Few fighters are loved as much as “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler by fans and fellow fighters alike. Knocking out opponents since 2001, it took Lawler just barely more than a year to earn a spot in the UFC. However, even in the early days, Lawler established himself as a fan favorite, always hunting the knockout against other exciting challengers. He even met Nick Diaz first when both men, in their early twenties fought each other at UFC 47.
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Over the years Lawler would find mixed success, he would win in devastating knockout fashion but find himself on the wrong end of some disappointing results as well. This would cause the young phenom to exit the UFC for a time and bounce around elsewhere picking up victories in King of the Cage, PRIDE but most notably between Elite XC and Strikeforce.
Not long after the UFC absorbed Strikeforce, Lawler would return to his early home inside the renowned octagon, seemingly a new fighter. He would not disappoint and after two straight knockouts of Josh Koscheck and Bobby Voelker and he would beat up and coming prospect Rory Macdonald to earn a title shot.
It would not go his way at UFC 171, and new champion Johnny Hendricks would hold up the recently vacated belt, but two decisive victories later, Lawler was back for the rematch. Where the first fight was won on the thinnest of margins, the second Lawler made sure it was unquestionable. Finishing the final round by marching the champion down, Lawler finally earned the welterweight belt he had sought for over ten years. He would defend said belt twice before losing it to former teammate Tyron Woodley. Lawler’s career from then on hit a career low going 1-4, but not without controversy. In his fight with Ben Askren, veteran referee Herb Dean stopped the fight due to a choke which people debate to this day. Seemingly out, Lawler immediately straightened up without tapping, and an answer as to whether Lawler deserves the L on his record in the fight he had clearly won to that point may never be answered.
However his response, a respectful and understanding one is one of the reasons Lawler is such a fan favourite. One of the nicest, and carefree fighters on the mic, who can turn into an absolute savage in the cage is what has captivated his audience. The style behind the ruthlessness however is what is most fascinating.
Robbie Lawler’s fighting style has evolved vastly over his two decades of fighting. Starting out it was clear he was an intuitive fighter, who knew he had big power and leaned on his emotion and grit to make the most of it. He still has that power and that thirst for the knockout but how he gets there is far more educated. Lawler typically starts strong, and his first two rounds are extremely important, as it is when his explosion is at its most dangerous. He will pick his opportunities to turn on the gas and move forward, often pawing with his lead right hand as a range finder, before trapping his opponents guard and firing forward. He has good head rhythm which allows him to enter the pocket, and will look as though he is about to clinch but can fire power short such as his rear uppercut and lead hook. When he isnt the one initiating the action, he will usually philly shell up and circle away before resetting and looking for his moment again, however when he has chosen to hail mary and fire back instead he has created some of the most memorable knockouts in history.
The reason why the first couple rounds are important for Lawler is because although he is a much smarter fighter and has mounds of experience in championship fights, he doesn’t lean on a conditioning that carries him all five rounds. Instead his approach is often to get ahead early, take a round or two off mid fight so as to finish strong both looking for the late finish but also leaving the last impression on the judges. Typically around round three it is common to see Lawler start to sit back, circle more and look for one or two power shots at a time rather than a full flurry moving forward.
This was a staple of his fighting style as the champion and arguably won him his highest profile fights against Johnny Hendricks and Carlos Condit, but in recent years, one key to success utilized by his opponents is to negate Lawlers opportunities from the get-go. Forcing Lawler into a technical or smothering wrestling bout has left Lawler waiting for his moments few and far between, and the clock has run out on him, not taking much damage but not being able to get anything off himself. Ironically, while Ruthless is as savage a fighter as they come, his early success was patiently choosing when to let that savagery out, but eventually that patience has cost him.
This applies as well to his grappling game. When Lawler is taken down, he isn’t one to scramble and necessarily fight back against position straight away, rather he will bide his time, allow his opponent to shift and work, but when he feels their weight let up or a split moment of imbalance he will explode to his knees or throw them off and get back to his feet. It is a strategy that reserves energy, on par to Lawler’s overall game, in order to take advantage of the big moments he has the ability to create.
On top he isn’t one to look for the takedown in order to hunt a submission. His takedowns are often in and of themselves a powerful strike, he will slam opponents on the mat at high impact potentially looking for the KO there. If not, the purpose is to get in a position where he can land heavy ground and pound, he will give up space between he and his opponent to do this because he does not care too much if they get back to their feet, regardless he is still hunting the finishing punch.
Lawler’s exciting style is based on always looking to land heavy blows. He isn’t one to talk big and mouth off in order to promote his fight, rather 20 years of fighting in the sport’s biggest promotions have earned him a respect from fans and fighters alike to the point where everyone is ready to watch and few find themselves able to root against him.
Braeden Arbour is an aspiring journalist out of Ontario, Canada. He is a recent graduate of Trent University, with a black belt in Karate and a blue belt in Judo. He has also been an avid fan of MMA for the last decade.