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Tom Lawlor Fighting for His Job, Fans at UFC on Fuel TV 9

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COMMENTARY | UFC middleweight Tom Lawlor is a lot of things: veteran fighter, "The Ultimate Fighter" alum, fan favorite, and a man with his back to the wall. But that isn't changing Lawlor's mentality as he prepares for his April 6 fight with Michael Kuiper at UFC on Fuel TV 9 in Stockholm, Sweden.

He's still a man of the people.

"I'm kind of like the common man. I'm the Dusty Rhodes of the UFC, I guess," Lawlor said. "I'm not the biggest guy. I'm not the most jacked guy. I'm not the best-looking guy. I try to go in there and try to entertain, try to give it my best every fight. I think people can relate to that."

After a disappointing split-decision loss to Francis Carmont at UFC 154, the humble and humorous Lawlor, 29, knows he's facing a must-win scenario, especially in light of recent cuts and a 2-4 record over his last six fights.

"Oh yeah," he said. "If I lose this fight, I won't be fighting in the UFC unless it's the most exciting fight in the history of man. And based on my past fight record, that's probably not going to happen. I pretty much have to walk out with a win to keep my job."

Despite the pressure, Lawlor remains the day-to-day "common man" that's made him popular over the years. He wants to put on a show for the fans, something he said didn't happen at UFC 154.

"The Carmont fight, not even the fact that I lost, the fact that the fight was pretty crappy to watch and pretty much boring -- not a lot of action -- I think hurt me more than the loss itself," he said. "If you look at my spot on the [UFC on Fuel TV 9] card, I'm the second fight of the night. I just went from being on a pay-per-view card that did pretty well as far as pay-per-view buys go -- I think that was based purely on the fact I was on the card. The fight was so boring they shoved me down onto Facebook."

Make no mistake about it, Lawlor (8-5, one no-contest) isn't overlooking Kuiper, who boasts a 12-1 record, has finished all but two of his opponents, and holds a judo black belt. The Dutchman is coming off a TKO victory over Jared Hamman at UFC 150 but hasn't faced the level of competition that Lawlor's faced.

In his UFC career, the 6-foot Lawlor has wins over names like Jason McDonald and C.B. Dolloway with losses to middleweight title contender Chris Weidman and Aaron Simpson. He could be 6-2 in the UFC if two split decisions had gone his way. But experience is no reason to underestimate Kuiper, Lawlor said.

"It could just be that he hasn't had the opportunity yet," he said. "You can't take someone lightly based on their competition."

Lawlor believes he's grown since his last trip to the octagon. He spent a month in Singapore training Muay Thai, though, it's his mental game that's really sharpened, he said.

Aside from the fight, all eyes will be on Lawlor during the weigh-ins, which have garnered him notoriety in the past, most notably, his imitation of MMA legend Dan Severn at UFC 113. However, the showmanship has become a bit of a double-edged sword.

"It's kind of like a gift and a curse," Lawlor said. "It helped me out initially get some attention. I mean, I got a lot of attention for that stuff. At the same time, it's not like I can come up with ideas all the time."

A week before his fight with Kuiper, Lawlor said he's still trying to figure out what to do next, and he probably won't know until hours before the weigh-ins.

There's no ego in Lawlor. He's a down-to-earth guy, who lives life just like anyone else -- for the most part. Battling constant thoughts of food in the days before UFC on Fuel TV 9, he has other big plans on the horizon.

Eating contests.

"Oh yeah, I can't get enough [of them]," he said. "I have it planned out for the next weekend after I fight. I'm going to try to do a contest a day. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday."

In fact, he even participated in one while training in Singapore in January. The challenge? Level 35 hot wings. For those unfamiliar with the heat rating scale, that's hot. Ridiculously hot.

"I wouldn't recommend it to anybody," he said with a tinge of pain in his voice. "Most people wouldn't recommend getting punched in the face by another man to make money, but I do that, too."

He's his own man; a man who'd take on the heavyweight champion if given the opportunity. Like Rhodes, Lawlor combines charisma and a blue-collar attitude, and he's motivated to keep his job. Come April 6, that means a victory over Kuiper.

"I expect to have my job after this," he said. "I expect to walk out with my hand raised."

Paul Putignano lives in Southern California, where he has covered mixed martial arts and a wide array of sports across the Greater Los Angeles area. His work has been published in a variety of newspapers and online publications. Follow him on Twitter

@pputignano.
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