The Career of “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler

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UFC 290 will make headlines around the world.

This may be due to the high profile clash for the featherweight belt between Alexander Volkanovski and Yair Rodriguez, or perhaps it will be because of the battle for the flyweight crown as current champ Brandon Moreno takes on Alexandre Pantoja. Robert Whittaker will be looking to gain a trilogy fight with Israel Adesanya as he looks to confirm the belief that he is a step above the competition at Middleweight with a win over Dricus Du Plessis. Rising contenders Jack Della Maddalena and Bo Nickal will surely grab attention also, two of the brightest prospects in the sport at the moment.

Lawler Says Goodbye

However, there is one major event that will occur at UFC 290 that perhaps is not receiving the attention that it deserves. A monumental event that spells the end of an era and a particular generation of the company. This of course, is the announced retirement, and in turn, retirement fight of “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler.

Lawler is a confirmed hall of famer and at one time was among the most feared combatants on the planet.

The Unorthodox Rise

Making his debut over 20 years ago back in 2001 and with his background in wrestling and formidable skills on the feet quickly established himself as a force to be reckoned with. Joining the UFC in 2002, Lawler would amass a record of 4-1 in his first five fights in the organization where he would become well known for his trademarked aggressiveness and brutal style while fighting. Eventually he would take on a young Nick Diaz in a famous fight that would see Diaz actually stop Lawler in his tracks picking up a KO victory when he was expected to do anything but. Following the loss to Diaz, Lawler would make the move to Middleweight where he would lose in his debut against a future middleweight champion Evan Tanner. Lawler would then be released from the promotion.

Fighting in other promotions such as EliteXC as well as Pride, Lawler would win several championships in different promotions winning eight of his next 10 fights. His good form in promotions such as EliteXC and ICON Sport would see him be eventually signed to Scott Coker’s promotion Strikeforce which was looking to compete with the UFC. Lawler’s time in Strikeforce was somewhat mixed. Compiling a record of 3-5 in the organization Lawler would manage to fit for the company’s Middleweight title, being defeated by Jacare Souza.

It was during this time that Lawler began competing against some of the best fighters in the world and he would compete against names such as Lorenz Larkin, Tim Kennedy, and Jake Shields just to name a few. Despite not always coming out victorious in his bouts during this time Lawler was still delivering highly entertaining fights and was living up to his reputation of delivering devastating and brutal knockouts in the bouts that he was victorious in. This would see the UFC opt to offer him a contract upon their acquisition of Strikeforce and ultimate dissolvement of the promotion in 2013. This would also see Lawler return to welterweight for the first time in 9 years.

He would immediately hit the ground running in his return to the UFC, finding himself a home in the 170-pound weight class. A more natural weight category for him, Lawler no longer found himself at the size disadvantage which he was often burdened with during his time at Middleweight and his experience and skills saw him immediately embark on a three-fight winning streak in the UFC.  He would pick up notable victories over names such as Josh Koscheck and Rory MacDonald. This would culminate in a shot at the UFC Welterweight title at UFC 171 where he and Johnny Hendricks would battle for the vacant championship following the hiatus of Georges St-Pierre.

Lawler would ultimately come up short in a memorable encounter where he would be on the wrong side of a unanimous decision. The fight would later win Fight of the Year for 2014. 

UFC Welterweight Champion

Working his way back up the ladder, Lawler went about dispatching the other contenders at 170. A TKO victory over Jake Ellenberger and a decision victory over Matt Brown was enough to grant Lawler the rematch with Hendricks at UFC 181, only nine months after the pair had met previously. This time it would be Lawler who would come out victorious with “Ruthless” edging out Hendricks in a split decision victory. Finally he had won the UFC championship 12 years after making his debut in the organization back at UFC 37 in 2002. 

Lawler would go on to make two defenses of his belt. The first being a rematch against MacDonald at UFC 189. A fight that many consider to be the greatest in the history of MMA the back and forth contest saw the fighters both receive huge amounts of damage with Lawler famously having his top lip split in half. Ultimately Lawler would pick up the KO victory in the fifth round after shattering MacDonald’s nose rendering his opponent unable to continue. The fight of course was lauded by critics and immediately proclaimed not only fight of the year but fight of the century. The image of Lawler celebrating with the belt wrapped around his waist and his separated lip flapping as he screams will go down in MMA history only adding to the legend of “Ruthless.”

His next fight would be another one for the record books against Carlos Condit, “The Natural Born Killer.” A fight that would go down as a fight of the year winner by many MMA media sources in 2016, this has become one of the most contested title fights in history with the being seemingly little to separate the two combatants. Both landed heavy shots on the other and both appeared to come out as equals after a five-round war. Ultimately it would be Lawler who would pick up the victory via split decision and add to his immense legacy. Year after year he consistently provided fight of year performances and during the mid 2010s he was by far the most entertaining fighter on the planet to watch, along with perhaps Conor McGregor.

The Slow Descent

His level of brutality and aggressiveness always meant that his fights were worth tuning into and his knockout power meant that a fight could end in a KO at any given time. 

Unfortunately for Lawler though, time catches up with everyone and after 15 years in the sport it begins to take its toll. His third title defense would be his last as he would be defeated by Tyron Woodley at UFC 201 in 2016. Lawler has had seven fights since then losing 5 of them. Victories have come against Donald Cerrone in 2017 and Nick Diaz in 2021. Still, he has continued fighting the best of the best going up against the likes of Neil Magny, Colby Covington and Rafael Dos Anjos. Despite picking up losses, he has always commanded respect from his peers and always comes ready to fight and continues to give his all every performance. Perhaps lacking a fraction of the speed he once had, a fraction of power and sharpness, yet his heart has remained the same. This upcoming bout against Niko Price will undoubtedly be no different, with “Ruthless” doing his utmost to take Price’s head off his shoulders.


The legacy of Robbie Lawler will be that of a champion. More than that, he will go down as one of the most feared and respected champions in recent memory. Lawler was a champion and a fighter who delivered in every fight he was in, constantly putting on a show for the fans and delivering a Fight of the Year contender time after time.

He will truly be missed upon retirement and his bouts against Hendricks, MacDonald and Condit will not be forgotten for many generations to come.

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