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Robbie Lawler: ‘Nick Diaz is a name that got me to put stuff down, get in there and focus’

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Former UFC welterweight champion Robbie Lawler hasn’t competed in over a year, and there seems to be a big reason for that: nothing exciting has come his way.

Later this month, Lawler gets his wish as he faces Nick Diaz in a five-round non-title main event at UFC 266. The UFC’s return to pay-per-view takes place Sept. 25 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

The fight is a rematch 17 years in the making. Lawler and Diaz first met at UFC 47 in April 2002 in a bout Diaz won with a memorable second-round TKO win. The Stockton native will make his first octagon appearance since January 2015, when he took on Anderson Silva in the main event of of UFC 183, a bout overturned to a no contest after both fighters failed drug tests.

“Ruthless” looks to snap a four-fight skid—decision losses to Rafael dos Anjos, Colby Covington and Neil Magny, along with a controversial submission loss to Ben Askren—in the kind of fight that checks off all the boxes to get him back inside the cage.

“If I’m not excited about it, then whatever,” Lawler told MMA Fighting. “If I’m excited about it, I’ll put in the time, get in there and grind away. I’m gonna be training [regardless], but there’s a different level of training for a big fight. And I want time in advance, eight to 10 weeks of putting in the time. Nick Diaz is a name that got me to put stuff down, get in there and focus. You never know.”

After 44 professional fights, most fighters are over pre-fight hype – all matchups sort of blend together. For Lawler, the rematch with Diaz feels different than most.

“Yeah, because it happened so long ago,” he said. “Our skills have evolved so much since that time. But, obviously, the fans are excited. This is a fight and he’s a big name, so I’ve been training hard.

“It feels a little different [than most fights] to the extent that I’m doing extra. What I mean by extra is that, at this age, it takes a lot for me to take a fight. I’m not just gonna fight anybody, because it’s taking time away from my family and you have to be a little selfish, spend a lot of time on yourself in training. He’s definitely a guy and a name that’s getting me up and into the gym every day.”

There have been many rumored attempts of a Diaz comeback since his loss to Silva and Lawler’s name was brought up as an opponent fans would be excited about every time. As the years went on, the 39-year-old essentially blocked the idea out of his mind.

“It’s been 17 years,” Lawler said. “I thought a couple of years after that, even five years after that, maybe. But definitely not at this stage. It’s been a while since anyone’s even brought his name up as far as potential fighters.”

Lawler will aim to pick up his first victory since earning a unanimous decision over Donald Cerrone at UFC 214 in July 2017—his first fight after dropping his title to Tyron Woodley a year prior. For Diaz, he looks to get his first victory since picking up a unanimous decision over B.J. Penn in the main event of UFC 137 nearly a decade ago.

When it comes to wanting to get one back from their first meeting, Lawler—a member of the Kill Cliff fight club, along with middleweight champ Israel Adesanya, Gilbert Burns and others—admits he doesn’t remember a lot about UFC 47 outside of the improvements he has made as a martial artist over time.

“I’m not too worried about those types of things,” Lawler said of wanting to extract revenge from their first meeting. “I worry about getting better. That fight, I learned a lot from that fight. I cleaned up my game a lot, and just try to continue to evolve. I try to get myself better [rather] than dwell on the past. I wasn’t out to prove something, it made me a better fighter, so it’s part of my growth.

“I remember bits and pieces [of the first fight]: the weight cut, the weigh-in, how I felt. It just wasn’t my day and it was just, ‘How can I tighten up my skills after this?’ It was a no excuses type of situation. You just have to take a look at yourself and see how you can grow.”