When it comes to stone cold demeanors amongst fighters, Robbie Lawler might just have the best poker face in the entire business.
Enormously subdued in interviews, Lawler carries that same stoic look into the cage whether he’s facing down Josh Koscheck or battling for the UFC welterweight title against Johny Hendricks. It’s only when he unleashes hell on his opponents does Lawler finally crack a grin or allow his face to bend and twist into excitement when his leather glove connects with a fighter’s flesh.
This is just who Robbie Lawler has always been, but in the lead up to his last fight against Hendricks, the normally cathartic fighter opened up a bit more and started talking about himself for maybe the first time in his decade-plus long career. There was genuine excitement and enthusiasm in his voice as Lawler finally found himself at the pinnacle of the sport, almost 12 years after first stepping foot in the Octagon.
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Unfortunately, Lawler came up just short in his bid to win the title. He lost the fifth and final round to Hendricks after most believed the bout was tied at two rounds a piece through the first 20 minutes of the championship affair. It was a tough pill to swallow, but as Lawler prepares for his next bout at this weekend’s UFC 173 card, the idea of a title fight hangover isn’t something he can even think about right now.
You see it’s not uncommon in high level athletics for an individual or team to reach the peak, fall short, and then never climb back there again. It’s almost like the emotional let down of not winning in that moment afflicts everything about them going forward. Lawler is well aware of the dangers of living in the past, so it’s not something he’s going to do now or that he’s ever done in his career.
Obviously, I’m ranked No. 1 in the UFC, but I just need to go out there and let everyone know why that is
— Robbie Lawler
A loss is a loss and that’s the end of it. Dwelling on it does nothing but drag you down in a mire of doubt and regret.
"I don’t really dwell on those things. I just want to get better. That’s what it comes down to," Lawler told FOX Sports. "I lost the fight, it was a close fight, it was a good fight, I did a lot of damage, but when push comes to shove I need to get better to be able to fight at a higher level and that’s what I want to do, so that’s why I got right back in there."
It is rare that a fighter just off a five round battle will turn around and fight against two months later, but that’s what Lawler is doing when he takes on Jake Ellenberger this weekend in Las Vegas. Now the logic would seem fairly easy to understand why he took this fight when he did â get a win over Ellenberger and Lawler is immediately back in the title hunt.
The truth be told, however, is a little different. Lawler saw an opening for a card that needed help so he stepped up and told the UFC he’d be ready to fight if they needed him. A few days later, matchmaker Joe Silva made the call and now he’s fighting Ellenberger at UFC 173
"I let them know I was ready to fight and then they gave me an opponent and I said okay. That’s just the way it worked out," Lawler said. "It wasn’t like I was picking and choosing and doing those kinds of things. He’s a hell of an opponent, he’s a high level opponent, and he’s dangerous."
Whenever the discussion is brought up about title contenders to Hendricks’ reign as champion, it doesn’t take long for Lawler’s name to come up. Considering how close he came to besting Hendricks when they fought, there aren’t many people who wouldn’t sign up to watch it all over again.
Heading into the fight against Ellenberger, the UFC rankings have Lawler listed as the No. 1 fighter in the world who is not the champion. As much as he’d enjoy another shot a the belt and getting back in there with Hendricks, Lawler would rather knock Ellenberger’s head into the third row this weekend and then let the chips fall where they may.
"I’m not really thinking about that too much. Obviously, I’m ranked No. 1 in the UFC, but I just need to go out there and let everyone know why that is," Lawler said. "That’s what I’ve been concentrating on. That’s what I really have to focus on. I don’t have to worry too much about (the title shot), I just need to worry about getting better and training hard, and everything else will just fall into place."
And as far as Ellenberger is concerned following a 10 month layoff following an abysmal showing against Rory MacDonald last July? Lawler believes a loss like that will do the same thing for Ellenberger that his title defeat did to him â it just makes him even hungrier.
"I expect a really good opponent. A guy who hasn’t fought in a while so he’s had time to improve, time to get his mind ready to go and get his body ready," Lawler said. "I expect the best Jake Ellenberger that anyone’s ever seen."