“€˜It didn’€™t happen overnight”€™: Robbie Lawler’s UFC title shot was no gift

Robbie Lawler faces Johny Hendricks for a chance at the welterweight title.

Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

No one has benefited more from Georges St-Pierre’€™s sabbatical than Robbie Lawler.

A little more than a month ago, Lawler was barely in the title picture and now he’€™ll be fighting Johny Hendricks at UFC 171 with the winner becoming UFC welterweight champion.

Just don’t call UFC president Dana White’€™s decision to give Lawler the shot a gift.

"€œAll the work I put in through the years is paying off," Lawler told Fox Sports on Saturday. "€œIt didn’€™t happen overnight. I’ve been doing this a long time, grinding, getting better."

Lawler (22-9, 1 NC), at age 31, is better than he’€™s ever been – and he’€™s been around a long time. The San Diego’s first UFC bout was in 2002. Since then, he’s been extremely well traveled, competing for the likes of the IFL, Elite XC and Strikeforce.

All the work I put in through the years is paying off.

It was a move to American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Fla., right before his UFC return that turned the tide in his career, he said. ATT pursued him, not the other way around. It made him feel wanted and comfortable.

"€œThey wanted me,"€ Lawler said. "€œMaybe they saw something in me. I just felt welcome right away. I wasn’t intruding or anything like that."

Lawler’s first camp with ATT came before he fought Josh Koscheck in February at UFC 157. Lawler ended that fight in the first round with his dynamic power. He did the same thing to Bobby Voelker in July at UFC on FOX. And, in his biggest victory maybe ever, he defeated Rory MacDonald at UFC 167 last month.

MacDonald was the guy everyone thought would be the heir to St-Pierre’€™s welterweight throne. Lawler changed the course of history with a magnificent, technical three-round decision. It was a Lawler that no one had ever seen before -€“ calmer, more poised. Not just a brawler.

"€œIt was huge,"€ Lawler said of American Top Team’€™s impact. "€œIt was right when I was coming back to the UFC and they got me ready. I’€™ve been getting better ever since."

This is a guy who lost to middling Lorenz Larkin in his final Strikeforce bout. Now he’s on the cusp of being the best welterweight in the world.

It’€™s a pretty incredible story. But Lawler isn’€™t the excitable type. White joked that Lawler got as excited as Lawler could possibly get when he was informed about the title shot Friday.

Lawler’€™s prime has come later than many expected. He’€™s no longer one of the poster boys for talent wasted and unharnessed.

"€œI knew eventually everything was gonna pay off,"€ Lawler said, "€œand that’€™s what’s happening now."