Robbie Lawler's nickname may be "Ruthless," but "Resurgent" would also be a fitting moniker at this point in his career.
The veteran powerhouse has long been regarded as one of the premier knockout artists in mixed martial arts; he built the well-earned reputation on his penchant for settling the opposition in abrupt—and sometimes brutal fashion—throughout his career.
In the early stages of his time on the sport's biggest stage, the Davenport, Iowa, fighter carried the weight of tremendous potential, as his heavy hands and signature scowl were thought to be the "The Next Big Thing" in the fledgling world of the UFC.
Nevertheless, Lawler would stumble and the shine around him would tarnish, but the potential damage his hands, feet and knees carried were enough to keep him a marquee player on whatever stage he competed. The Miletich Fighting Systems product was a knockout artist through and through, and just like the men who can drive a baseball 450 feet into the cheap seats, people love to see displays of power.
Yet, while the potential for devastation never wandered too far from Lawler in the cage, the fire and motivation behind his eyes at times flickered and waned.
Where he was once a beast unleashed, Lawler endured a stretch where he dropped five in eight appearances, and it seemed a once-touted and potentially great career had officially taken the turn toward obscurity. But mixed martial arts is an unpredictable sport by its nature—and as cliche as it may sound, the fight isn't over until it's over.
For Lawler, the start of 2013 marked a long-awaited return to the UFC and his final chance to get things back on track. He knew his back was against the wall going into his bout with Josh Koscheck at UFC 157 and answered the opening bell with ferocity. So much so in fact, the return he sparked in Anaheim last year has not only carried him to the top of the highly competitive welterweight division but has also re-cemented him as one of the most feared fighters on the planet in the process.
His love for fighting had returned. He was having fun again, and the results were obvious.
"I enjoy fighting and enjoy fighting in the best organization in the world in the UFC," Lawler told Bleacher Report. "It's exciting to fight in front of these fans that give so much support. It is the fans who keep this show up and running."
The 32-year-old American Top Team fighter has won four of his five showings since his return last year, with his only setback coming in a five-round "instant classic" with Johny Hendricks for the vacant welterweight title. While he would be edged out on the judges' scorecards, Lawler gave Bigg Rigg all he could handle for 25 minutes and earned scores of respect with his performance.
While he would be denied championship gold at UFC 171, Lawler has been on a quest to earn another opportunity, and that goal is once again within striking distance. The former Elite XC champion will square off with fellow resurgent slugger Matt Brown this Saturday night at UFC on Fox 12, with the winner earning the next shot at Hendricks and the 170-pound strap.
While the tilt is easily one of the most anticipated scraps of 2014, Lawler's focus is locked on the challenge directly in front of him in the gritty Ohio native. He knows he'll have to put Brown away to get his hand raised in San Jose, and that is precisely what he plans to do.
"The title shot is exciting, but first thing's first, and I need to go out there and put my stamp on it," Lawler said. "I have to make sure I'm the guy fighting for that title, and that's what I'm going to do. Training camp went really well and I'm excited for this.
"I'm looking forward to putting on a good show. I've run through my body to make sure I'm 100 percent, and I am. All the work is done and I've put in a great training camp for this fight. American Top Team got me in great shape...I'm finely tuned. My boxing coach Matt Pena helped out a lot and I'm ready to go."
The matchup between two of the top-ranked welterweights in the world will not only hold heavy implications on the title picture at 170 pounds but also features two of the nastiest strikers in the business. Both men have made a career out of starching the opposition, and fans are expecting nothing less than a shootout at UFC on Fox 12.
That said, Lawler doesn't give much mind to anything outside of his own personal focus. Brown may be on a seven-fight winning streak with six finishes in those fights, but that doesn't move the needle with Lawler. He's coming after Brown from the opening bell and will be looking to impose his will every step of the way.
"I'm coming after his head, body, legs...everything," Lawler said. "I'm looking to just beat him up, plain and simple. I'm not necessarily focusing on anything. I'm going in there with my eyes wide open and looking to take advantage of whatever is open.
"I don't really worry too much about what he's bringing. No offense to him, but I concentrate on me and what I'm going to do. My coaches concentrate on him and making sure I'm ready for whatever he brings to the table. But I don't focus too much on him. My attention is focused on firing on all cylinders and being a finely tuned machine come fight night. My focus is on going out there and getting the job done."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.