Robbie Lawler is UFC 171's 'Fighter to Watch' on PPV tonight in Dallas

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

A member of the mixed martial arts (MMA) old guard, Robbie Lawler, will fighting for the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight title TONIGHT (Sat., March 15, 2014) at UFC 171. Does "Ruthless" have it in him to become a champion in the promotion after his Octagon debut almost 12 years ago?

Mixed martial arts (MMA) is a very unforgiving sport.

Many legendary fighters who once sat atop their respective divisions experienced tumultuous downfalls, giving way to the younger ones who would come after them. Fighters that really gave Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) a strong following like Matt Hughes and Chuck Liddell, among others, went out long ago, their names just a small example of the who that brought this sport along so many years ago.

Surprisingly enough, one man from that era is still fighting ... and perhaps even reaching his peak right now.

That man is Robbie "Ruthless" Lawler, who made a name for himself after his Octagon debut back in 2002. In fact, Lawler made his professional MMA debut as a teenager and he hasn't looked back since, compiling an impressive record (22-9, 1 NC) that includes a whopping 18 (technical) knockout victories.

At just 31 years old, Robbie Lawler is undoubtedly a veteran of the sport. He is one of few fighters who has such a comprehensive record so as to include fighters from the "new breed" like Rory MacDonald and ones from way back when like Evan Tanner.

After departing UFC back in 2004 following a loss to the aforementioned Tanner, Lawler found himself fighting in notable promotions, including Pride FC, Elite XC and Strikeforce, among others. His run in Strikeforce -- the most recent of those three -- was incredibly underwhelming, going 3-5 with the promotion before being brought back into the UFC when Strikeforce was disbanded.

Nobody could've expected Lawler to have done as well as he has, and after pulling off a very impressive three-fight win streak over Josh Koscheck, Bobby Voelker and the aforementioned MacDonald, you can't even call his recent rise to contendership a fluke.

It is pretty wild to think that Lawler is hitting his peak right now because he has been in the sport for so long. He's been in some terrific fights, and if he can turn this late career surge into a title winning effort, his story will be one lauded by MMA fans for years to come.

Lawler will fight a very dangerous fighter tonight (Sat., March 15, 2014) in Johny Hendricks in the main event of UFC 171, which takes place at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. However, Hendricks has nothing Lawler hasn't seen before. Lawler has a very good defensive wrestling game to combat Hendricks' wrestling chops, and "Ruthless" knows how to stand and trade with the best of them, making this fight a very interesting clash of skill sets.

Lawler has shown in recent fights that he is still just as -- if not more -- explosive than he was in his earlier days. And he complements this with a more refined approach than he used to possess. Nonetheless, Hendricks is the deserved favorite heading into this fight for the vacant Welterweight title, but this match up is one that you can not count Lawler out of ... at all.

That's because if it turns out to be a striking affair, Lawler's puncher's chance is as good as anyone else in the sport. And he's got a hell of a lot of experience under his belt.

At UFC 171, Robbie Lawler has the potential to be one of the UFC's most unlikely championship stories. With his blend of power and experience, he has the ability to claim the title against Johny Hendricks, which would be an unprecedented feat, considering his first fight for the UFC was nearly 12 years ago.

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