Robbie Lawler to face Josh Koscheck in February return to UFC (updated)

Scott Olmos-US PRESSWIRE

Robbie Lawler, the one-time 20-year-old prodigy who won the first UFC fight ever on broadcast television, comes back to the company after an eight year absence.

'Ruthless' Robbie Lawler, who debuted with the UFC at the age of 20 as something of a prodigy, will return to the organization for the first time in more than eight years this February.

Lawler, now 30, a hard puncher with a wrestling background who never quite lived up to his early billing, faces Josh Koscheck.

The welterweight fight will be at UFC 157 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. on Feb. 23, according to UFC officials Thursday. The Orange County Register first reported the showdown.

Lawler (19-9, 1 no contest) was in the first UFC fight ever on U.S. television, scoring a second-round knockout win over Steve Berger that was taped for a special segment on 'The Best Damn Sports Show Period,' on Fox Sports Net during the summer of 2002, more than two years before UFC got regular television on Spike. Lawler and Berger were put in the showcase match because of the belief they would have an exciting stand-up fight since television officials were leery at the time of fans not understanding the ground game. The fight was expected to be a showcase for Lawler and also taped a few days earlier in case something went wrong.

With a 7-0 record and six knockouts before the age of 21, the protege of Pat Miletich was promoted as UFC's rising star. But an inability to defend leg kicks against Pete Spratt led to his first loss, stopping his momentum. He was later knocked out by Nick Diaz and submitted by Evan Tanner. He was subsequently released by the organization in 2004.

He later fought with Pride, Elite XC - where he was middleweight champion - and after that promotion went down, he signed with Strikeforce. Lawler was always someone the UFC was interested in, but Elite XC and Strikeforce offered him stronger money deals hoping to build around him as one of their major stars.

Lawler was one of Strikeforce's highest -paid fighters, but was never able to claim the middleweight title. He was one fight away in 2009, but then lost via submission to Jake Shields in a match to determine who would get a title shot.

After knocking out Matt Lindland, he earned a title shot at then-champion Ronaldo Souza, on Jan. 21, 2011, in San Jose, losing via submission in the third round. Most recently, on July 14, in his most recent fight, he lost via decision to Lorenz Larkin in a fight that could have gotten him a shot at champion Luke Rockhold.

Lawler coming to the UFC confirms what has already been obvious, that Strikeforce and Showtime will be ending their relationship early next year. Strikeforce will be dissolved and its top stars will move to UFC since both companies were under the same ownership.

Koscheck (17-6) has fought his entire career at welterweight and been a top UFC contender in that division for the past six years. He's coming off a close decision loss to Johny Hendricks in a battle of former NCAA champion wrestlers on May 5. He hasn't fought since because of a bulging disc in his lower back.

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