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UFC Welterweight Champ Robbie Lawler on Acclaim: “Cool, But Whatever”

Fightland Blog

By Danny Acosta

Photos courtesy of Adidas

UFC 193 is positioned to be the Octagon’s most attended event in its twenty-two-year history.

The Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, Australia will play host to UFC 170-pound kingpin Robbie Lawler’s second title defense as “Ruthless” tangles with former interim champ “The Natural Born Killer” Carlos Condit. It’s a battle of mixed martial arts’ most powerful finisher versus its most accurate finisher. Thus, the UFC secured an outsized venue in an attempt to contain such promised violence. 

The Etihad is typically configured near the UFC’s previous attendance record: 55,724, set at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Canada for UFC 129 on April 30, 2011. However, UFC President Dana White stated in UFC 193’s press release their second stadium show this year pushes for a new benchmark: 70,000 fans. That’d break the record by roughly 14,000 on November 15 in Australia (broadcast Nov. 14 in the U.S. on pay-per-view).

Fightland caught up with one half of the UFC 193 headliner, UFC Welterweight Champion Robbie Lawler, on his ‘struggles are blessings’ fight philosophy. The 33-year-old champ is abundantly clear—in a calm, professional demeanor fitting for a 14-year, 36-fight veteran—his mission is simply to stay ready. After one of the most remarkable stretches in MMA history since returning to the UFC, Lawler touched on his punctuating title victory against Rory MacDonald at UFC 189 in July, “King Mo” mojo in his corner, and the upcoming raucous clash with Condit.

(Edited for length and clarity).

Fightland: How’d you celebrate your first title defense against Rory MacDonald?
Robbie Lawler: I really didn’t do anything. I just got back to work. We had some guys fighting the next day, Sunday, went there, watched those guys, cheered on those guys. [Jorge] Masvidal had a big win. I was excited for him. Other than that, business as usual. Back to work.

How did you heal up after the fight?
I had a cut on my head and my lip. They sowed those up and everything’s good there. My body felt great. Normally, after a fight, I lift on Monday just to get the blood flowing again. And feel good. Then I take the rest of the week off. I felt great. I traveled a whole lot Monday, took Monday off then worked out Tuesday and Thursday, pushed it pretty hard. Next week I did a little more. I’ve been working, getting back to work, but letting my body heal and being smart about it. I stay in shape.

American Top Team had a long storied history before you arrived. What was it like to be the first person to bring the UFC title there? What’s the atmosphere like now that you’re firmly ingrained there?
The atmosphere is great. It’s a lot of guys working to be the best they can be, a lot of guys that want to be the best in the world. You have guys pushing each other to where one guy wins—we all win. It’s a team effort. When I won the title, there were a lot of guys who put in time and effort—sweated—to help me get ready for that fight.

One thing that stood out to me is “King Mo” Lawal in your corner helping you warm up [for MacDonald]. His wrestling credentials speak for themselves. How integral has that been in implementing your game plan to keep the fight standing and making people go out there to trade strikes with you?
It’s huge. He helps with my wrestling obviously. Him and my head coach Kami Barzini put their heads together and figure out ways to strengthen my wrestling and make me better as a fighter. Really, what Mo brings to the table is really good energy. He makes everyone laugh. He has a good time. It’s a chill atmosphere when he’s around. Goofing off and having fun, but when it’s time to work, I work hard...

[American Top Team is] part of my evolution. Ending up there was awesome. It’s a great match.

Fighting in some of the toughest gyms, competing in different organizations against the best guys in the world throughout all these years, what was the feeling to finally capture UFC gold?
It was just one of those things where it didn’t come easy. There was high hopes for me. It didn’t quite work out the first time. I kept grinding. I kept believing in myself. I just kept trying to get better and trying to fine tune my skills, add techniques to help me. When I moved to American Top Team, everything started clicking. I got better every fight and that’s what I’ll continue to do.

A lot of guys are heartbroken when they come up short in a UFC title fight. You had this attitude, despite losing your first chance, it was only a matter of time you’d get the belt. Is that accurate? What was the down point you had to bounce back from?
It was about not giving up. That’s what it comes down to. I lost a close decision. I felt like I did really well in that [first] fight [versus Johny Hendricks]. I showed myself and my skills to the world but I didn’t get to the decision. I didn’t sit down and cry about it. I just got back to work and tried to grind back up to the top. That’s what this game’s all about. It’s what life’s all about. It’s about not taking no for an answer. Getting knocked down, getting back up, trying to get what you want, getting what you feel you deserve.

What were the struggles throughout your career that made that moment worth it?
Struggle is part of life. Finding a way to get the job done. They weren’t problems. They were ways to get better. Tools to learn from. They made me a better person. They made a better fighter. They made me grind and work hard. They were blessings.

What was the difference between the first and second Johny Hendricks title fights that allowed you get the ‘W’?
My wrestling was better. I didn’t end up on my back. I was able to get a close decision. It’s one of those things where I kept the fight where I wanted it and that’s it.

One thing that’s stood out in your career is that you’ve stopped sparring. Is that a consideration you made to extend your career as you’ve had this many years in the game, you realize you couldn’t go at that pace forever—
—No, no. It had nothing to do with that. It had to do with me being stubborn. Me being like, ‘No I’m good, I don’t need to spar. I don’t need to do those things everyday.’ I’ve been fighting my whole life. I had been doing it for a long period time twice a week. I just felt like it was time for a rest. It wasn’t anything. It was just something I decided: ‘hey, next chapter.’

Has that allowed your performances to go that much further in exacting a toll on your opponents and being able to take it as well?
Maybe so. You never know.

Was UFC 189 versus Rory MacDonald the biggest win of your career?
That was a huge fight on a big stage. But every fight is my biggest fight. My next fight is my biggest fight. If it’s a title fight or your first fight or your second fight, every fight is the biggest fight at the time. That’s why I train hard everyday. I don’t try harder based on where the fight is, whether it’s the first fight of the night or the last fight of the night. Obviously being on the big stage, International Fight Week, a lot of Irish fans to bring excitement to the cage, and I just tried to put on the best show for everybody.

When you were 20-years-old, dreaming of becoming a world champion, now that you’ve achieved it, did you expect it to be as big as it is in your wildest dreams?
I was just in it for the love of the sport. I was in it because I love the fight. I love to compete. I love to workout. There was a little money in involved. With more fans, with more media exposure, more money is coming, but I never really thought about it that much. It’s just continued to grow and that’s awesome.

The immediate reaction to your UFC 189 fight with Rory MacDonald was that it’s the best fight ever. That sentiment has stuck as the year has moved on. You’ve had a lot of memorable moments in your career. Do you hear that talk about your title fight and what would it mean to you to have what many consider the best fight of all-time?
That’s cool, but whatever. I’m not resting on what I accomplished. It’s about getting better and pushing myself. It’s awesome that fans loved it. I’m glad I could put on a show like that.

Carlos Condit is up next. What do you make of him as an opponent?
He’s a hell of an opponent. He comes to fight. He comes to put on a show. He comes to win. He comes from a camp with really good coaches. It’s going to be a nice show.

You’re fighting on another big stage in Australia. Now that you’re the champ, are you aware of the target on your back?
The target on my back doesn’t bother me.

Condit has a violent reputation for his fighting ability much like you do. Do you get excited about the kind of dance partner Condit is, who’s going to come forward to bring out the best in Robbie Lawler?
Obviously he’s a heck of an opponent but I’m going to be concentrating on myself for the next couple of months, getting myself better, strengthening the skills my coaches want me to get good at. I’m concentrating on myself and that’s what I’m going to do for a while and let them figure it out.

You are 1-1 with Johny Hendricks. Not looking past Condit, do you see a Hendricks trilogy being unfinished business?
UFC will call the shots. I’ll keep doing what I do, which is get ready.

You seem intent on your preparation and staying at the top. Is there part of your game you’re working on specifically? Part of your game we haven’t seen yet?
Everything. I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing. I’m going to look for holes and bust through them. That’s how I fight. I try to go out there and finish people.

There’s always talk about Georges St-Pierre returning to the welterweight division. Do you have interest in a super-fight should he return?
He can do whatever he wants to. I’m just going to concentrate on myself. Whatever comes, I’ll be ready for.

Danny Acosta is a SiriusXM Rush (channel 93) host and contributor. Find him on Twitter and Instagram @acostaislegend

 

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The Ecstasy and Agony of Robbie Lawler versus Rory MacDonald

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