One of the most anticipated non-title fights on the UFC's winter schedule abruptly fell apart this past month when former UFC welterweight champion Robbie Lawler withdrew from his Madison Square Garden clash against Donald Cerrone less than a week after the bout was announced to great fanfare for UFC 205.
The news disappointed many in the mixed martial arts world, however Lawler's teammate at American Top Team, Bellator contender Muhammed Lawal, believes the decision for Lawler to withdraw was necessary to protect the 34-year-old veteran, who suffered a brutal knockout loss to Tyron Woodley on July 30 at UFC 201.
"It's like this, personally, me, I think that Robbie shouldn't fight until December or January," Lawal said recently on The MMA Hour. "Take time off, because these past two years, man, at the gym, Robbie's been going to the max. Take some time to recharge, because Cerrone is a good fighter, it's a great fight for the fans -- why rush it? Cerrone ain't going nowhere. Cerrone is always in shape, always ready. So once Robbie recharges, if Cerrone wants to fight Robbie, then they can fight."
In truth, Lawler's output since returning to the UFC in 2013 has been nothing short of incredible. The old-school fighter has competed 10 times over that span, and his title reign was perhaps one of the most ferocious in welterweight history. From Dec. 2014 to Jan. 2016, Lawler fought a trio of ‘Fight of the Year' candidates against Johny Hendricks, Rory MacDonald, and Carlos Condit, winning all three until succumbing to a first-round knockout at the hands of Woodley in his UFC 201 title defense.
And while the announcement of Lawler's return at UFC 205 against Cerrone was widely met with excitement from the MMA fanbase, it appears the Nov. 12 target date ultimately ended up being too quick of a turnaround for a veteran who has suffered 16 years worth of damage and was coming off his first knockout loss since 2004.
"He came over and told me face-to-face, said, ‘I wanted to let you know man-to-man that this fight's not happening,'" Cerrone said of Lawler at UFC 203. "I was like, what are you talking about? He's like, ‘yeah, just not going to do it.' I said this is Madison Square Garden. If I was to step aside, a little piece of fan died in me. Like, damn, that's a fight that I would love to watch. So it sucked, but he just said he's got some sh*t going on and wanted to let his head heal up a little more from the knockout he just had. So hey, I can't make him fight.
"He's still a friend of mine," Cerrone added. "He's one of the good guys, man, so [it hasn't changed my opinion of him] at all. Something must be off. Robbie is not a guy that just doesn't show up to fights, he's one of the last of a dying breed, so something must really be an issue."
Lawal, a cornerman for Lawler in several of his UFC title fights, echoed Cerrone's sentiments that Lawler ultimately needed to do what is best for himself, especially as he approaches the end of his window as a fighter able to compete at the highest level. And considering that Cerrone is the living embodiment of the ‘fight anyone, anywhere' mentality, a fan-friendly match-up against Lawler is one that can easily be revisited at a late date.
"Robbie, he's always in shape. It's just that, why rush it," Lawal said. "The past two years, man, his schedule and his fights -- man, take some time for your family, take some time for yourself. Recharge. After his last three fights, the following Monday he's back in the gym, lifting weights or doing something. He really hasn't stepped away from the gym. He has to be forced out by coach Kami (Barzini), like, ‘hey, go home. Go do something. Go fish, go mow your lawn, go do something. Go swimming.' They have to push him out of there because he always wants to be in there."