Back when Robbie Lawler first burst onto the UFC scene as the organization's youngest fighter ever, there was perhaps more hype surrounding the welterweight than he could handle. After losing two straight, Lawler was out of the UFC.
Despite looking in from the outside for nearly a decade afterwards, Lawler stayed on his grind and has made the most of his second chance - winning three straight fights and earning a title shot March 15 against Johny Hendricks at UFC 171.
Back in his first UFC stint, Lawler may not have been able to handle all the attention the quiet fighter is as he heads into a world title fight. "Outside the ring, I never really wanted to do the PR, I never wanted to be in the light," Lawler remembers of his younger days during a recent media conference call.
"I wasn’t ready to be in the light. I’m just a quiet guy who just loved to fight. I think, as I matured, I’m ready to take that step and I’m embracing everything that has to do with the UFC. I’m ready to be out there in front of everyone and do what it takes to be a champion."
Lawler is one fight away from being just that - a champion. It is a rare young prodigy that can flame out but still stay focused and earn a second act in the spotlight.
Lawler says that the key to not just climbing back to the UFC, but getting further than he ever did before in his twenties, is in the hard, detailed work he's committed to daily.
"Just persevering," Lawler says of his key to success.
"I’ve gone through a lot of ups and downs..Just being willing to get back up and grind every day to try and get better. Moving down to [American] Top Team, they really strengthened my game. All the coaches down there really pushed me and...all the training partners. So, everything’s clicking at the right time and I’m going to be ready March 15th."
Lawler may have surprised observers by reaching title contender status so quickly since returning to the UFC in 2013, but the fighter himself never doubted that his potential was world class. "The thing is, I've always believed in myself," Lawler explains.
"I always believed that I was going to be the best in the world. I'm glad that in the sport, in the UFC and MMA you can write your own stories and you don't have to worry about what other people expect out of you. I expect greatness out of myself, so I pushed myself. I just always believed in myself no matter what anyone said and I was willing to grind for the fourteen years I've been doing this and I'm not going to stop."