by Ken Pishna
More than one and a half years. Eighty-seven weeks. Six hundred eleven days. Nearly 15,000 hours. That’s how long it hand been since “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler, once considered the heir to the throne of one-time UFC poster boy Tito Ortiz, had savored the sweet taste of victory. On Saturday night in Hawaii, he surprised most of the fans in attendance by taking out their champion, Falaniko Vitale, and crowning himself the new SuperBrawl Middleweight titleholder.
It’s become a long road for the 23-year old disciple of MMA legend Pat Miletich. He started off well enough. Actually, he started off incredibly, winning his first seven professional bouts including victories over Aaron Riley and Steve Berger. Lawler’s stock was high as he was knocking guys out left and right. He was being touted as one of the top ten welterweights in the world.
That was when he ran into his first stumbling block by way of Pete Spratt. Against Spratt, and for the first time, Lawler tasted defeat, as he couldn’t find a way around the kicks of Spratt, verbally submitting in the second round due to an injury.
He immediately bounced back with a tremendous battle with Chris Lytle that rivaled his previous war with Aaron Riley. Lawler couldn’t find a way to finish Lytle, but he did come away with a unanimous decision.
Following Lytle, in the win today or go away world of mixed martial arts, Lawler stepped in with Nick Diaz. Believed to be a ground specialist, Diaz surprised everyone, knocking Lawler out with razor sharp boxing skills.
Tired of cutting weight to get down to the 170-pound welterweight limit, Lawler decided to try his hand(s) at middleweight. Not one to go the easy road, he jumped in headfirst, facing Evan Tanner for his debut at 185 pounds. Not surprisingly, things didn’t go as he had planned. Tanner submitted Lawler with a triangle choke little more than two minutes into the first round. It seemed that that Lawler’s train was running out of steam.
It took nine months, but Lawler finally returned to the ring, resurfacing in the main event of SuperBrawl 41. And in 9 minutes and 36 seconds, Lawler re-established himself as a fighter to be reckoned with. In true Lawler fashion, he dropped Vitale and pounced on him to finish the fight with another technical knockout.
With his win over Falaniko Vitale, Lawler didn’t necessarily vault himself into the top ten of the division, but he did gain back the credibility that he had lost losing three of his past four fights. Maybe Vitale isn’t a top ten fighter either, but he came into the fight with a record of 20-3 with wins over the likes of Masanori Suda, Dave Menne, and Matt Lindland. That’s a credible win in just about anyone’s book.
Not only did Lawler defeat Vitale but he took his SuperBrawl Middleweight Championship from him on his home turf. Lawler walked in with the brashness that he had as he rose through the ranks of the UFC and it worked for him.
Will it be enough to take him to the top? Probably not yet. Vitale isn’t one of the bigger middleweight’s in the division; not like Tanner or Lindland or current UFC champion Rich Franklin. But it was an important step for Lawler.
Again, he is only 23 years old. He has a lot of time to make his way to the top. Like welterweight contender Frank Trigg said on MMAWeekly Radio, Lawler is just a kid and if he takes a year or two fighting the right guys and putting on the size that he will need to face the top competitor’s in the division, he can be one of those top five guys.
The key for Lawler is to stay focused and take it a step at a time. He doesn’t need to rush in and try to take Franklin’s belt (he has his own to defend right now) and he doesn’t have to rush to avenge his loss to Tanner. If he stays focused, all he has to do is continue to grow, both physically and technically as a fighter. If he does that, his time will come.