If UFC fans had not been watching him grow into the veteran fighter he is today, it would seem almost unbelievable that Robbie Lawler could have started his UFC career all the way back at UFC 37 and only just be retiring in the highest level promotion today.
Few legends can even claim the longevity that Lawler can, and even fewer saw gold and continually build the kind of resume that Lawler now leaves with. For those who missed the fights this past weekend, “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler fought for the very last time at UFC 290 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
He knocked out Niko Price in just 38 seconds to cement his legacy with a final win. It has been 21 years since Lawler first touched down in a UFC Octagon, defeating Aaron Riley on May 10th, 2022, in Bossier City, Louisiana.
As Ruthless hangs up the gloves, it’s a fitting time to look back at his greatest accomplishments and what made the career of Robbie Lawler so special.
The Phenom Years
In the late 1990s, MMA was far from polished. It was a crude mix of martial artists from individual disciplines, somewhat scrambling to fill the holes in their game enough to cover their bases. In 1998, the UFC was just introducing new weight classes into the mix including an official 170lb title, which was won by the division’s first champion and pioneer, Pat Miletich.
Just a year before winning the title, Miletich had formed “Miletich Fighting Systems”, an organization recognized as one of the earliest elite training camps in mixed martial arts. In 2000, Miletich would come across a young 16-year-old Lawler, fresh off of an impressive high school wrestling career and brought him into the gym. His intuition was proven correct when Lawler TKO/KO’d all four of his first opponents after debuting in 2001.
A 4-0 record may not seem much today, but in 2002 it opened the door to the UFC for Lawler. While his first fight would go to a decision, he got back on his finishing streak by ending his second and third UFC bouts before a third round even started. He was an absolute phenom, a solid wrestler with KO power in every strike, but as he moved towards the highest level, losses to already veterans Pete Spratt and Evan Tanner, as well as a then-unknown 20-year-old Nick Diaz, would take him out of the promotion almost as fast as he entered.
Pride and Strikeforce
Robbie Lawler would float around outside of the UFC for about eight years, the most significant accomplishment being the EliteXC Middleweight Championship won in 2007.
However, within his legendary career, two other promotions names appear – Robbie Lawler fought at PRIDE 32 on October 21, 2006, and knocked out Joey Villasenor. Other than an unlikely potential Nick Diaz return, Robbie Lawler may be the last fighter to compete in the UFC who also fought in PRIDE FC.
The second promotion of note is Strikeforce, once the biggest competitor to the UFC in the West, which was ultimately absorbed. Lawler fought for the promotion from 2009 to 2012, climbing as high as a Strikeforce Middleweight title shot opposite Jacare Souza. Although he did not win the belt, Lawler gave fans some of the most iconic strike force fights against Jake Shields, Melvin Manhood, Souza, and Tim Kennedy.
Lawler returned to the UFC in 2013, right around the absorption of Strikeforce. He went on an early three-fight win streak, now at 170lbs over Josh Koscheck, Bobby Voelker, and Rory MacDonald, which earned him a shot at the welterweight title recently vacated by Georges St. Pierre.
Although Lawler still had a surging fanbase, the story going into the fight was largely circling around his opponent, Johnny Hendricks, who the majority already believed the best in the world after giving St. Pierre the fight of his life. No longer the Prodigal 20-year-old, Lawler had already been cut from the UFC once, he went into the first Hendricks fight as a 2-1 underdog and lost. Yet, the fight was so close it arguably came down to a single takedown that cemented the UD score for Hendricks.
In an attempt to build himself back up and earn a rematch, Lawler knocked out Jake Ellenberger and ended Matt Brown’s then 7-fight win streak in a Fight Night headliner. This time, when given a shot at Hendricks and the title, Lawler would come out on top in an equally close fight that ended in a split decision. Johnny Hendricks would fail to ever regain the momentum he had had after this loss, and what could have been a great trilogy ended with the two going 1-1.
However, Lawler would then go on to the greatest title fight in UFC history. He had already beaten Rory MacDonald once in 2013, yet Oddsmakers backed the Canadian at UFC 189 with Lawler coming in as high as the +145 underdog. For the first four and a half rounds, it would seem they were right, with both men going back and forth in a bloody battle of wills, but MacDonald clearly ahead on the scorecards. A minute into the final round, Robbie Lawler, with half of his lip hanging off of his face, dropped MacDonald with a flush strike to an already broken nose, follow up shots prompted the ref to step in and retain Lawler’s title. The fight was dubbed fight go the year in 2015, and went on to be inducted into the Fight Wing go the UFC Hall of Fame earlier this year. Fans to this day maintain it is the greatest UFC fight of all time.
While a fight like is hard to top, Lawler’s next defense came as close as it possibly could. A five-round war with Carlos Condit, the former Interim belt holder, also won fight of the night honours.
One of the Most Exciting Legacies in History
Robbie Lawler would never regain his UFC title after losing to Tyron Woodley in his next fight. He was KO’d at UFC 201 in July 2016. However, he would continue to fight the elite of the UFC’s welterweight division for the remainder of his career, including a hard-fought victory over the also legendary Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone and avenge his early defeat by TKO’ing Nick Diaz 21 years later.
Over his career, Robbie Lawler earned Fight of the Night honors in the UFC five times, and was the Fighter of the Year for both 2014 and 2015. His title win over Johnny Hendricks in 2014 and defense against Rory MacDonald in 2015 both became Fight of the Year winners, the latter of which inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame. He has also been awarded numerous accomplishments by the MMA community, including the 2013 comeback of the year for his return to the UFC and knockouts of the year over Koscheck and Manhoef, to name just a few, by various MMA Media.
Lawler has fought a plethora of MMA’s biggest names, from the pioneers of the sport to former champions and today’s contenders, including but not limited to: Nick Diaz (x2), “Mayhem” Miller, Frank Trigg, “Ninja” Rua, Jake Shields, Melvin Manhoef, “Jacare” Souza, Tim Kennedy, Josh Koscheck, Rory MacDonald (x2), Johnny Hendricks (x2), Jake Ellenberger, Matt Brown, Carlos Condit, Tyron Woodley, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone,” Rafael Dos Anjos, Ben Askren, and Colby Covington.