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Robbie Lawler reflects on legendary fight with Rory MacDonald: ‘The world got to see who I was’

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The last time the world saw Robbie Lawler, it was a gruesome sight. Drenched in the blood of his enemy, with an upper lip literally cleaved in two, Lawler landed the left straight that brought an end to one of grisliest contests in mixed martial art's young history.

From that moment on, there was never any doubt that Lawler and Rory MacDonald's UFC 189 rematch would win ‘Fight of the Year' honors -- the second straight year a Lawler fight has done so. The only question was how the two welterweights would be affected moving forward.

And if Lawler's jovial mood before his Jan. 2 title defense against Carlos Condit is any indication, he seems to have recovered just fine.

"It was not tough on me physically. It was tough on me visually," Lawler joked during a recent UFC 195 media day appearance. "Like, when you looked at me, I looked terrible, right? But I felt great! I'm like, man, I feel great, and then I looked in the mirror and I was like, whooooaaaa. So it wasn't like a physical thing. It was more of a, your face looks terrible, because of cuts and he caught me with two nice elbows and some jabs to my right eye."

Lawler's story continues to amaze in the 33-year-old's second life inside the UFC. Now the UFC welterweight champion, Lawler has put together a 7-1 record since reentering the promotion in 2013. His highlight reel over that time is a spectacular piece of footage, counting brutal knockouts over the likes of Josh Koscheck and Jake Ellenberger, plus wars of attrition against the best the division has to offer.

But even six months later, the MacDonald rematch stands as Lawler's masterwork -- a back-and-forth marvel of technical brilliance that many observers still count among the greatest fights ever staged.

"Here's the thing, when you're in there, you're just focused on what you need to focus on," Lawler said. "If you're focused on how epic this is and, like, it's some sort of movie -- that's not what it is. It's, you're bleeding? I don't have time to bleed. I need to stay sharp. Like, have you seen Predator? ‘You're bleeding.' ‘I don't have time to bleed.'

"It's just like one of those things where you're just focused on what you need to do, and you're trying to be smart, you're trying to be tactical, and you're trying to be ferocious. It was just going out there and not backing down. My coaches did a great job with me, my training partners did awesome, and I was in shape. Rory pushed me to the limits."

With so many wild swings in momentum, the margin of error for both fighters was impossibly thin heading into the rematch's final round.

But even though Lawler was trailing 39-37 on all three judges' scorecards, he never felt like he was on the losing side.

"My coach said, ‘hey, don't run out of time,'" Lawler said, laughing. "But I was thinking, I'm winning this fight! Because I felt like I was landing all the big shots. Obviously he had the nice head kick, cut me with some elbows, but I felt like as far as the hard punches, sharp punches, I was doing a lot. Either way, I'm going out there to try and knock somebody out, and I felt great. My coaches told me, ‘hey, don't let time run out,' so I didn't let time run out."

Lawler's hunch proved to be correct. Just 60 seconds into the final round, he finished what he later called an "accumulation of a beatdown" with a ferocious left straight that sent MacDonald sinking to the canvas.

For a fighter whose entire career could be summarized as a comeback story, the finish couldn't have been any more fitting.

"I just feel like that was my fourth-quarter, game is on the line, ball is in the [air], five, four, three, two, one, game-winner," Lawler said. "That was my moment. I feel like my whole life, I've been doing those things. Counting down. That was the moment.

"It's awesome that the fans loved it, but I think what I look at when I see that, I'm like, the world got to see who I was," Lawler finished. "I'm not just a guy who can knock people out. I'm tactical, and I have a lot of heart -- something that you don't see when you watch a lot of fights. You're like, man, he was real technical, he has power. But then you see that and you're like... whoa. It was just nice to show the world who I am inside as a fighter."