The stinky ‘ol gym in Bettendorf, Iowa just added yet another championship belt to its hallowed halls. Robbie Lawler, thirteen and a half years after his pro debut, has become the UFC champion.
I’m gonna write that again, because my fingers are new to that sentence and I’m trying to get used to how it feels: Robbie Lawler is the UFC champion.
He’s a guy who comes from an era of people testing themselves. He fought because he liked it. He trained with badasses bigger and tougher than him because he liked it. The sport grew around Robbie, and when he came home to the UFC at the beginning of 2013, we were excited for violence, but what kind of splash was he really going to make? We didn’t see Robbie 1.5, or 2.0. We probably saw Robbie Lawler version 4.0, the guy who evolved and rose like a phoenix from the ashes left over from the Lorenz Larkin scorching, and now we’re here.
The fight began with Robbie at his most vicious, turning down a Hendricks glove tap and immediately going for the knockout. Robbie, round 1. Round two was Hendricks working more takedowns, but began chopping down Robbie in earnest. Robbie still lands a headkick, defends the takedowns for the most part, and is more active on the feet. Robbie, round 2. But it’s close.
In round 3, Robbie completely shuts downs, and Hendricks might take a 10-8 in some books. This was weird.
In round 4 it’s close as hell. Hendricks has the cage control, but Robbie has some sort of burning fire in his eyes. Still, Hendricks works the takedowns, but Robbie lands harder shots while Hendricks takes the volume. Robbie, round 4?
I personally thought it was 2-2 heading into the fifth, but the scores can be all over the place. This, like the first fight, is razor close. The fifth sees the same strategy by Hendricks, who is throwing combos with aplomb, but Robbie defends what could be the 20th takedown attempt of the night an goes to work on Johny’s body. They scramble, get up, and Robbie turns on a berzerker switch probably taking the round and the fight.
I don’t normally do play by play, but this seemed appropriate. Hendricks fought very well, but he fought not to lose. I don’t think Robbie attempted one takedown, and I don’t think it’s because he didn’t think he could take down Johny, I think it’s because he wanted to win the fight, not the grappling match.
Robbie Lawler is one of the last fighters. There are plenty of athletes who fight, but few fighters that are athletes. This is special. This is the last of the old school.
Both of these fights came down to the 24th minute of the bout, and it would be wrong if we didn’t see minute 51 of the Lawler vs Hendricks saga.