With nine years between Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) wins, Robbie Lawler was but a memory heading into UFC 157: "Rousey vs. Carmouche" last night (Feb. 23, 2013), his ascent into stardom punctuated by promising knockouts only to be undone by losses and seemingly unfilled potential.
After migrating across various mixed martial arts (MMA) promotions, Lawler found something of a home in Strikeforce, competing as a very-physical Middleweight.
At times, his penchant for delivering violence was a stark reminder of why his early UFC performances marked him as a potential future champion. Whether it was wiping out Melvin Manhoef with a single, sweeping right hook after absorbing a frightful pounding, or detonating a flying finishing blow off the downed figure of a dazed Matt Lindland.
When Lawler won, he won big.
And yet when he lost, he did so in often-listless fashion, typically sucked into a stifling grappling match where he was frustrated, unable to unload his trademark bombs. Watch his face as he's jammed against the cage against Ronaldo Souza, as "Jacare" passes to side control time and again, seamlessly, while Lawler can do little but sit there and be swallowed up.
It's an excruciating visual.
MMA isn't all about striking and knockouts, obviously, but it's got to be frustrating to know you can put anyone to sleep yet be unable to make the kind of fight to give yourself a chance at doing it. Maybe that's the reason Lawler was smiling Saturday night at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., when Josh Koscheck took him down early on.
He knew this was a different affair, one where he'd get his cuts at the pitches thrown his way. He wasn't going to be smothered by a Jacare here, or Tim Kennedy, a massive middleweight who looked a weight division larger at fight time. And when he got back to his feet after a nice bit of counter-grappling and guard work, Lawler made the most of it, smashing home a numbing bomb with enough follow-up work as Koscheck presented an opening that ultimately cost him the bout.
Just like that, Lawler's back in the Welterweight division, more than a decade removed from his first run, when he was the hottest young gun in the game.
Legitimate, one-shot knockout artists who can turn the trick on multiple occasions are promotional gold, and Lawler's win makes him a hot commodity, especially in a division where compelling match ups abound. Given the seasoning he's acquired in a long absence from the promotion, and the fact that he seems able to make 170 pounds comfortably after years 15 pounds heavier, I'd love to see UFC pit him against a good style in his next bout.
For that assignment, Court McGee would seem ideal, as McGee's pressure style and willingness to mix it up would make for an explosive bout. And there's also Martin Kampmann, which needs no further explanation if you're even remotely familiar with the Dane's penchant for fireworks.
But, whatever UFC plans next, a hungry, motivated Lawler is a helluva' lot of fun to watch, and he's always dangerous as long as he's standing.
Jason Probst can be reached at twitter.com/jasonprobst