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UFC 201 Aftermath: Reflecting on Robbie Lawler's legendary run

Esther Lin photo

No disrespect to Tyron Woodley, who certainly earned his moment in the sun by winning the UFC welterweight title with a first-round knockout of Robbie Lawler on Saturday night in Atlanta.

But the morning after UFC 201, I find myself admiring just what the former champion has managed to accomplish over the past three years, because we may never see anything like it again.

Imagine, here in 2016, a young, talented fighter on the roster with star potential -- say a Cody Garbrandt or a Max Holloway -- inexplicably going on a big losing streak and washing out of the company. Then imagine that fighter returning to the UFC in 2025 and not just going all the way to a championship, but also putting on a string of legendary fights in the process.

Sounds pretty implausible, right? But that's what Lawler managed to accomplish since his second UFC stint started in 2013.

The fighter who used to coast on his considerable talents transformed into one who always seemed capable of turning it up to 11. Lawler was never going to be an Anderson Silva or a Georges St-Pierre, a titleholder who was laps ahead of the rest of the class.

Instead, he was the UFC's throwback champion, a guy whose fists did the talking during an age in which hype and bullsh*t are regarded as every bit as important as the product in the Octagon. Lawler didn't have to talk you out of your $59.99. You simply knew your sixty bucks were going to be well spent when he was on the card.

When all's said and done, Lawler could end up with Fight of the Year honors an unprecedented three consecutive years: The razor-thin loss to Johny Hendricks at UFC 171 in 2014; the fifth-round TKO of Rory MacDonald in what might be the greatest MMA fight of all-time last year at UFC 189; and the thrilling battle with Carlos Condit at UFC 195 on Jan. 2 of this year.

Lawler was bound to lose eventually, and it happened with a shocking suddenness against Woodley. We're not saying this is the end for Lawler. But if it does turn out he never again wears UFC gold, his era was worth remembering, because it will like be a long time, if ever, before we ever see something similar.

UFC 201 quotes

"Nick Diaz is a top-five welterweight of all time in my eyes. Georges St-Pierre is the No. 1 welterweight in my eyes. If I'm an athlete in this sport, in this division and I want to say I'm the best in the world, I feel like I should compete against those guys." -- New champ Woodley on where he wants to go from here.

"With the UFC, we had cut him. He flew out to Las Vegas and he met with me and said, 'Don't cut me, please.' He said, 'Give me one more shot. I promise I will come out and deliver.'" -- UFC president Dana White, detailing how Jake Ellenberger talked his way into one more shot.

"He caught me with the ol' T-Wood bomb. I think it's just a guy who took advantage of a big punch and rocked me and jumped on and finished the job." -- Lawler's blunt assessment on why he lost.

"I think she's scared." --  Karolina Kowalkiewicz on countrywoman and UFC strawweight champ Joanna Jedrzejczyk.

UFC 201 stock report

Up: Tyron Woodley "Silencing all the doubters" has become one of the most overused tropes in sports, but, you know, sometimes they still fit. We heard all sorts of reasons why Woodley didn't deserve a title shot going into UFC 201, from the amount of time he's been out of the cage, to his win over Kelvin Gastelum not being super impressive, to his victory over Carlos Condit somehow not counting because of Condit's knee injury. Woodley, a good dude who has done everything by the book, went out and did what he said he was going to do, and yeah, those who questioned him seem pretty quiet today.

Up: Jake Ellenberger. As detailed in the quote above, Ellenberger had been cut from the UFC following his loss to Taric Saffiedine in January, then personally flew to Las Vegas to meet with White and ask for one more chance. Whatever Ellenberger does from here, the fact he not only talked his way back into his job, but also went out and ran over a killer in Matt Brown, is a story that will go down in UFC lore and a forever be a part of Ellenberger's legacy.

Down: Matt Brown It's hard to see how things get better from here for Brown, who is 35, been through a lot of wars and has now dropped three of his past four fights after his famed seven-fight win streak. If there's an upside for "The Immortal," it's that you could pretty much have plugged Ellenberger's name into this spot several times over the past couple years, and things are looking pretty rosy for him right about now.

Up: Erik Perez That was the Erik Perez we've all been expecting to see for so long. Aside from one flash at the start of the third round in which the bantamweight threw down with Francisco Rivera, Perez was patient, smart, and picked the right spots in his decision win. And the fighter who now trains at San Diego's Alliance showed footwork at times which appeared to be straight out of Dominick Cruz's playbook, which can't be a coincidence. It will be fun to follow where Goyito 2.0 stacks up in one of the UFC's most stacked divisions.

Hold: Rose Namajunas It's worth remembering, here, that Namajunas just turned 24 and still only has eight official professional fights under her belt. She found her way into the spotlight from the jump because of her relationship with Pat Barry; she had just three official pro fights to her name when she was on The Ultimate Fighter and made it to the finals of the tournament to crown the first UFC strawweight champ; and she won three straight fights in a division that was still sorting itself out. So while it might be disappointing that Namajunas faded after a fast start against a more polished fighter in Kowalkiewicz, the mere fact she's gotten this far, this fast is still a testament to her considerable upside.

Interesting calls

A couple score readings proved to be unnecessarily suspenseful last night, as what should have been couple obvious calls came in as split decisions. Bruce Buffer has a knack for pausing just long enough between reading the second and third scores to make the thought "Oh my god, the judges can't possibly screw this up ... oh wait, yes they can" flash through your mind. We all had that cringeworthy moment last night in which we wondered if, first, Ryan Benoit was about to get robbed after his weird fight with Fredy Serrano, and, later, whether the same would happen to Kowalkiewicz in her fight against Namajunas. Fortunately, in both cases, only one judge went rogue, and ultimately the right person won in each fight.

Likewise, Dan Miragliotta was quick on the draw in restarting Woodley and Lawler in the clinch, something we might be loudly debating today had Lawler won.

But again, things worked out. It's been awhile since we've had an egregiously bad call from the officials have an adverse affect on a major fight, so let's knock on wood and hope that keeps going.

Fights I'd like to see next: Tyron Woodley vs. Stephen Thompson and Robbie Lawler vs. Nick Diaz

Hey, I can't blame Woodley, who came out and stated he wants to fight Diaz or Georges St-Pierre next, for wanting to make a run at the biggest money fight possible. These fighters have a short window at the top and need to milk it for all it's worth. But Thompson has pretty much clear-cut the forest on his path to the top and has made a convincing case for the next shot. And giving Diaz yet another title shot off a suspension, nearly five years removed from his last win, is a bridge too far even by UFC standards. Pairing up Woodley-Thompson with Lawler vs. Diaz, the latter a longstanding grudge match based on Diaz's 2004 knockout win would be a big-business welterweight doubleheader which did the right thing with the title while setting up Lawler or Diaz for the next shot down the road.

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