It will be a second go-around for Lawler and MacDonald, who previously squared off at the very same MGM Grand Garden Arena in November 2013. And while Lawler scored the decision win, a split verdict, at UFC 167, MacDonald has improved and evolved since their first bout.
So ahead of Robbie and Rory’s July 11 re-match, we take a look back at their previous contest.
Here’s how it all went down that night …
The Canadian cheers are deafening this evening, and Rory MacDonald doesn’t seem to hear any of them.
MacDonald looks focused and mean staring across the Octagon while Bruce Buffer reads out his abbreviated, in-cage bio. The Canadian fans, most of whom are here for George St-Pierre’s headlining bout later on the card, go ballistic at Buffer’s mention of Montreal, and soon the pair of fighters battle for the center of the canvas.
Lawler looks loose and fresh early on. The UFC’s tenth-ranked welterweight, he’s taking it to MacDonald, who sits at number three on the promotional ladder. Lawler uses some low, outside leg kicks to chop away at MacDonald’s lead leg.
There appears to be no damage from the kicks. MacDonald continues to stalk, snapping off a couple of front kicks, followed by a head kick attempt. Lawler has his hands in place, covering his left ear to deflect MacDonald’s foot.
It’s less than two minutes in, and it’s tough to imagine that MacDonald entered as a 3-to-1 favorite. Lawler’s doing exactly what he needs to do to outpoint Rory; he likely saw MacDonald short-circuit a few months ago against Jake Ellenberger and is stifling the young Canadian and freezing the offensive output.
Robbie continues his approach from the perimeter, bouncing his shoulders, looking for angles and a home for his heavy left hand. Rory maintains control of the center of the Octagon, along with his distance, evading Lawler’s hands.
These two seem to have no interest in the ground at this point, as Lawler pushes the action on the feet. He’s the more aggressive of the two, and despite the constant cheers of “Rory, Rory, Rory,” from his countrymen, MacDonald is merely timing his opponent, and not doing much.
Lawler then blitzes forward, throwing caution to the wind to move in close on MacDonald. He then lands a head kick and a follow-up left upper cut; MacDonald catches a leg and avoids major damage.
The two trade kicks in the final ten seconds. The bell sounds.
Not a bad first round from these two. MacDonald, who is looking for his sixth straight win inside the Octagon, has been thwarting the “heir apparent” talk, which has been at an all-time high this week, as his mentor and training partner, St-Pierre, is slated to fight in less than an hour or so. Lawler looks better with every round since returning to the UFC earlier this year, earning a pair knockout wins in his second run with the organization.
There is no bell to commence the second round, but the two push forward. Lawler comes out with the same leg-kick assault. MacDonald goes for a single-leg, and while he doesn’t complete the takedown, he does land a high right kick to finish the exchange.
Both fighters are methodical in their approach, MacDonald standing in the center, looking for any opening. Lawler does his sizing up from the outside. The action slows, but still Robbie pushes forward like bull, every step toward his opponent.
Rory backpedals, keeping his distance. He then lands a straight right hand, followed by a kick to Lawler’s head. This fight could be turning. MacDonald changes levels to attack the body.
With Lawler protecting his mid-section a bit now, MacDonald sees more openings at the head, and lands a jab-front kick combination. There’s two minutes remaining in the round, and MacDonald looks to be in control of this frame.
He’s improving his case with a perfectly timed takedown, and Rory looks for top position, while Lawler defends off his back with butterfly hooks.
MacDonald is resting a bit on top. He’s pinning Lawler to the canvas, but not doing anything. Rory then stands back up and looks for a new entrance on the ground; he looks for a front choke, then a guillotine. Robbie plays defense as MacDonald controls the action on the mat.
Thirty seconds remain and Rory switches from full guard to half guard. He then unleashes a bevvy of elbows, five unanswered rights, before some ground strikes and a left elbow to close out the period.
10-9, MacDonald. We’re tied at one round apiece.
Five minutes remain in this bout. These five minutes might ultimately determine whether Rory MacDonald is granted the next shot at the welterweight title. A win for Lawler would be huge and major statement, but probably not enough to propel him to the top of the division, near the likes of St-Pierre, Johny Hendricks, and Carlos Condit.
Robbie pushes forward to begin the frame. He lands a heavy kick to MacDonald’s midsection, the two right hands come crashing in, connecting and stunning the Canadian, who stumbles backward. Robbie’s swinging, and he charges in with a lead knee.
MacDonald nullifies the onslaught with a takedown. The fighters go to the mat.
Rory is just laying and praying at this point. Robbie attempts a sweep from butterfly guard, but Rory sticks to him and maintains top control.
There’s not much going on, and referee Mario Yamasaki steps in to break up the action. The fight resumes on the feet; four minutes remain.
Lawler is re-invigorated by the stand up. He stalks and stalks, pressures and pressures, and lands two lefts to MacDonald’s head. Rory returns with another takedown, but Robbie quickly rolls, reversing MacDonald to end up on top and land some ground and pound of his own.
Rory defends with Lawler trapped inside his guard. Blood drips from his nose.
Robbie escapes the guard and calls MacDonald up. He lands a few more punches before Yamasaki calls time for an accidental eye poke. Rory paces while regaining his composure, allowing the ref to inspect his left eye.
The battle continues, and Lawler goes right back to his forward march. MacDonald is quick to go for another single-leg takedown, but Robbie’s timing and takedown defense are sharp. He evades the attempt and pushes forward.
First it’s an overhand left to get Rory’s attention, next it’s a left hook to the chin, and MacDonald falls to the canvas. Robbie dives in with some ground and pound, looking for the finish. Now it’s Rory playing defense on his back, and after a brief scramble, Lawler is on top in side control.
A minute passes, and Lawler remains firmly in command. He’s plastered to MacDonald, throwing ground strikes, doing enough to maintain position. Rory attempts to sweep, but simply recovers into butterfly guard; he then attempts to isolate Lawler’s left arm for a submission, but Robbie pulls his arm out and the two return to their feet.
And still, Lawler presses forward. And again, MacDonald lands a takedown, his fifth of the fight. For the final 15 seconds, Rory throws elbows and punches from the top position.
The final bell rings.
10-9, Lawler. 29-28, Lawler.
Both athletes raise their hands and return to their corners. It’s been a close fight, but it seems like Lawler will squeak out a decision. It really all comes down to that first round and how the judges scored it. But imagine if there were two more frames? This contest continued to get better with every passing minute; two more rounds would likely produce a wild striking affair with some expert grappling.
All three judges have entered their decisions, and it’s exactly as I expected. Lawler wins the verdict. But what fight was judge Glenn Trowbridge watching? How did he give MacDonald the first round?
Regardless, this one’s in the books. Lawler has now won three straight and looks to be heading up the welterweight ranks. MacDonald’s win streak is over. His title shot will have to wait, but should come eventually.
Hopefully we’ll see these two again someday.
Check out these related stories:
The Mixed Martial Arts of Victorian London
Before BJJ, there was Bartitsu.
Jonathan Maicelo: The Last Inca
Peru's up-and-coming boxing star.
Kron Gracie on Jiu-Jitsu, Skateboarding, Older Brothers, and Famous Fathers
The ties that bind are strong.
Joel Tudor on the Art of Surfing, Fighting, and Style
A surf icon helps MMA keep its sense of tradition.
Japan's Karate Kid: Kyoji Horiguchi
Japan's brightest MMA prospect.