It’s been said time and time again, but combat sports athletes don’t usually get to go out on top. For every Khabib Nurmagomedov who leaves while still atop the pedestal, there’s dozens and dozens of former champions who exit on losing streaks, usually so far removed from their own greatness that the performances are unrecognizable.
That’s pretty much the default expectation. Really, the best case scenario in recent years has been losing to Jake Paul, which at least pays better for the bonus embarrassment. Worst case, an all-time great fighter ends up getting beaten up in bars and ignorant to all the damage they’ve taken.
Last night, Robbie Lawler was the latest legend to walk away from the sport. One of the most beloved action fighters and champions in the history of the sport, Lawler had already lost five of his last six bouts. There were occasional bright moments — like the Ben Askren slam! — but they were also really unfortunate displays of inactivity that did not at all represent Lawler’s peak.
Against Niko Price at UFC 290 last night (Sat., July 8, 2023), Lawler was favored to follow history’s usual path. Price was struggling a bit himself, but he’s also nearly a decade younger and still carries real knockout power. The most likely outcome was obvious.
“Ruthless” floated to the center of the Octagon gracefully and threw with confidence. Immediately, his timing was on display, as he slipped a shot and fired his left hand back. When the two clinched up, a series of left hands up the middle and around the guard connected with the chin and temple.
Price hit the ground, out cold (watch highlights). Lawler called the fight himself, walking away with his hands raised. The arena erupted. Happy endings and good retirement fights are such a rarity in combat sports, it’s vitally important to savor, enjoy, and really bask in this moment.
This column is critical of UFC’s handling of things more often than not, but this time, I have to credit the promotion. First and foremost, Price was a great opponent for Lawler. Not an easy foe by any means, but nor was Lawler sacrificed to the latest Welterweight hotshot who might someday sell a pay-per-view (PPV).
It was a very appropriate challenge ... and Lawler was able to capitalize.
The video package was also lovely. The historically stoic Lawler was moved to tears by the retrospective on his 20+ year professional career, and the crowd loved every second of it. Lawler’s love for the sport and the audience’s love for the former champion were abundant, making for a tremendous atmosphere.
These are the kind of moments that make events great, that make being a fight fan more worthwhile. UFC did its part in helping that happen, and I hope it becomes a more common occurrence moving forward.
If not, Robbie Lawler was certainly the man to honor as an exception.
For complete UFC 290: “Volkanovski vs. Rodriguez” results and play-by-play, click HERE.