Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight contenders Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald faced off in a pivotal showdown at last night's (Nov. 16, 2013) UFC 167 from MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
No. 3-ranked MacDonald sought to prove that he was the rightful heir to the next UFC 170-pound title shot against surging Lawler, who knocked out Josh Koscheck and Bobby Voelker in rapid succession earlier this year.
MacDonald had won his last five mixed martial arts (MMA) in a row. But he also experienced a ton of criticism for his most recent performance, a clear but rather uninspired unanimous decision over Jake Ellenberger at UFC on Fox 8 in July.
This one turned out to a war, with Lawler pulling off the huge upset in one of the biggest wins of his long and storied career. Let's take a look back at a defining moment for Lawler at UFC's twentieth anniversary show.
The fight started out tentatively at first with MacDonald looking to utilize his superior reach to keep the power striking of Lawler at bay. MacDonald controlled the Octagon but didn't put forth a ton of volume. Lawler threw some good low kicks at the lead leg of "Ares." MacDonald threw continuous front kicks to create distance as Lawler struggled to find an opening. He finally got one with a kick and some follow-up punches.
The second round saw MacDonald go for a single leg early on. Lawler fought back with a few shots and then went to the body. MacDonald opened up his striking game with hard body punches. It was a back-and-forth battle on the feet until MacDonald scored the fight's first big takedown, controlling Lawler. "Ares" landed some sharp elbows to close out the second frame.
Lawler came out throwing heavy leather in the last round, tagging MacDonald clean. Lawler threw a knee but was taken down. The fight got stood up and Lawler launched another big hook. MacDonald went for the takedown, getting it for a brief moment before Lawler reversed to rain down shots. "Ruthless" floored MacDonald with a great combo and swarmed to look for the finish. The veteran fighter continued to score points from side control on a dazed MacDonald.
Not to be outdone, MacDonald went for an armbar and then got a big takedown to land more elbows as the fight came to a close.
It was a war that had Lawler take home a tense split decision. With the win previously number ten-ranked Lawler will get huge boost up the rankings. He wraps up an absolutely huge 2013 with three finishes in what may be the most talented in all of MMA.
The sky appears to be the limit for the rejuvenated Lawler. A bout against the winner of next month's Carlos Condit vs. Matt Brown bout could provide an excellent fight for Lawler as the seemingly confusing title picture at 170 pounds gets worked out. He could even be fighting Johny Hendricks for either the interim or official Welterweight championship.
Either way, "Ruthless" will be ready.
Not long ago it was considered inevitable that MacDonald would soon be facing the tough decision of fighting his good friend and training partner Georges St. Pierre for the belt. After two subpar performances, MacDonald will have to go back to the drawing board. Perhaps he suffered from a bit too much hype, the kind that comes from having an inflated ranking that wasn't quite yet deserved.
He's still a very young and talented combatant with a bright future ahead of him. However, he needs to re-evaluate his fighting style and shift his focus away from superior gameplanning to taking his opponents out. He has the ability to finish some of the best in the world; he may just be overthinking matters.
"Ares" will be back. But will he ever be as good as people expected him to be already?
Robbie Lawler continued his huge run at Welterweight by knocking off the favored Rory MacDonald. The surprise contender will get another huge bout in his next trip to the Octagon. Just who should that be?