When Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) acquired Strikeforce, the world's number-two mixed martial art (MMA) promotion in early 2011, fans were excited about the long list of names who would eventually finish up their Hexagon duties and make their way over to UFC.
Robbie Lawler wasn't one of them.
Despite wrecking shop for over a decade, "Ruthless" had a poor showing in the second half of his career. He signed on with Scott Coker's promotion in 2009 after a championship-winning run under the EliteXC banner. Unfortunately, he was quickly submitted by Jake Shields in his Strikeforce debut.
Lawler was the model of inconsistency.
In eight fights under the Strikeforce banner, the Granite City-gunslinger would fail to win consecutive fights and finished with a lousy record of 3-5, which did little to erase memories of the mediocre record of 4-3 he compiled in his first run in UFC.
Simply put, there was very little to be excited about.
In addition, when Lawler finally did find his way back to the Octagon -- as a welterweight -- he was paired off against former division number one contender Josh Koscheck, who made a career out of stifling hard-hitting opponents by taking them down and grinding them out.
Rinse and repeat.
That was the anticipated gameplan when Lawler and Koscheck strapped on the gloves for a curtain-jerking contest on the UFC 157: "Rousey vs. Carmouche" pay-per-view (PPV) event, which took place on Feb. 23, 2013 inside the Honda Center in Anaheim, California.
But you know what they say about the best laid plans...
It took Koscheck less than 20 seconds to secure his first takedown, grinding Lawler into the canvas and slowly pushing him into the fence. But "Ruthless" had been training at American Top Team (ATT) and would not spend the opening frame on his back.
He escaped, but "Kos" was dogged in his pursuit, pushing his foe into the cage for some good old-fashioned wall-and-stall.
Undaunted, Lawler weathered the storm -- as well as a chorus of boos from the Anaheim faithful -- and used a brief opening to land a knee to the body. Koscheck flopped to the ground and absorbed "Ruthless" punches from his attacker, including a pair that bounced his dome off the cage floor.
At 3:57 of the first round, referee Herb Dean had seen enough.
Lawler would follow that up with a vicious knockout of Bobby Voelker at UFC on FOX 8, then upset the 170-pound apple cart with a split decision win over welterweight wunderkind Rory MacDonald at UFC 167. Aided by the sudden departure of Georges St. Pierre, he stands just one fight away from the division title.
So too, does Johny Hendricks, who knows a thing or two about competing for gold.
They'll do the deed this Saturday night (March 15, 2014) in the main event of UFC 171: "Hendricks vs. Lawler," taking place inside the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. "Ruthless" has a chance to complete his epic comeback, or just head to the back of the line.
We'll find out in six days.