Hughes, Lawler’s longtime mentor and a UFC Hall of Famer, is typically with Lawler during fight weeks and mingling with everyone else in attendance. He might not be Lawler’s coach like he once was, but the two have remained very close.
Last month, Hughes was involved in a truck-train collision in his native Illinois. He was seriously injured in the crash and has been recovering in Springfield, Ill., hospital since June 16.
“Yeah, it’s been hard,” Lawler said at UFC 214 media day Thursday. “He’s usually here with us right by our side, hanging out, making sure I’m alright. It is what it is. He’s doing better, but that’s something his family should talk about and let the media know through their outlets, not mine.”
Pat Miletich, the longtime former coach of Hughes and Lawler, told Ariel Helwani on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour that Hughes was doing better and “surprising” doctors with his recovery.
“He’s making great leaps and he’s no longer in a coma, and he’s improving,” Miletich said. “It’s going to be a long road. Any type of head trauma at that level, there’s going to be some rehab.”
Lawler, who fights Donald Cerrone on Saturday night in Anaheim, Calif., said he has not been able to go see Hughes yet due to his training camp and that has been tough for him. Lawler and Cerrone were supposed to fight at UFC 213 earlier this month, but Cerrone was injured and sick with staph infection. That pushed back the time Lawler, who is now based in Florida, would be able to visit Hughes in Illinois.
“It’s been hard,” Lawler said. “And forcing it to this date forced me not to be able to go when I wanted to go.”
This is Lawler’s first fight back since losing the UFC welterweight title to Tyron Woodley at UFC 201 last August. Woodley is on the card, defending the belt against Demian Maia. But the presence of Woodley — and the belt — in the same arena Saturday will have no affect on Lawler, he said.
“That’s hilarious,” Lawler said. “Like, getting motivated by that — I’m motivated to beat somebody’s ass. And I’m not gonna be more motivated because there’s this. I used to fight for free. I fought 40 times for free. ‘Is that motivating you?’ No, I frickin’ enjoyed it, so I don’t need motivation. I’m gonna go all out because that’s how I do it. That’s the only speed that I have.”
Lawler, 35, said he has had no thoughts of a title shot if he beats Cerrone, which is believable, because that is the kind of fighter he has been since he started as a pro way back in 2001.
“I just want to fight and the first step is this,” Lawler said. “You can talk about all this other stuff, three fights down the road, one fight down the road, two fights down the road. Let’s concentrate on Saturday.”
Lawler is trying to concentrate on the fight and he said he’s trying not to think about Hughes and his situation until the bout with Cerrone is over.
“It’s not on my mind until like somebody asks me,” an emotional Lawler said, “Because I’m pretty good at focusing on what I need to focus on. But yeah. It’s rough.”