The Yahoo! Sports 2013 MMA Awards keep rolling out this week. Last week, we presented the winners of Fight of the Year, KO of the Year, Submission of the Year and Male and Female Fighters of the Year. Today, we reveal our selection for Comeback Fighter of the Year.
We'll also be presenting Comeback Fight of the Year and Breakthrough Fighter of the Year later today so check back with us later in the day. The full remaining awards schedule is below. After that, our pick for 2013's Comeback Fighter of the Year.
Jan. 6: Comeback Fight of the Year, Breakthrough Fighter of the Year
Jan. 7: Event of the Year
Jan. 8: Trainer of the Year, Television Commentator of the Year, Referee of the Year, Biggest upset of the Year
Comeback Fighter of the Year:
There were a bunch of feel-good stories in the sport of mixed martial arts last year, embodied by candidates for our 2013 Comeback Fighter of the Year. Chris Weidman was and stayed undefeated in the cage but he came back from two shoulder surgeries, a year of inactivity, a freaking hurricane and homelessness to beat perhaps the best fighter in MMA history, Anderson Silva, not once but twice in 2013 and become the UFC's middleweight champion.
Vitor Belfort lost half of his 2012 bouts and had lost his prior two shots at UFC gold in convincing fashion heading into this past year. Yet, three incredible knockout wins via head kick later and "The Phenom" has become the number one contender to Weidman's belt, and has done so at the advanced sporting age of 36.
Our selection for the biggest comeback kid story of 2013 in MMA, however, is perhaps the most unlikely title contender in recent memory...
The Yahoo! Sports MMA Awards Comeback Fighter of the Year: Robbie Lawler
Over a decade ago, Robbie Lawler became one of the youngest fighters in UFC history. He had power in his hands and anger in his heart once he hit the Octagon.
Still, even back then in what we would have assumed was the thinking brawler's physical prime, Lawler never really came particularly close to title contention.
After losing two straight fights by stoppage in 2004, Lawler was out of the UFC. For the next decade, the explosive knockout artist fought in every top organization underneath the sport's biggest stage and did pretty well for himself.
However, when the UFC owners decided to close up the Strikeforce promotion which it had recently purchased and where Lawler had been fighting for the past three years, no one could have imagined that he'd become one of the most successful imports from the organization into the UFC. Lawler had lost five out of his eight Strikforce fights including three out of his last four when he squared up with two-time UFC welterweight challenger and perrenial contender Josh Koscheck last February at UFC 157.
The excellent wrestler Koscheck seemed like a horrible matchup for the striker Lawler. Instead, Lawler manhandled and bludgeoned Koscheck en route to a truly ruthless first round stoppage win.
Lawler followed that surprise win with another nasty KO win against Bobby Voelker in July and then took on the welterweight's heir apparent, Rory MacDonald at UFC 167 in November. MacDonald was a training partner for division kingpin Georges St. Pierre and very little in the young fighter's career up to that point suggested that he was anything but the future champion once St. Pierre decided to hang his own gloves up.
St. Pierre wasn't the only one to receive a surprise at UFC 167 when Johny Hendricks beat him up before being robbed of the decision win, though. Lawler took it to favored MacDonald and out-pointed and out-muscled the Canadian to earn a split-decision win.
When St. Pierre decided to take a leave of absence from the sport and vacate his title, UFC president Dana White announced that Hendricks and Lawler would fight to decide the new welterweight champ in early 2014.
Lawler's road to the top may not yet be at its end but he's already achieved a remarkable and meteoric re-rise. Most fighters don't get second acts but Lawler spent a decade fighting and improving to force his into existence.
For doing so, Robbie Lawler is our choice for Comeback Fighter of the Year, 2013.