Robbie Lawler: 'It's been a hard year, a hard career'
After winning the UFC welterweight title Saturday night in the main event of UFC 181 with a split decision over Johny Hendricks, the new champ told Joe Rogan, "this wasn't easy." Certainly, none of Robbie Lawler's near 14-year career in MMA has looked easy.
Entering the UFC as its youngest fighter over 12 years ago couldn't have been easy. Getting bounced from the promotion after losing three out of four, and then spending the next eight years hopping around the world, taking on all comers in multiple weight classes, must have been hard as well.
Certainly, fighting three times in 2013 and then another four times this year, with many of those bouts being brutal affairs, must have been a huge challenge for Lawler. And that, all of it and much more, is exactly what the new 170-pound meant when he told Joe Rogan that "this wasn't easy."
"I was just referring to my whole career," he told FOX Sports, just days after winning his first world title.
"It has been a long road with a lot of training and lots of ups and downs. This year has been a hard year. I've had a lot of fights, and fought a lot of rounds. I gave it my all and stayed really busy. The UFC needed me to step in and fight a couple times and I kept stepping up. But that's not all of it. It's been a hard year, hard career."
Lawler, who at one point stopped sparring entirely for years because of concern for his brain's health, says he isn't concerned by the many wars he's been in this year, however. In fighting Hendricks (twice), Matt Brown and Jake Ellenberger, the 32-year-old has fought nearly 18 rounds in the Octagon in 2014.
The fights with Brown and Hendricks were nasty wars, with Lawler absorbing a lot of punches. Despite that, Lawler insists that if he needed to he could fight again today.
"No, I'm not concerned (about effects from the past year) at all because I did a good job not taking a lot of damage," he said.
"My body feels really good, and fresh. I feel great. I'm out here, the sun is shining, I'm bouncing around. If I needed to fight today, I could. I feel good, it's crazy. My body is responding, my mind is ready to go, and I'm just loving being a mixed martial artist."
Something that Lawler wouldn't love is having to fight one of his American Top Team (ATT) welterweight teammates. Lawler is the division's champ, now, and both Tyron Woodley and Hector Lombard are currently in the top five.
Lawler says that although he hasn't trained extensively with either Woodley or Lombard during camps, he wouldn't relish having to navigate an awkward minefield at the gym should one of them challenge him for his title.
"That would just be a weird situation because ATT has a lot of coaches, but they are everyone's coaches," Lawler explained.
"We would have to figure some things out. We don't spend a lot of downtime there, usually. This is the first time I'm going to really be around helping guys get ready for fights. Usually, we train with guys who are like the guys we are going to be fighting. So, because I haven't had to fight a guy like Woodley, or a guy like Hector, I haven't trained with them too much. We all help each other, though, so it would be weird. We'll cross that bridge when we need to."
For now, Lawler is enjoying his moment and basking in the glow of a win he says was a community effort. "After the fight I just hung out with family, took a lot of pictures with the belt, and had a good time, ate some cupcakes, ate some food," he said.
"One thing about it was that this win was about everyone around me. They all share in the glory. So many people put a little time and effort into me. It wasn't just me going out there and winning, it was a lot of people helping me along the way, believing in me."
After winning fights, one can feel a any number of things on a range of emotions, from relief to jubilation. After his last win, the culmination of a long and winding career, what Lawler says he feels most is pride and gratitude.
"I'm proud of myself," he said.
"I'm proud of the journey. It's been a long road. I figure that about three years ago, everyone wrote me off and didn't think I would ever fulfill my potential. So, it's very gratifying to be who I am today."