Tom Lawlor has been one of the most outspoken fighters against the UFC's exclusive apparel deal with Reebok, so he knew what he was getting into at UFC on FOX 16.
Lawlor returned from a two-year absence to pick up a highlight-reel knockout over Gian Villante on Saturday's preliminary card. While the win was a hugely important one for Lawlor, gone were the costumes and hijinks that fans have come to expect from the colorful TUF 8 veteran -- though not from a lack of trying.
"When I got to Chicago, the biggest issue I ran into was dealing with the Reebok people," Lawlor said Monday on The MMA Hour.
"My plan was to be Conor McGregor at the weigh-ins, so I had asked if I could wear the Conor McGregor fight kit. You know, they give you the Reebok stuff and they said, ‘do you have any questions?' I said, ‘yes, I have a question. Can I wear Conor McGregor's fight kit?' And the way it was met, to me, was like, ‘why would you want to do that? Why would anyone want to do that? Don't you want your family to buy these jerseys with your name on them?' So right there, it clued me in that perhaps the people that were in charge of some of this stuff weren't as familiar with the product as I would've liked.
"That's what the fans know me as," Lawlor continued. "Now, I don't expect everybody who's an MMA fan to know about me. There's 500 guys in the UFC. Everybody has a different personality, stuff like that. But instead of saying, ‘okay, we'll look into it,' it was kind of like, I was insulted basically."
Lawlor said the interaction left a sour taste in his mouth for all of fight week, further proving to him that, for better or worse, the UFC was just "not the same" that it was when he last fought two years ago.
Lawlor is infamous among MMA circles for his weigh-in and entrance characters, having spoofed legends like Dan Severn and Genki Sudo in the past. He noted that the familial feel of erstwhile events had been replaced by a more businesslike approach, one that surprised him even if he somewhat expected it.
"I did not wear all of it," Lawlor said, laughing. "There were, I think, two more pairs of socks and three more pairs of underwear, but it got to point where I felt like, okay, if I really go out there and put everything on in this bag, somebody might get pissed as me. There might be some backlash, so let me tone it down a little bit. I was actually at one point going to put another pair of shoes on my hands and walk out with those on all fours like Khabib Nurmagomedov's buddy, the bear. But unfortunately I've got to save something for the future for now."
Lawlor is a diehard fan of pro wrestling, so the entertainment side of the game is something that comes naturally to him. Nonetheless, he also couldn't help but notice how the shift in tone to UFC on FOX 16's fight week led to one of the best performances of his career.
Lawlor folded Villante with a right hand haymaker just 27 seconds into the bout's second round, earning a $50,000 ‘Performance of the Night' bonus and resubmitting his name to the light heavyweight fray.
"[The costumes are] part of the fun, but I'll kind of let the result and the performance speak for itself at the end of the day," Lawlor said. "Maybe I shouldn't be looking to have fun? Maybe this isn't a fun time, maybe I've just had it all wrong for the past few years? You never know.
"At the post-fight press conference, I even mentioned that perhaps this Reebok deal, had it been done a few years sooner, I'd be in an even better position in my fight career. All the times that I haven't done walkouts, I've won all those fights. So you know, I have to look at it kind of from that standpoint now."
Lawlor has now finished three of his past four UFC fights, with his lone loss coming in a controversial split decision to Francis Carmont. A little more luck and he could've been riding a four-fight win streak.
That kind of run is exactly what Lawlor had in mind when he mentioned his desire to prove he's not a joke in his post-fight speech with Joe Rogan.
"I'm getting a little long in the tooth, and it's time to make people realize that I put a lot of hard work, I put a lot of dedication into this craft," Lawlor said. "I've doing it for years and years and years, basically since I was a teenager, since I was 12 years old. I saw UFC 2, and I've been building up to these moments my entire life. I don't want to be looked at as a guy who just went out there and squandered opportunities."