Lawler becomes UFC welterweight No. 1 contender with epic win over Brown

SAN JOSE, Calif. — A battle of two of the best knockout artists in the UFC didn’t go quite as expected. It took five full rounds, some blood and some controversy, but a No. 1 contender was hashed out.

Robbie Lawler defeated Matt Brown by unanimous decision (49-46, 49-46, 48-47) in a back-and-forth war Saturday at UFC Fight Night: Lawler vs. Brown here at SAP Center, seen live on FOX. Lawler will now meet champion Johny Hendricks when Hendricks returns from an injury in either December or January.

Lawler won a close first round, but Brown, the underdog, showed his mettle in the second. Lawler likely won the third and fourth rounds, but again Brown came back in the fifth and hurt Lawler multiple times with punches, kicks, elbows and knees.

In the end, though, Lawler was slightly more technical and had more power. And to his credit, he didn’t rest on his laurels in the fifth. Both men came out swinging to start the final round and it was one of the best sequences of the fight. When it was over at the end of the fifth, Brown grinned and stuck out his tongue. The two met in an embrace in the center of the Octagon.

"I [told him] there’s two champions in this ring tonight," Lawler said. "He’s a hell of a fighter. He came toe-to-toe with me. Not many people would do that."

There were some odd occurrences. In the third round, Lawler looked to hit a clean kick to the body, but Brown folded up and grabbed his groin as if the kick were low. And in the fifth round, Brown was grounded when Lawler crushed him with an illegal head kick. Luckily, neither of those things would factor into the final outcome.

This was Lawler’s third fight of the year and second victory in two months. He knocked out Jake Ellenberger in May. Before that, Lawler had lost a very close five-round unanimous decision to Hendricks. Now, he’ll get a rematch when many believed he was already the No. 1 contender. Hendricks is rehabbing following bicep surgery, but should return at the end of this year of beginning of next.

"I’m going to be the one waiting for him and that’s nice," Lawler said.

Brown’s reputation as one of the toughest men in the UFC proved to be extremely legitimate. He took all Lawler gave him and was as strong in the fifth as he was early, despite coming in 1.5 pounds overweight Friday.

Brown came in ranked No. 5 among UFC welterweight contenders and should not fall far, if at all. Lawler came in at No. 1 and showed that number should stand up.