Robbie Lawler's first run with the UFC lasted from May 2002 to October 2004. That run came to an end after Lawler was knocked out by Nick Diaz and submitted by Evan Tanner in consecutive fights. In 2013, Lawler returned to the UFC, and put together his first three fight winning streak since 2006-07. On Saturday night, he will look to make it four in a row when he faces Johny Hendricks in the main event of UFC 171. As a bonus, if Lawler does win that fight he will leave the Octagon as the UFC welterweight champion.
During his first run with the UFC a title had little meaning for Lawler, as he said during a recent media call, "I didn't really worry about titles. I just enjoyed pushing myself to the limit." He added, "Outside the ring I never really wanted to do the PR, I never really wanted to be in the light - I wasn't ready to be in the light. I'm just a quiet guy who loved to fight."
The 20-year-old Lawler of 2002 is not the same as the nearly 32-year-old Lawler of 2014. His priorities changed over time, and today, Lawler said he is ready to step into that light, "I think as I matured, I'm ready to take that step, and I'm embracing everything that has to do with the UFC, and I'm ready to be out there in front of everyone, and do what it takes to be a champion."
That change in priorities didn't happen overnight. In fact, to hear Lawler tell it, that change didn't really happen until he rejoined the UFC in 2013, "As I got older I started to realize that I need those goals. I need to push myself to be more than just exciting. I need goals, and as soon as I got back to the UFC I put my sights on getting a title, and fighting the best in the world, and that's what I've been doing."
Lawler's first fight back with the UFC was a first round Knockout of the Night winning TKO over Josh Koscheck at UFC 157. He followed that victory with a second round knockout win over Bobby Voelker at UFC on Fox 8. Lawler's most recent win was his split decision victory over highly ranked Rory MacDonald at UFC 167. Lawler was a huge underdog in that fight, +330 to MacDonald's -415.
The victory over the favored MacDonald launched Lawler seven spots up the rankings, making him the No. 3 fighter in the UFC's welterweight division, and when UFC champion Georges St-Pierre vacated his title, the opportunity opened for Lawler to face No. 1 ranked Hendricks for the suddenly available UFC title.
It's hard to imagine that prior to rejoining the UFC, Lawler went 3-5 with Strikeforce. Yes, he was fighting as a middleweight during his Strikeforce tenure, and his losses did come to some pretty tough opponents. But, if you would have predicted that the Strikeforce Lawler would be fighting for UFC gold in 2014, you would have gotten some pretty strange looks.
Lawler said that the tough run in Strikeforce didn't cause him contemplate hanging up his gloves, "It was always why did this happen, what do I need to change, and how am I going to be able to fight at my best. That's all I can control, and I just made life simple, figured out what I need to do to get better, not let any of the losses get me down, and just come back stronger from it."
While others may have doubted Lawler during that 3-5 run between 2009 and 2012, he never doubted himself, "The thing is I always believed in myself. I always believed that I was going to be the best in the world. I'm glad that in this sport you can write your own stories, and you don't have to worry about what other people expect out of you. I expect greatness out of myself. I just always believed in myself no matter what anyone said, and I was willing to grind the 14 years I've been doing this, and I'm not going to stop."