Robbie Lawler is set to go into to battle for the 43rd time in his 18-year career this weekend at UFC Newark. His opponent, Colby Covington, is a boisterous wrestler known for his cringe-inducing social media presence and his strong pressure game in the cage.
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A win for Covington will put him toward the front of the line for a title shot. Dana White says the win would make him next. But after the last year of shenanigans, Covington isn’t buying it until the contract is signed.
But where does a win put Lawler? Officially, he’s on a two-fight losing streak heading into this Saturday’s bout. Making it rather unlikely the former champion would get the same treatment as “Chaos” should he win.
Of course, Lawler could flatten Covington and a couple more contenders and make his way back to contention. Even at 37-years-old and after 13 months off, Lawler looked like a man possessed as he scooped up Ben Askren and threw him onto his curly head. The follow-up shots after the slam were meant to maim, to disfigure. It was a glimpse of the Lawler of old. The one who made his name by dealing out concussions.
Regardless of what the future holds for Lawler, the fact is he’s produced some of the most vicious finishes, been a part of some of the most profane wars and had a career resurgence that even the boldest risk-taker wouldn’t have thrown a dollar on.
The early days
Beginning his pro career in 2001, Lawler stormed through the first four souls unlucky enough to stand across the cage from the 19-year-old kid in the first round. The Militech Fighting Systems prospect would ride that wave of violence into the Ultimate Fighting Championships in 2002.
Lawler won his first three fights with the promotion. In the final stretch of his first tenure with the organization, Lawler was finished by Nick Diaz and future middleweight champion Evan Tanner back to back.
The losses prompted Lawler to be released from the organization. After being let go, Lawler went on an international tour of brutality. He knocked out Falaniko Vitale to win the ICON Sport middleweight title only to lose it in his subsequent bout to Jason “Mayhem” Miller. Lawler then traveled to Las Vegas and fought at PRIDE FC’s first event outside of Japan. There he met Joey Villasenor. Two vicious knees and 22 seconds would be all it took for Lawler to get the stoppage.
After a stop by IFL Atlanta to finish off Eduardo Pamplona in the third, Lawler returned to ICON Sport and reclaimed his belt after battering Frank Trigg.
Elite XC and Strikeforce
In his next outing, Lawler would become the Elite XC middleweight champion by stopping Murilo “Ninja” Rua. After a first title defense against Scott Smith ended via thumb in the eye, Lawler TKO’d Smith in the rematch with punches and soccer kicks to the body.
Elite XC folded after putting all their eggs in one basket of Kimbo Slice and Lawler’s contract was picked up by Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker.
Robbie Lawler had a rocky tenure in the three years he competed with the new promotion. He delivered a gnarly KO of Matt Lindland and smoked the then highly-touted Adlan Amagov in under two minutes with a flying knee. His finest moment in the promotion came against Dutch kickboxer Melvin Manhoef.
Manhoef started out the frame wrecking Lawler’s legs with kicks. It seemed as though it was only a matter of time before Ruthless’ base would give out. Manhoef would kick Lawler with all of his might and then swarm with combinations. The generally stoic Lawler was wincing with each strike landed. After four minutes of the barrage and with Lawler seemingly fading, Mahoef landed a kick, Lawler’s leg flew up from the impact, Manhoef moved in and Lawler landed a Hail Mary over the top right hand. Manhoef was hurt and a couple of follow-up punches left the kickboxer motionless with blood spritzing out of his face.
While these moments provided viewers with the absurd levels of ferocity we pine for, this wasn’t the full story of Lawler’s Strikeforce run. He would go 3-5 with the promotion. Lawler only fell to solid opposition such as Jake Shields, Renato Sobral, Tim Kennedy, and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, but the losses told us all we needed to know about Lawler.
Robbie Lawler was a joy to watch and always dangerous, but he just wasn’t an elite fighter. His ground game would always be his Achilles heel and he should only be paired up against other mid-tier brawlers.
It was the same story of his UFC run. As soon as he ran into higher-ranked fighters, Lawler would lose.
Little did we know what was in store.
Strikeforce would be purchased by the ZUFFA, the UFC’s parent company, in 2011. Along with the sale came the acquisition of most of the roster’s contracts. For Lawler’s first fight back, he dropped back to welterweight and was paired against former NCAA Division-1 wrestler Josh Koscheck.
Fans weren’t high on the matchup. A man who had struggled with lesser grapplers would be thrown in with not only a high-level grappler but a former title challenger?
Though Kosheck came in a -325 favorite, Lawler laid waste to him in the first round. Lawler then knocked out Bobby Voelker in his second appearance. In the third of his UFC return, Lawler knocked off a hot-prospect in Rory MacDonald to steal the Canadian’s title shot.
Lawler’s takedown defense had improved immensely. He was just as dangerous, but a bit more calculated in winging his fists. He gave Johny Hendricks a hell of a go, but in the end, it was Hendricks who would win the vacant UFC welterweight title.
following the loss, Lawler wasn’t content to “go back to the drawing board.” He wanted to get back on to the battlefield. Two months after failing to capture the belt, he TKO’d Jake Ellenberger in the third round of their contest.
After defeating Matt Brown, Lawler received another shot at Hendricks’ belt. This time, after five rounds, in yet another close bout, Lawler came out the victor.
Robbie Lawler had won UFC gold.
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) July 31, 2019
His first defense would be against a man he had already defeated. A man who had beaten Demian Maia, Tyron Woodley and Tarec Saffiedine since his loss to Lawler. A man many had assumed was the future of the division since his mentor Georges St-Pierre had “retired”.
Robbie Lawler would defend his welterweight title against Rory MacDonald at UFC 189.
The fight between Lawler and MacDonald won multiple “Fight of the Year” accolades. It’s also high on many people’s list as the greatest fight of all time. It was a back and forth battle of attrition. The type of bout that forces both men to dig deep to find out what they’re made of. MacDonald began to fade as the pandemonium went into the championship rounds. Lawler was just getting started.
Big John checks on Robbie Lawler during his fight vs Rory MacDonald. pic.twitter.com/Z5sxSUxPOt
— Dovy? (@DovySimuMMA) July 24, 2019
After giving it everything he had, MacDonald was TKO’d in the fifth round. Not due to some big strike, but because MacDonald’s body seemingly gave out due to the punishment.
Lawler returned six months later and again defended his title against another man with a penchant for taxing fights. Carlos Condit went five rounds with Lawler and fans were torn on who should’ve got the nod. The judges were split but awarded the win to Lawler after another instant classic.
After two title defenses for the ages, Tyron Woodley put an abrupt end to Lawler’s reign. Lawler bounced back taking a close decision over Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone but was beaten post-to-post by Rafael dos Anjos in his next outing.
The last time we saw Robbie Lawler, he lost via a controversial ending against Ben Askren.
After nearly 20 years of giving pieces of himself and taking a part of everyone he’s faced in the cage and ring, it’s hard to gauge exactly where Lawler is at this stage in his career. There’s a solid chance he beats Covington with his sprawl and brawl tactics. But oddsmakers aren’t counting on it.
What we can be sure of heading into UFC Newark is that Lawler is taking that same kill or be killed mentality he’s always possessed into the cage with him. Win or lose, Lawler is always prepared for war.
Brandon is a long-time fan of combat sports who has covered them for various outlets since 2017.