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With momentum on his side, what is the ceiling for UFC on FOX 8's Robbie Lawler?

Photo by Esther Lin for Strikeforce

A win over Bobby Voelker at UFC on Fox 8 may keep Robbie Lawler trending upward, but he'll need to face top opposition if he wants to prove himself viable in the shark-infested waters of the UFC Welterweight division.

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight standout Robbie Lawler has fought a veritable laundry list of top fighters in his 12-year mixed martial arts (MMA) career, defeating names like Josh Koscheck, Chris Lytle, Matt Lindland and Frank Trigg, among many others. He also parlayed his explosive knockout power into three title belts, winning the Elite XC, Icon Sport and Superbrawl Middleweight championships.

But, the truly career-defining UFC title has evaded him, spending the last nine years fighting outside of the Octagon. He made a triumphant return to the world’s biggest MMA promotion at UFC 157 in Feb. 2012, moving down to 170-pounds and stopping former No. 1-ranked contender Koscheck with strikes in the first round.

This weekend, Lawler will face off with Bobby Voelker at UFC on Fox 8 in Seattle, Wash., after his two previously scheduled opponents Tarec Saffiedine and Siyar Bahadurzada went down with training injuries. While Voelker is definitely a game fighter, beating him will not garner even close to the amount of acclaim his win over Koscheck did.

So, being in this odd position, where is Lawler’s career headed at this point? True, he is only 31-years old, having made his MMA debut only weeks after his nineteenth birthday. However, Koscheck was a highly ranked opponent, and the win propelled Lawler into the Top 10 conversation.

That means an experienced fighter like Lawler needs to get as many bouts against high-level opposition as he can. The window of opportunity to earn a title shot at 170 pounds is extremely small, with a logjam of top-flight contenders all vying for a coveted shot.

There’s no doubt that Lawler has the power in his hands to knockout any UFC welterweight on the current roster, evident by his 17 striking finishes. But, his wrestling -- though proficient -- may not be enough to contend with the top rungs of the division. Indeed, he’s had trouble with both wrestlers and grapplers in the past, being manhandled in recent years by Tim Kennedy, Ronaldo Souza, Jake Shields and even Renato Sobral.

Let's not fail to mention that he only has one submission victory to his name (Jeremy Brown in 2005).

In a division led by dominant wrestlers such as Georges St. Pierre, Johny Hendricks and Jake Ellenberger, anything but the best will not keep Lawler -- or any wannabe contender for that matter -- afloat for very long. If Lawler truly wants to contend for a UFC title, he’ll need to improve his wrestling game in drastic fashion.

And considering his vast experience in the sport to date, perhaps it's an art he's just unable to master, especially since his long-time training partner and best bud, Matt Hughes, was among the best MMA wrestlers of his generation. One would think Hughes, of all people, would not at least try to aggressively correct what seems to be such a glaring weakness.

He was fortunate to clip "Kos" before he could get going, but that's typically the exception rather than the rule. At some point soon, especially with a win over Voelker this weekend (Sat., July 27, 2013), he’s going to have to prove himself as an all-around threat by running through a gauntlet of tough challengers with little room for error.

Regardless, the Voelker fight is a high-risk, low-reward scenario; however, another impressive victory should mean a big name bout for Lawler in his next outing.

And that’s exactly what he needs to keep his resurrected hype train rolling.

Even after all this time, Lawler still has a deep passion for the sport while vying for contention in one of MMA’s most talented divisions. But, can an old dog learn enough new tricks to climb the sport’s highest peak?

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