When Robbie Lawler entered the MMA scene, there were massive expectations placed on him. As a member of the famed Miletich Fighting Systems, he was supposed to follow Pat Miletich and Matt Hughes as the next great welterweight out of the camp, which also included Jens Pulver, Jeremy Horn, and Tim Sylvia. At the beginning of his career it quickly became apparent that he possessed a natural knockout power that was rare among the MFS wrestlers. After going 4-0 in the smaller shows around the United States, he was given the call to make his debut at UFC 37 against Aaron Riley.
The fight against Aaron Riley would see Lawler go to decision for the first time in his MMA career, though it was a completely one sided fight. His next fight in the UFC was at 37.5, a last minute event promoted for television purposes, against Steve Berger. Lawler would win by TKO in the second round and the fight would become the first Mixed Martial Arts fight ever to air on cable television in the United States. He would follow this win up by knocking out perennial MMA punchline Tiki Ghosn in the first round. This fight in and of itself is great because Ghosn is clearly out and then tried to plead afterwards that he had Lawler right where he wanted him and the fight was only stopped because of a cut. It was absurd and cemented Robbie as the as the future of the division.
With these exciting wins, Lawler was understandably a favorite of the UFC ownership and was expected to be the next big thing in the sport. Unfortunately, his next bout, a throwaway against Pete Spratt, showed a glaring weakness in Lawler's game: his inability to check leg kicks. This bout had many questioning his overall heart as he verbally quit due to the cumulative damage. It would also call into question both his training methods and development as a fighter. He would bounce back with a decision win over Chris Lytle at UFC 45 but that would be the last time he'd have a win within the UFC. He'd lose to Nick Diaz by knockout after being subjected to the pitter-patter boxing and taunting that has become a Diaz staple. A move up to Middleweight saw him defeated by Evan Tanner by Triangle choke, cementing the position that Lawler had ignored submission grappling at MFS.
After being cut by the UFC, Lawler would find himself in the Icon Sport Middleweight Title triangle after winning the belt against Falaniko Vitale. Jason Miller submitted him by arm triangle, who would lose to Frank Trigg by soccer kicks, who lost to Lawler by knockout. He found success in the defunct EliteXC capturing the Middleweight belt from the now retired Murilo Rua; however, once the promotion failed and the pieces were purchased by Strikeforce, again Lawler would fall on hard times. He was quickly submitted by Jake Shields via guillotine choke, picked apart by Melvin Manhoef before landing a hail mary punch, and would drop a decision to Renato Sobral. He was able to knockout Matt Lindland but couldn't keep a streak going, being choked out by Ronaldo Souza early this year.
Robbie Lawler is a victim of his own abilities. He possesses strong wrestling and at the early stage of his career was one of the most highly touted prospects out of the Miletich camp. Where Matt Hughes and Pat Miletich took advantage of their wrestling skills to become UFC champions, Lawler adopted the same tactics as Jens Pulver. His lack of development in grappling has been the cause of some extremely embarrassing losses and even after seven years, he still hasn't figured out how to check leg kicks. When he first appeared in the UFC, he was considered by all to be the next big thing in MMA. The fact that he never amounted to the great fighter many thought he'd be isn't due to career mismanagement but because of a lack of desire to game plan intelligently. He chose to be entertaining instead of smart and that has been detrimental to his standing in MMA. He fights this weekend at Strikeforce against Tim Kennedy, who could be seen as the fighter that Lawler could have been if he decided to focus on all aspects of MMA instead of just developing his punching power.