Granite City, IL is a hard working, blue collar, industrial town that has been hit hard over the years by de-industrialization and weak economic conditions, both foreign and domestic.
In 2006, author Dave Gilmartin choose various cities and towns across the United States to feature in his book Absolutely Worst Places to Live in America. Granite City was prominently featured starting on page 113.
Nevertheless, there is one business operation that continues to thrive since opening its doors in a nondescript warehouse on the western end of this unspectacular and ghostly town.
Suite D at 400 A Street is headquarters for the H.I.T. (Hughes Intensive Training) Squad, one of the premier mixed-martial-arts gyms in the country.
The facility is co-owned by former UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes and former EliteXC middleweight champion Robbie Lawler.
Walk around the gym a while and you will quickly come to the conclusion that the management, training staff, and employees have all adapted the same hard working, gritty values embodied by the surrounding town.
This is exactly the spot where Robbie Lawler (18-4, 1 no contest) is putting the finishing touches on his training camp in preparation for his much anticipated Strikeforce fight on Saturday, June 6 against former EliteXC welterweight champion Jake Shields (22-4-1).
Lawler typically fights at the 185 pound limit and Shields at 170 pounds, so as a result, this fight will take place at 182 pounds.
The catch-weight itself has been a source of minor controversy after it was revealed to be agreed upon after-the-fact.
It is still a bit of a sore subject for Lawler who recently stated in an interview, “I wasn’t too happy about the way it went down.”
He continued to clarify the situation when he stated, “The catch-weight is not really good for me. It’s better for him. I’m coming down. He does not have to cut any weight. I have to cut more than I’m normally used to.”
With the number of days to fight night creeping closer and closer he has chosen to simply ignore it and get down to business.
“We’re all past that and we’re going to fight,” said Lawler.
For this fight, a classic striker vs. grappler matchup, the game plan for Lawler is likely to keep the fight off the mat using his strength advantage and take-down defense, and slowly dissect Shields using combinations and kicks to keep him honest, and at a distance.
Tipping his hand prior to his fights is something Lawler doesn’t want to do. He’d rather keep his intentions a secret.
As he put it, “I just need to be able to go three rounds and go hard the whole time.”
Nevertheless, the underlying message is simple: play to your strengths, dictate the fight, and do it in a merciless manner.
It was precisely that aggressive and unforgiving fighting spirit which prompted UFC President Dana White to anoint him “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler early in his MMA career and the nickname has stuck ever since.
Overall, those ruthless tendencies have led to 15 of his 18 wins (83 percent) coming by way of knockout, including vicious beatings of Murilo “Ninja” Rua and Frank Trigg along the way.
It has been a long time since Lawler saw the inside of a cage because of the dissolution of EliteXC and the subsequent purchase of his contract (along with most of the other remaining ProElite assets) by Scott Coker and the Strikeforce organization.
Lawler last fought on July 26, 2008 when he scored a second round TKO victory over Scott “Hands of Steel” Smith. It has been a big layoff not only for Lawler, but for Shields as well.
Surprisingly, the time away does not seem to bother Lawler one bit.
“It hasn’t been that bad. I’ve had long layoffs before. The whole time I was off I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to fight anywhere else. I could fight in a week, but I just didn’t know, so I kept myself in pretty good shape.”
The Scottrade Center in downtown St. Louis, MO will play host on June 6 to what will most certainly be a bit of a home-field advantage for Lawler. The stadium is almost a stones throw away from the aforementioned Granite City.
If Lawler stood on the roof of the H.I.T. Squad building he could look across the Mississippi River and see downtown St. Louis. It is a mere seven miles for him to travel for the toughest fight of his career.
“I just think if you’re the better athlete, or you have the better team, you’re going to win, and it doesn’t matter where (it takes place),” said Lawler trying to downplay its potential significance.
Will Lawler be able to impose his will on his home turf against the accomplished jiu-jitsu ace Shields?
Will a win propel him to a potential title shot with Strikeforce middleweight champion Cung Le?
There are only questions at this junction. The answers will be delivered in due time.
Derek Bolender is a staff writer for www.InsideFights.com. His articles/interviews have been featured on InsideFights.com, CBSSports.com, MMAmania.com, BloodyElbow.com, etc... in addition to BleacherReport.com. Send Derek a question or comment to firstname.lastname@example.org.