The fight was fast, breakneck and breathtaking. And when it was over so was Robbie Lawler’s ascension from a devastating loss back to top contender status.
One right hook that knocked Melvin Manhoef out cold and into the beginning of next year restored confidence in Lawler and that of Strikeforce. Lawler’s legs were being tenderized by Manhoef’s meaty kicks and wits scrambled from heavy blows until the opening he waited for arrived instantaneously. One right cross launched from Granite City, Illinois, sent Manhoef falling. A follow-up left punctuated the crash-landing. Just like that it was over, and so were any concerns over Lawler’s legitimacy.
“I think it was one of my biggest because everyone knows what kind of striker he is,” Lawler said during a conference call. “Everyone said I should have taken him down, which maybe I should have. But to knock him out standing and to beat him on his feet, where he’s supposedly one of the best in the world, felt good.”
A win over Renato “Babalu” Sobral Wednesday in Los Angeles and Lawler will get his chance to again proclaim himself a champion and one of the best in his weight class. Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker proclaimed the winner of Ruthless Robbie’s catchweight fight against Sobral will receive a title shot, Sobral at light-heavyweight and champion Muhammad Lawal, Lawler versus Jacare Souza for the middleweight strap expected to be vacated by Jake Shields.
Looking more and more like he’s bolting for the UFC, Shields took advantage of Lawler’s mistake when the HIT Squad veteran was caught in a guillotine choke at 2:02 of the first round last June in St. Louis, Lawler’s Strikeforce debut after the folding of Elite XC forced him to vacate that company’s middleweight title. Coker didn’t rule out the scenario of a four- or eight-man tournament, but an impressive win all but assures a matchup between Lawler and Souza that will be counted on to fill a virtually impossible void and rebuild the 185-pound division.
“If things continue the way they’re going and we end up in a situation where we’re looking for a 185-pound champion, I think Jacare and Robbie, based on his (June 16) performance, would be the No. 1 and 2 seeds in that slot,” said Coker, expecting an announcement within 10 days. “Robbie, if he wins the fight, will be first in line to have a title shot at 185. Normally, we don’t put those fights out there, but I just wanted to let everyone know that this fight will have consequences. It will be an interesting show and we’re looking forward to putting it on.”
Lawler left the HIT Squad for an excursion to Arizona and a refined approach to his all-round game, and to originally prepare for Jason Miller before the Tennessee State Athletic Commission opened an investigation on Mayhem’s role at the end of Shields’ win over Dan Henderson. Against Shields Lawler fought at 182 pounds and hasn’t sweated a move up to 195.
“I decided that I’d just eat whatever I’d want to and not worry about my weight,” Lawler said. “I tried bulking up, adding more fluids and taking a little more supplements than usual. If I was going to weigh 190, I’ll weigh 190. If I weigh 195, that’s fine. I’m just going to work hard and that’s what I’ve been doing.”