Robbie Lawler has put in almost 13 full rounds against top-10 opposition in the past four months.
In 2014, mind you. These aren't the prehistoric days of MMA, when SEG would take pretty much anyone in on off the street and let them fight in the UFC.
No, this the modern era, when all the opponents are killers. And Lawler has put in more rounds against ranked opposition, sluggers one and all, over the span of 133 days, than your typical top-tier fighter will go through in two years. If that doesn't tell you where the fighter aptly nicknamed "Ruthless" stands these days, what else does?
With seven months' worth of 2014 events in the books, Jon Jones, Jose Aldo, Demetrious Johnson, and Chris Weidman have all fought once. Cain Velasquez and Anthony Pettis haven't fought at all. Ronda Rousey, who might be the frontrunner for Fighter of the Year, has competed twice. Donald Cerrone, like Lawler, has fought three times, but against a lower level of competition than Lawler has faced.
Lawler has racked up one hour, three minutes, and nine seconds of Octagon time against one of the sport's heaviest hitters and most efficient wrestlers in Johny Hendricks; a desperate fighter in Jake Ellenberger; and last night, against an opponent who just might be as crazy as he is in Matt Brown. If Lawler's ever taken a step back during that time, it's because, in his relentless, predator-like pursuit, he occasionally walks into a big shot, and based on his post-fight comments last night, he almost seems to enjoy it.
"That guy is one hell of a fighter," Lawler said. "I never could get a read on him and he was always moving forward."
If Lawler had found a way to pull out the fifth round against Hendricks back at UFC 171, we would be talking about Lawler as the runaway leader for Fighter of the Year at the moment. As it is, even with an "L" on his record this year, Lawler is on the short list. And after going toe-to-toe with the valiant Brown, let's appreciate Lawler for who he is. In this day and age of fight fallouts, injuries, contract disputes, and assorted nonsense, Lawler is the straightforward, take on all comers, no-BS fighter that drew us all to the sport in the first place. And whether or not he's Fighter of the Year, that's a pretty good reputation to have.
UFC on FOX 12 Quotes
"I don't think we've had a guy go from 170 to 205 and actually be more devastating and powerful than he was at 170. I've never seen anything like it." - Dana White on Anthony Johnson.
"You'll never see that happen again. Someone will have to die for a 30-24." - White on a scorecard for Patrick Cummins vs. Kyle Kingsbury. Full scores were 30-27, 30-25, and 30-24.
"That was definitely my last fight. I told everyone I didn't want to be a .500 fighter, and so enough was enough. It didn't make sense to get beat up anymore." - Kingsbury, announcing his retirement after his loss to Cummins.
"I'm going to go visit his grave and really express my hurt. ... I'm going to take my time to really cry for my brother. I really didn't have the time to share that." - Bobby Green, who took his fight against Josh Thomson on 12 days notice, about grieving the loss of his brother, who was murdered in May.
Up: Matt Brown Sometimes, you gain in losing. The news that Matt Brown suffered a hand injury put a fresh spin on his performance against Lawler. Fighting injured, having already gone 20 minutes with one of the sport's hardest pound-for-pound hitters, Brown went for broke in the fifth round, going toe-to-toe and always looking for the finish. That told us as much about Brown's heart as we learned throughout his seven-fight win streak.
Up: Anthony Johnson You know what scares me the most about Anthony Johnson? His humility. Did you see how calm, rational, and level-headed Rumble was after picking apart Antonio Rogerio Nogueira? If anyone earned the right to pop off about his win, it's Johnson. But instead, he's humble, he remains grateful for his second chance, and he's focused. Contrast that to the guy who lashed out at fans on Facebook when he missed weight before his Vitor Belfort fight. Johnson's focus and sense of purpose is as impressive as the thunder in his fists.
Up: Dennis Bermudez Some fighters get the fast track to stardom (coughcough Conor McGregor coughcough). Others have to fight their way into the spotlight. Bermudez is one of the latter. The latest example of why 2014 is Long Island's year in MMA, Bermudez took a big step up and competition and made the most of his turn in the spotlight. Clay Guida wanted to turn their fight last night into an old-school Clay Guida brawl, but Bermudez had the answer every step of the way in a clinical performance. Bermudez has won seven straight fights and collected four bonuses along the way. He's not going to try to force himself to become a character to get big fights. He's earned a big fight through his results.
Down: The Nogueira Brothers It's hard enough watching Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira get turned into a human punching bag. Do we need to watch it happen to his brother, too? I don't know about you, but I would be fine with neither of them ever competing again. Here's an idea: Give the Nogueira brothers a retirement ceremony at UFC 179 in Rio and induct them both into the UFC Hall of Fame. And to the people who are about to scroll down to the comments to argue Li'l Nog doesn't belong, two things: 1. This is about the big picture, and honoring the great contributions the Nogueira family has made to the sport overall and 2. Stephan Bonnar is in the Hall of Fame.
Up: Patrick Cummins Once upon a time - as in, five months ago - Patrick Cummins seemed like a one-time novelty act. Now he's become something entirely different. Cummins is 2-0 since his infamous loss to Daniel Cormier as UFC 170. While the jury is still out on how far Cummins is going to go, we now have the opportunity to see a fighter truly grow from the ground up as a fighter on the big stage, and he appears to have legit potential. Cummins is strong as a bull and clearly knows how to use his wrestling. While he couldn't figure out a way to finish Kyle Kingsbury, there was quite a bit of raw power in his elbows. Oh, and he's fearless, which he proved by stepping in against Cormier to begin with. He's still got a ways to go, but it will be fun to see how far Cummins can take this.
Noad Lahat's interview in the Octagon after his victory over Steven Siler was an unusual experience. I'm of two minds on this one. I have no ill will toward Lahat, who is returning home to Israel in the face of escalating conflict. He was thoughtful, and his words were important because they put a human touch on a story that most of us in North America have reduced to just a series of headlines. I wish nothing but the best to Lahat's family and to everyone over in that region.
But the questions shouldn't have been asked to begin with. For all the good and bad that comes with this crazy circus of a sport, one of the truest joys of mixed martial arts is that everyone, regardless of race, nation of origin, creed, gender, sexual orientation, you name it, all are welcome to compete, as long as you've got the skills to step in the cage. There was no better example of this camaraderie than just last weekend, when Northern Ireland's Norman Parke was cheered by the crowd in the Republic of Ireland despite the longstanding tensions between the two nations. That's how it should be. Please leave geopolitics outside the Octagon gates.
Fight I'd like to see next: Alexander Gustafsson vs. Anthony Johnson
Johnson is in such an interesting spot at the moment. Given the nature of his performances, it makes little sense for Johnson to move backwards in competition in the light heavyweight division. He's not likely to fight Blackzilians teammate Rashad Evans. He already picked apart Phil Davis, who, you might recall, was in the discussion for potential title challengers before their UFC 172 fight. My first, immediate thought after Johnson's win was that maybe it wasn't too soon for Johnson to fight the winner of Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier. But he's not quite there yet. Then the thought of Johnson vs. Gustafsson ... well, that sounds pretty sensational. But, it wouldn't be fair to Gus, who has earned his title shot. Still, those are the fights which intrigue me, even if the timing was there. If you're asking me the fight I want to see, as opposed to the fight we'll probably get (my guess would be Glover Teixeira, simply because there are so few other credible names), the style matchup of Rumble vs. Gus sounds like a can't-miss fight.