His first bout inside the Octagon took place all the way back UFC 37 in 2002, and the number of fighters still competing in the promotion today could be counted on two hands.
Lawler has never been a fighter you'll catch pumping up his own ego, but even he admits that maintaining relevancy over the last decade isn't easy. It's a lot of hard work, a lot of suffering and a whole lot of personal sacrifice.
"I started real young, that obviously helps. I've always had a belief in myself and an ability to always do what I believe," Lawler told FOX Sports. "Just being able to grind, day in and day out. You have to be a different kind of person to not just do the workouts, but to not make money for months at a time. Live on someone's couch if you need to before the sport was this big. You have a different mindset."
Back then, Lawler drew his inspiration from the folks that first drew him into the sport when he began training under legendary coach Pat Miletich and his team of killers in Bettendorf, Iowa. It just so happened to be Lawler's home town as well so when he discovered MMA, he made a bee line to Miletich's gym where he got to work with the absolute best of the best.
"It was huge. When you're coming up and you have Matt Hughes, Tim Sylvia, Jens Pulver and Pat Miletich, Jeremy Horn to train with and compete with. Guys that have fought in Japan, all over the world, and you see these guys every day. You just embrace the grind and get after it, you have no choice but to succeed," Lawler said on Wednesday.
The mentality of the fighters back then is a little different than the mindset of competitors these days according to Lawler. No one was making a fortune back then so it really had to just be about the love of the fight.
"Fighting's what we did. It was a different group of guys back then. It was guys who enjoyed competing, guys enjoyed the sport," Lawler said.
A lot of that spirit and determination that sticks with him to this day was instilled by Miletich, who brought him up from his infancy in the sport to the time when he was competing in the UFC. While his training camp relocated from Iowa to Florida where Lawler now works full time under the tutelage of American Top Team, he'll never forget the lessons Miletich taught him in those early days.
Beyond his own coaching accolades, Miletich was also a former UFC welterweight champion, holding the record for title defenses until his own student Matt Hughes broke it a few years after he exited the promotion. Curiously despite a list of accomplishments inside the Octagon, Miletich still sits outside of favor with the UFC and has never received a nod for the Hall Of Fame.
Miletich joins former UFC champion Frank Shamrock as the two fighters most often talked about for a UFC Hall Of Fame spot, yet neither has ever received consideration. Lawler refused to engage much with the conversation concerning his mentor's blackball status from the UFC Hall Of Fame, but he agreed that Miletich deserves to be there as much as anybody else.
"I mean it would definitely be cool for Pat to be in there, let alone all the champions he's trained. I don't really dabble into the politics of MMA too much. It would be nice to have him in there. He deserves it," Lawler said.
Miletich is still involved in MMA as he moved on to a commentary career after his fighting came to an end, but whether or not he'll ever be welcomed back into the UFC with open arms remains to be seen.