As the seconds ticked away on the third round of the UFC welterweight title fight, it sure looked like the clock was winding down on "Ruthless" Robbie Lawler's title reign.
Challenger Rory MacDonald had staggered Lawler with a head kick, added a knee, landed a standing elbow and threw everything but the kitchen sink at the champion at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
Somehow, though, the Lawler survived. Incredibly, he turned the fight back in his favor before winning via TKO at one minute of the fifth round to cap one of the greatest fights in UFC history at UFC 189.
"It's more exciting becuase I showed everyone I'm a true fighter," said Lawler (25-11, 1 no-contest) after his first successful title defense. "No matter what happens, I keep coming, and keep coming."
Lawler and MacDonald showed one another great respect in the opening round, as Lawler stayed wary of the lanky MacDonald's reach and MacDonald refused to be goaded into a firefight.
But the intensity level cranked up at a steady clip. Lawler turned up the heat in the second round, finding a home with his jabs and a straight left hand. A two-punch combo opened a cut under MacDonald's left eye.
In the second, Lawler appeared to be about to put the fight away, as he turned up the heat with a variety of strikes. MacDonald suffered a broken nose and multiple cuts in the onslaught.
But he also found another gear and nearly took the title.
"Obviously I was dinged," Lawler said of the third round's conclusion. "I covered up and I was just swinging."
MacDonald tried to finish Lawler again in the fourth, but seemed to run out of gas. Lawler found another gear and began turning up the intensity once again.
After the fourth, the two engaged in a staredown and had to be seperated and brought back to their corners.
Then Lawler finished the bout, a straight left hand to MacDonald's already broken nose finishing matters.
"That was the cumulation of a beatdown," Lawler said. "That wasn't one punch, that was the culmination of years of fighting coming to fruition."
The American Top Team's Lawler has now won seven out of eight fights in his improbable UFC return. MacDonald's only two losses since 2010 have come to Lawler.