So recently, Robbie Lawler was an irrelevant fixture of the Strikeforce Middleweight division.
In 2012, he had accumulated three losses in just four appearances. As the organization sold out to the Ultimate Fighting Championship, he was grasping at straws building a case to jump to the MMA epicenter.
He was exciting, likable, and willing to move down to Welterweight — so they gave him a chance. Perhaps, this opportunity was some form of remittance for the thrills he gave fans in the UFC earlier in his career — a gesture of appreciation. He didn’t give the promoter a chance to be regretful, much less reconsider his contract. In retrospect, this was a really good judgement call.
A first-round implosion of Josh Koscheck turned heads. A follow-up win over Bobby Voelker channeled Lawler’s improvements.
A unanimous decision victory over Canada’s hottest MMA prospect, Rory MacDonald, shortlisted him for Comeback of the Year and a title shot. He was awarded both.
In the meantime, Johnny Hendricks’ brutalization of Georges St-Pierre was undone by delusion and GSP slid (or was pushed) into hiatus. The title was vacated, and Hendricks needed a dance partner for a shot to take what was rightfully his.
So forth, Robbie Lawler fought Hendricks for the first time early this year. It was a slug-fest, but Lawler’s failure to close in the fifth round saw the decision go against him.
Lawler’s efforts engendered the rematch, which Hendricks granted him this weekend. Lawler delivered a ferocious attack in beginning and end, but lacked that certain urgency in the second and third rounds. Luckily for him, the judges likened themselves to his determined entry and exit — so it didn’t matter.
Hendricks’ wrestling was effective in those middle rounds but quickly proved stagnant — uncovering the boo-birds and demanding repeated breaks on the cage by attentive referee Herb Dean. Still, he was getting the better of the action no matter where it went. It just wasn’t enough.
Lawler’s early aggression and last-ditch heroics convinced the judges’ call to go in his favor. The split decision read 48-47 for Lawler, 48-47 for Hendricks, and a rather excessive 49-46 for Lawler.
Do we need to see a third contest?
It goes without question — yes — Hendricks lost his title on the narrowest of scoring margins. He deserves the chance to regain it, just as Lawler deserved his retribution on Saturday.
There is plenty of time for that.
Lawler has obligations to face Rory MacDonald, who has evidently refined his boxing and technique since their first bout. MacDonald recently defeated Tarec Saffiedine at UFC Halifax.
In the interim, Hendricks could go up against Matt Brown — the same foe who tested Robbie Lawler before the Hendricks rematch. He has many options at Welterweight that don’t involve Lawler or the UFC title. He should take advantage of that and build anticipation.
But does Lawler want that?
“Johny is a hell of a fighter, a hell of a competitor, and I look forward to meeting him again. Now that we have each won one apiece — and they were close fights — I think we need to figure this one out.” Lawler said to Sherdog.com, indicating he prefers to settle with Hendricks than rematch MacDonald.
It’s now proven that all roads lead to each other. Seeing these two men compete is about as exciting as it gets in MMA. I can’t wait for that trilogy — whenever it happens — or any opportunity to watch these men partake in an MMA contest.
For now, all that is left to do is appreciate what happened at UFC 181 — besides an extremely deep Pay-Per-View show. Robbie Lawler made this night, his night, and put on a fight worthy of the history books. He is an unlikely — but truly deserving — UFC champion.