The journey of Robbie Lawler from can't miss prospect to journeyman to UFC title challenger is one of the more interesting stories in the history of mixed martial arts. Lawler went 3-5 in Strikeforce prior to the promotion folding into the UFC, making his 3-0 run in the UFC and title shot Saturday against Johny Hendricks all the more unlikely.
So, what led to this drastic turnaround for a fighter who'd been fighting professionally since 2001? It may be something as simple as getting back to sparring, as detailed in a Yahoo Sports article:
But after a loss to Lorenz Larkin on July 14, 2012, in Strikeforce, things changed. He'd gone from intense, knockdown, drag-out brawls in sparring while part of Pat Miletich's camp in Iowa in his early days to no sparring at all.
He basically didn't spar before facing Larkin, in effect going 180 degrees away from the aggressive sparring philosophy he was brought up with at the Miletich camp, and it left him unprepared.
"We talked after that and we both realized that he needed to spar some," Cox said. "Not sparring kept him concussion-free, but in this sport, you need to spar some to be able to see the openings and get your timing and all of that."
Lawler got back to sparring before his return to the UFC against Josh Koscheck and scored a huge first round TKO. A follow up second round TKO of Bobby Voelker followed, and then the split decision over Rory MacDonald cemented his "contender status."
When Georges St. Pierre stepped away from the sport it wasn't a shock to see "Dana White's favorite fighter" get the nod for the title fight.
We'll see what comes of the opportunity this Saturday night at UFC 171 when Lawler enters the cage as a heavy underdog.