‘Grown-up’ Robbie Lawler now ready for everything it means to be elite in the UFC

Robbie Lawler hits the pads during open workouts Thursday in San Jose.

Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Fighting was never the hard part for Robbie Lawler. This is a guy who was in the UFC at age 19. Stepping in the Octagon has almost been like second nature for him.

It was everything else that took time to develop. There was a time not long ago when Lawler couldn’t stand talking with the media and taking part in the pre-fight build up. Selling a fight was just never a thing for him.

That has changed. Lawler isn’t exactly the most charismatic athlete in the UFC with a microphone in front of his face. No one will ever mistake him for Chael Sonnen. But "Ruthless" will at least give some effort.

"I’m ready for the stage now," Lawler said. "Before, I wasn’t ready for the stage. I didn’t want to do these interviews. I didn’t want to be in front of the cameras. I just wanted to beat people up and get the hell out of here."

I’m ready for the stage now. Before, I wasn’t ready for the stage. I didn’t want to do these interviews. I didn’t want to be in front of the cameras. I just wanted to beat people up and get the hell out of here.

Lawler (23-10, 1 NC) can still do the latter part with the best of them. The last two years have been the best of his career. He has knocked out Jake Ellenberger, Josh Koscheck and Bobby Voelker and dominated Rory MacDonald. Maybe better than all of those performances was Lawler’s five-round unanimous decision loss to Johny Hendricks in a welterweight title fight at UFC 171 in March.

Many felt like Lawler, 32, beat Hendricks and it’s not arguable that he did more damage. Two months after that, Lawler finished Ellenberger in the third round, so Saturday’s main event against Matt Brown on FOX (8 p.m. ET) will be his third important fight in five months.

Another one of the things he’s learned as he’s grown more mature is how to pace himself at the gym. Going to American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Fla., has been a blessing for him.

"I’ve actually done a really good job listening to my body, relaxing," Lawler said. "Some days you train hard, some days you rest a little bit. Since I was already in shape for this fight, I didn’t have to push as hard. I could just train smart. I could go 30, 45 minutes hard and intense and rest. I didn’t have to worry about losing weight, I didn’t have to worry about getting in shape, because I was already there. Smaller steps."

Lawler is not the teenage kid who fought at UFC 37 anymore. He’s a man and an elite athlete with a brand-new Adidas sponsorship under his belt. If he beats Brown, he’ll get a rematch with Hendricks sometime at the end of the year or the beginning of 2015.

Lawler has earned the break. He has made the most of his second opportunity with the UFC after spinning his wheels in Strikeforce as a middleweight. It’s a cliché at this point, but this Lawler, 13 years after his pro debut, is the best Lawler we’ve seen.

"I’m a grown up now and I’m doing what it takes to be a really good fighter," Lawler said.