How Robbie Lawler Became One of MMA’s Biggest Icons

LAS VEGAS — There was never anything flashy about Robbie Lawler. He was never going to make headlines at a press conference. Truth be told, he would have skipped every press conference or interview he ever did if he wasn’t contractually obligated to do so.

He was not the most physically gifted fighter, or even among the Top 10, in MMA history. We could talk about everything he wasn’t – he wasn’t a physical freak of nature like Jon Jones or a superior athlete like Georges St-Pierre or a genius in the cage like Khabib Nurmagomedov.

What he was, however, was the ultimate Fighter’s Fighter, a guy who would show up in shape, extract every little ability he had from his body, and go home until it was time for the next one. mega fight.

He fought at both middleweight and welterweight in his career, but was never better than he was at the start of his second stint in the UFC. He returned to the promotion at UFC 157 on February 23, 2013 in Anaheim, California where he stopped Josh Koscheck in the first.

Thanks to a split decision win over Carlos Condit on Jan. 2, 2016, Lawler went 8-1 in that run, only losing in a close welterweight title fight against Johny Hendricks. In those nine fights, he won Fight of the Night four times, won Fight of the Year three times, and added a knockout of the night. During this nearly three-year period, few were better.

During that time, he went 1-1 against Hendricks, 2-0 against Rory MacDonald and picked up other wins against Koscheck, Bobby Voelker, Jake Ellenberger, Matt Brown and Condit.

Many believe his UFC 189 win over MacDonald was the greatest fight in UFC history.

Robbie Lawler, left, lands a left jab at Rory MacDonald to end their mixed martial arts fight for the welterweight title at UFC 189 on Saturday July 11, 2015 in Las Vegas.  (AP Photo/John Locher)

Former welterweight champion Robbie Lawler will retire after his fight on Saturday, ending a Hall of Fame career. (AP Photo/John Locher)

The fight earned him a UFC Hall of Fame induction on Thursday, two nights before he capped off his momentous career on Saturday in the UFC 290 preliminary bout when he faces Niko Price at the T -Mobile Arena.

He’s 41 and still in great shape for a guy his age, but he’s no longer able to do what he once did at the level he once did. He is 2-6 in his last eight games and has been knocked out three times and submitted once. It’s not what Robbie Lawler MMA fans have grown to love, but the guy loved to compete, loved to fight and gave his all every time.

He was hardly introspective or eloquent on Wednesday as he discussed his impending retirement during the UFC 290 media day. He didn’t even announce his own retirement; he let UFC President Dana White do it for him.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time; I’ve accomplished a lot and just felt like it was time,” Lawler said in his typically low-key manner.

He didn’t need to talk or draw unnecessary attention to himself because he would when the bell rang. If you were new to the sport, Lawler might not appeal to you listening to him at a press conference; he would definitely keep you in it, though, if you stumbled upon one of his fights on TV.

In addition to the UFC, he has competed in PRIDE, Strikeforce, the International Fight League and Elite XC. He fought for those promotions just like he did in the UFC, leaving a mark wherever he went.

He came out of the famous — infamous? — Camp Miletich Fighting Systems in Bettendorf, Iowa, at the beginning of this century. This gymnasium was famous for developing the “iron sharpens iron” mentality, regarding training that still permeates the sport to this day. It has produced fighters such as Pat Miletich and Matt Hughes, both former UFC welterweight champions; Two-time UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia; Hall of Fame Jens Pulver; Jeremy Horn and, of course, Lawler.

Miletich, Hughes, Lawler and Pulver are in the Hall of Fame, and Lawler could have another induction. He was inducted into the Fight Wing, along with MacDonald, but his career clearly deserves an induction into the Modern Wing, where the greatest fighters of all time were honored.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – JULY 06: Robbie Lawler poses on stage after his UFC Hall of Fame induction during the UFC Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at T-Mobile Arena on July 06, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Robbie Lawler polled the crowd Thursday at T-Mobile Arena after being inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame. He will end his magnificent career on Saturday against Niko Price at UFC 290 at T-Mobile. (Neil Cooper/Getty Images)

Lawler made his professional debut on April 7, 2001, when he knocked out John Reed in the first round.

And he never changed. He’s the same fierce guy in the cage at 41 as he was when he made his debut at 19.

Along the way, he became one of the biggest stars in the sport, though he never behaved that way. He never decked himself out in bling, nor did he have designer suits made to wear to press conferences. He did his things and fans started to realize pretty quickly that they were watching someone special.

He laughed at the adulation he received while reminiscing about his career.

“It’s kind of crazy and I actually try not to focus on it,” Lawler said of the praise he received from fans and the media. “It’s one of those things like where I created this wedge between other people by giving myself praise and praise; you can’t go through life trying to seek praise from other people. … Maybe one of the reasons I was able to do this for so long is that I just focused on what I need to focus on.”

He needs to focus for 15 more minutes — or, knowing Lawler, a little less — as he finishes his final game against Price.

He now knows that when the final bell rings, win or lose, the sold-out T-Mobile crowd will rise as one and cheer and chant his name. For many years he was one of the best fighters in the sport.

When he left, his fans showed him that he was also one of the most popular.

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