never previously gone more than 15 minutes in any contest.

For Lawler, it would be his fourth trip to the deep, deep waters since March 2014; however, it was MacDonald who was attacking in the fourth period, despite visual damage to his face. He continued an onslaught of head kicks, backing Lawler up, yet again. MacDonald found his range, again throwing a bevvy of elbows and knees.

The stoppage felt apparent, as MacDonald dominated the round. Again, Lawler survived the period.

And after 20 minutes, these two were nowhere close to finished with the belt hanging in the balance, which translates more to “Lawler and MacDonald were headed to a fifth frame completely out of their minds and looking for more.”

By this point, both fighters were visibly diminished in both appearance and in technique. Crisp combinations unraveled into wild looping attempts. Neither appeared to have enough strength left to finish the other. But just one minute in, Lawler summoned his championship form, landing a left cross directly to MacDonald’s mangled right eye.

It wasn’t necessarily the hardest punch that put MacDonald away, but the accuracy, combined with a busted face, broken nose and foot was enough to send the Canadian to the mat, covering up.

Referee John McCarthy waived off the fight, Robbie Lawler would secure his first title defense in an instant classic that many are calling the greatest welterweight title fight in UFC and MMA history.

And while bold and accurate labels are often immediately thrust onto performances, almost prematurely, it’s tough to argue with the exceptional praise of the bout.

Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC

In addition to the red-stain of the bloody affair, which is perhaps not everyone’s bag, there was tremendous technique displayed throughout the fight’s 21 minutes, which took place almost exclusively on the feet.

Lawler, who fell short in his first UFC title bid, losing a unanimous decision to Johny Hendricks at UFC 171, only to take the belt eight months later in a come-from-behind affair at UFC 181, demonstrated his sheer will to win and overcome adversity. Down three-rounds-to-one heading into the fifth, Lawler mustered his finishing ability by targeting MacDonald’s eye.

MacDonald gained more in this loss than he had in his three previous victories; his striking looked better than ever, as he mixed up his attack with punches and elbows and knees.

It’s almost tough to fully digest the bout just hours after the stoppage. Lawler, deeply cut lip and all, was inspiring. His drive and determination have never been questioned, but this performance puts him on a new level of gutsiness.

Lawler and MacDonald were brilliant at UFC 189. And no one agrees more than UFC President White, who summed it up perfectly at the post fight press conference.

“Lawler versus MacDonald might be the fight of the ever.”


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