Robbie Lawler knew he looked off his game while suffering through a four-fight losing streak, but the former UFC welterweight champion also understood that he was far from finished in his career.
So when the promotion came calling with an offer to face Nick Diaz in a rematch 17 years after their first meeting in 2004, Lawler was immediately motivated to reinvent himself for the fight.
Thanks to a grueling but beneficial training camp alongside his coaches and training partners at Sanford MMA in Florida, Lawler was ready to wash away the memories from those losses once he set foot in the octagon to do battle with Diaz.
What resulted was a blistering performance that saw Lawler drop Diaz with a punch in the third round followed by another uppercut that ultimately stopped the fight. It was exactly what Lawler expected out of himself after he got the rare opportunity to right a wrong from so early in his career.
“I did not think I was going to fight him [again],” Lawler said about the rematch with Diaz at the UFC 266 post-fight press conference. “Then two months ago, when they offered me the fight I was like all right, this fight gets me excited.
“I don’t think everyone expected to see me the way I was today. I think they thought they were going to see the guy who’s been fighting for the last one and a half, two years. That wasn’t who showed up today and I spoiled some plans.”
Even before the fight started, Lawler had to face some adversity when Diaz requested the matchup move from welterweight to middleweight just days ahead of the event.
While Lawler acknowledged that he had an idea something like that might happen, nothing threw him off his game even if he wasn’t able to pack on the pounds before facing Diaz.
“I’ve been working on my skills,” Lawler said. “I had 10 weeks to get ready for him. I didn’t gain a whole bunch of weight as soon as I knew [we were fighting at middleweight]. It’s not like I started eating junk food. I kept it pretty similar weight wise. I probably weighed about 183 [pounds] in the ring.
“I knew I was in shape. I was just going to press the pace. He likes to fight on the inside and close and so do I, so he obliged and we put on a nice show for the fans.”
Lawler came firing out of the gate as he took the fight to Diaz right away with the veterans both accumulating a ridiculous amount of strikes thrown in just over 10 minutes of total cage time.
The finish happened after Lawler clipped Diaz with a perfectly timed check right hooke that dropped the Stockton, Calif. native to the canvas. An uppercut followed behind it and after Lawler refused to go to the ground with him, Diaz essentially signified to the referee that he wasn’t going to get up again and the fight was stopped.
It wasn’t a clean knockout but Lawler knew the damage was mounting when Diaz decided enough was enough.
“I felt like it was an accumulation,” Lawler said. “But I think I caught him with a little check hook and caught him with a left after that and when he went down, I hit him with an uppercut. But I think he wanted me to follow him down and I was like let’s continue the freaking fun stuff.
“He’s a warrior. That was a rough fight. He was standing there right in the pocket. I throw hard shots and he was taking them. It was a lot of damage. When you go back and watch the fight, it was war, a three round war and I hit pretty hard. Just wasn’t his night.”
As soon as the fight ended, Lawler shook Diaz’s hand, embraced him and they shared a few words.
“I just said thank you for bringing the best out of me,” Lawler said about his conversation with Diaz. “I have a lot of respect for you and hopefully your life is going to get together and good things are going to happen to you.
“He’s a hell of a guy. He’s a nice guy. He’s a freaking warrior. In this sport and sports in general, you want the best for your opponents and the athletes that you see around you. I like him.”
While Lawler is obviously moving forward with his own career, he can’t speculate whether Diaz should fight again or consider walking away for good after his loss on Saturday night.
“That’s up to Nick,” Lawler said. “That’s up to the UFC. You never know what people are going through. I’m a guy on the outside looking in and I’m not trying to freaking solve anyone’s problems. I think that’s for you guys to label and figure out.
“Let people do their thing, I’m going to do my thing. I’m going to go hide out at home and hang out with my kids and mind my own business.”