When Robbie Lawler steps inside the cage, you know it will likely be a short night.
Either the heavy-handed striker -- already a 10-year veteran at age 29 -- will connect with one of his bombs and put his opponent on the canvas or "Ruthless" will fall victim to a submission, an aspect of mixed martial arts (MMA) that he, for whatever reason, has never put much stock in.
That's why when he was booked opposite Melvin Manhoef last year, fans knew that the latter option simply wouldn't need to be considered. "Marvelous" -- who also fits the aforementioned description to a tee -- wouldn't look to take the fight to the ground any more than Lawler would. Someone was going to get knocked out in brutal fashion, the matchmaking all but promised.
And deliver on that promise it did.
Next Saturday (Jan. 7), Lawler will fight for the 27th time in his career, taking on Russian prospect Adlan Amagov in the co-main event of Strikeforce: "Rockhold vs. Jardine". It's a must win fight for "Ruthless" who is currently on a two-fight skid and has only won two of his last six. Both of those wins came via knockout, the second against longtime MMA veteran Matt Lindland and the first -- which we'll take a look at today -- came against Manhoef.
Let's dive in.
Manhoef takes the center of the cage and forces Lawler to circle around. He ends up trapping the American against the chainlink and Lawler attempts a jumping roundhouse kick off all things to create distance. It whiffs but the kick Manhoef throws in response -- although blocked -- smacks against Lawler's arm.
The Dutchman follows that up with a leg kick and seconds later, throws another that misses its mark. It becomes obvious in the first minute of the bout what the kickboxer's strategy is against his opponent. Not wanting to risk getting taking down by Lawler, Manhoef is avoiding extended striking exchanges and opting to keep his distance with rangier kicks. Lawler throws a head kick that is blocked and temporarily backs Manhoef up but aside from that, "No Mercy" continues to walk the former Miletich Systems Fighter down.
Nearly 90 seconds into the bout, both fighters throw kicks and their legs momentarily get tangled up until Manhoef throws a second one which slams into Lawler's ribcage, forcing the American to circle away. A punching exchange leads nowhere for both and seconds later "Ruthless" throws a outside leg kick with little to no steam on it. Manhoef delivers one of his own, the smack of which echoes through the BankAtlantic Center.
Manhoef closes the distance and throws two right hooks that are ducked and a left that Lawler is also able to avoid. A fourth strike -- another right hand -- connects albeit not completely flush but that doesn't stop the American from playing a little possum. He groggily moves his head around, perhaps in order to goad Manhoef into a Pete Sell-like run-in to Lawler's Scott Smith. The Dutchman doesn't take the bait, however, and instead lands another brutal body kick.
A leg kick smacks against Lawler's shin and Manhoef opens up with combinations. Mostly blocked by Lawler, two body kicks find their way to the American's ribcage. Two more leg kicks send Lawler's lower limb nearly flying before "Marvelous" delivers another bone-jarring combination punctuated by a body shot and two more kicks to his opponent's leg. They don't call Manhoef a kickboxer for nothing.
Another leg kick is followed up by a body shot and "Ruthless" begins to make his way around the cage with a noticeable limp. Yet another leg kick would have sent the now tender limb flying into the crowd had it not been attached to Lawler's hips. A second and a third connect.
That's when it happens.
Perhaps taking too much stock in how injured Lawler is or maybe Manhoef's thought process is so consumed by his next offensive maneuver that his defensive abilities all but shut down but he absolutely does not see the wild overhand right that comes crashing into his jaw.
Dazed, he begins to stagger away from his opponent but a perfectly-placed left from "Ruthless" tags him right on the chin and it's lights out for the Dutch kickboxer. Lawler is tackled off by the referee and Manhoef is left on the canvas with that thousand-yard stare MMA fans are all too familiar with. Even as the American circles the cage to celebrate, he does so favoring his lead leg.
Can Lawler match that result next Saturday in Las Vegas or will his name be used to build up a rising star?