DALLAS -- Robbie Lawler was five minutes away from accomplishing what many believed to be, at least at one time, an impossible dream.
Fighting for the vacant UFC welterweight championship, Lawler and Johny Hendricks headed into the fifth round of UFC 171's main event on Saturday night with the judges' scorecards tied at two rounds apiece, and both men battered from an already grueling war of attrition.
Ultimately, though, it was Hendricks who managed to take control of the final frame and eek out a hard-fought unanimous decision victory, seizing the title that belonged to Georges St-Pierre for seven long years.
"The thing is, when you leave it up to the judges, those things happen," a dejected Robbie Lawler said afterward at UFC 171's post-fight conference. "I just didn't do enough tonight, they thought. I need to go back to work, obviously. Work on some things. Work on throwing a little bit, maybe, some more punches. I thought I fought a good fight, defended some takedowns. It was a hell of a fight. He brought it, he was in shape, and he got the victory."
Lawler fell behind early on the judges' scorecards, dropping both of the first two rounds to Hendricks' high pressure attack. Still, Lawler summoned the will to push back into contention, hammering Hendricks with heavy punches inside the pocket for much of the third and fourth frames.
"I wasn't too worried about his takedowns and I wasn't too worried about his punching," Lawler said. "I just was trying to time him and see what was out there and take advantage of it.
"I saw his legs buckle a little bit but he recovered pretty fast and was throwing back. He's a dangerous opponent, and once again maybe I should've pressed a little bit more and brought the fight to him a little bit earlier."
Although he failed to capture the UFC welterweight strap this time around, Lawler's performance was every bit as impressive as those that fight fans have come to expect from the revitalized 31-year-old.
Lawler entered the UFC in 2013 having lost three of his final four fights bouts under the now-defunct Strikeforce banner. At the time, many wrote off the hard-hitting southpaw. Yet Lawler immediately went to work, claiming a trio of exciting wins over Josh Koscheck, Bobby Voelker and Rory MacDonald inside the UFC Octagon, reestablishing himself as a contender to be feared.
And if Lawler had a second crack at Hendricks, he knows exactly what he would do differently.
"I would go out there and finish him this time," Lawler said bluntly. "I should've done more in the fight and thrown more punches, thrown more kicks and took him out.
"I don't know. It's easy to look back now and look at the things you should've done," he continued.
"I didn't do it tonight, and he fought a hell of a fight."
In truth, while the loss to Hendricks will likely sting for the foreseeable future, the second chapter of Lawler's career appears to just be getting underway.
After gutting his way through such a memorable and closely contested contest, the future looks bright for Lawler, and a rematch with Hendricks likely isn't too far away.
"I'm just disappointed," Lawler finished with a sigh. "So close. It was a hell of a fight. It's been a long road, a long journey, and I just didn't see it going down this way."