I consider the moment in between the fourth and fifth rounds of the rematch between Robbie Lawler an Rory MacDonald to be the most intense in UFC history. The fourth, like the second and third before it, has been violent. MacDonald storms into the center of the cage; he hurt Lawler at the end of the third and he’s not willing to let Robbie off the hook. Rory lands stiff jabs, throws lead elbows, and repeatedly kicks Lawler to the body and head. Robbie is hurt and tired, but something won’t let him go down, and he recovers his legs. Lawler puts his hands back to work and gets himself back into the round with jabs, short hooks, and a crushing straight left. Both men look like trauma victims. Rory’s nose is broken badly, and bleeds constantly from both nostrils and a cut on it’s bridge. MacDonald sports a big cut above one of his eyes, both men have gashes on their scalps, and Robbie’s upper lip is split terribly. With ten seconds left in the round, which has become close, Robbie Lawler steps back, parts his ruined lips and sends a spray of blood onto the canvas. He wipes his face and advances on Rory, who stands his ground. The round ends, but neither man will budge. Robbie stares a dagger into MacDonald, but Rory is defiant and stares right back. Both men are almost literally covered in blood, and neither moves until referee John McCarthy shepherds Rory to his corner.
About a minute into the fifth, Robbie lands a hard left right to the nose of MacDonald, and it’s over. Rory clutches his face as he crumbles to the ground; his nose is shattered. Lawler bounds around the octagon and scream in primal triumph, holding up his now blood red fists. Ruthless Robbie Lawler is the Crown Prince of Violence.
Six months later, Robbie Lawler would again navigate a hellish five round battle with Carlos Condit. It’s a blood and guts affair that included the back and forth fifth and a combined total of 268 significant strikes landed. Like the MacDonald fight, it’s equal parts terrifying and exhilarating, and Robbie Lawler once again comes out on top.
These last two fights, occurring only six months apart, seem like the kind of fights that can ruin careers. They’re fights that you watch, and you love, but I can’t help but feels pangs of regret. Although Robbie himself seems immune to attrition, we’ll see tonight, his opponents certainly don’t. Rory looked like a shell of himself against Stephen Thompson in June; he was never able to pull the trigger on his offense and his nose was badly broke again. The same goes for Johny Hendricks, who fought Lawler to a five round decision loss in December of 2014. Hendricks is 1-2 since then and seems at a loss in the cage. Robbie Lawler is a meat grinder, and I love it. I think.
From time to time I have existential wobbles in regards to prizefighting. Maybe it’s good ol’ Catholic guilt, but I can’t ever erase the thought that when I truly enjoy fights, it’s always at the expense of other humans. I know, they choose to be there, and they get paid, but my pangs persist. Though it’s not pure guilt, it may also be an accumulation of carnage. The cracking of Cyborg Santos’ skull made me sick to my stomach. Under typical circumstances I’d sing the praises of that Michael Page knee, it was a beautiful piece of skill, but I can’t bring myself to. Santos seems OK, at least in a general sense, but how can he possibly ever be the same fighter? Does the same go for my level of enjoyment watching people fight? I certainly don’t think cracked skulls will be common, we might never see it again, but we know it’s there now.
Watching Robbie Lawler brings out my dichotomy as a fight fan and human unlike any other fighter. I’m delighted with his skill and technique. I revel in his courage and toughness. I treasure his body of work and glorify his championship spirit, but it’s not without a price. Those aren’t just wins in a prize fight, they are attritive, violent fights that push bodies to their limits. Lawler landed 92 significant strikes on Condit, 70 on MacDonald, and 116 on Hendricks.
I don’t have a grand, human answer about why I’m sometimes thrilled by violence, and why I’m appalled by it other times. Maybe there isn’t one. Maybe I just love to watch fighting, but can’t help feel for fighters on a personal level. Maybe it’s a selfishness inherent in humans that makes us feel responsible for something we’re not involved in. The money I’ve spent viewing fights certainly isn’t propping it up, and it doesn’t even count as a drop in the bucket. There is no reason I should feel personal guilt about fighter’s health. But I do. That probably won’t ever change, nor will my desire to watch men and women fight for prizes.
Even if Brutal Bob Lawler loses tonight, it promises to be shocking and violent. His opponent, Tyron Woodley has monstrous power in his hands and can knockout anyone in the division. Robbie is a defensive master, many of his opponents strikes don’t land cleanly thanks to his movement in the pocket. Lawler’s brand of fistic glory is a two way street, and he’s taken a lot of punishment. I can’t help but wonder what toll it’s taken in return. But, I do favor Robbie Lawler in the fight. He is the Crown Prince of Violence after all.