The dust has finally settled from UFC 181, where Robbie Lawler and Johny Hendricks met for the second time for the UFC welterweight title. In their first meeting back in March, Hendricks squeaked out a win, some saying because of a last minute takedown that sealed the deal. It was Lawler this time around that would get that last minute surge of energy to put an exclamation point on the fight, thus getting the split decision win becoming the new UFC welter weight champion.
So much talk will go into how Lawler trained for this fight and his thoughts going into the championship fight. But the journey to becoming the best in the world in his division started thirteen years ago under the tutelage of Pat Miletich and striking coach Matt Peña, both of whom knew someday he would have that belt around his waist.
“Even after the first fight between Rob and Johny, there was no doubt in my mind that he would be champion,” said Peña.
It would be under the banner of American Top Team in Florida that Lawler would become champion, but for many fans watching, Robbie will always be a product of the Miletich Fighting Team.
“We could see it pretty early on that he was something special,” said UFC Hall of Fame member and the UFC’s first welterweight champion, Pat Miletich. “He was beating up world champions in the gym when he was 17.”
After his years in Elite XC and Strikeforce, Lawler was re-signed by the UFC, dropping from middleweight to welterweight and went back to Miletich and asked him to train him again, but due to Miletich’s busy commentating schedule and not being around MFS as much, Miletich along with a few other people around Robbie recommended that he go to American Top Team in Florida. It was there that he would finally find a home and a similar family-like atmosphere that would eventually catapult him to becoming a champion.
“The moment he stepped into ATT,” said Peña. “Was the first time he felt like he had found a complete home for fighting again.”
With dominant wins over Josh Koscheck, Bobbie Voelker, Rory McDonald, Jake Ellenberger and Matt Brown, the Hendricks loss was the only one he wanted to avenge, and he did just that at UFC 181. For Peña, it was when he and Robbie were in the corner of then UFC welterweight champion, Matt Hughes that he would see more champion-like qualities in Lawler. “Robbie has always helped me train these guys,” said Peña. “And after years of watching me train Spencer Fisher and Matt Hughes, Robbies also always viewed himself as the best in the world.” But it was in the locker room only minutes after Lawler had walked out of the cage with the belt around his waist that it set in fully for Miletich and Peña just how much Robbie had grown as a fighter and as a man over the many years the three had been together.
“What you are seeing now is the same way Robbie trained at the gym at 17,” said Miletch. “Maturity tends to make you grow up and if you are going to do your job, you do it damn well.”
And for Peña backstage, his words for Lawler and his team were short but sincere. And being the elite coach that he is, Peña is already looking to the future for his new champ. “I said, “We did it boys,” said Peña. “Robs done everything now, he can say that he is a potential Hall of Famer.”