It might be the easiest job in mixed martial arts, right up there with being the bodyguard for Cain Velasquez or barber for Dana White.
Imagine being one of the three judges for Saturday’s UFC main event in San Jose, Calif. (8 p.m. ET, Fox).
Just sit back and crack open a cold one, put your feet up, and doodle spirals on the scorecard. No one’s going to care what you’ve scribbled next to the names of Robbie Lawler and Matt Brown. When Bruce Buffer stands at the center of the octagon at the end of the night and bellows out a winner, he isn’t going to mention any scores. These rock ’em, sock ’em welterweights are not going the distance. Someone’s going to be discombobulated.
If that forecast is going out on a limb, it’s on the sturdiest limb in the forest. These two fellows don’t just like to bang, they live and breath the bang. Brown has won seven straight fights, all but one by knockout. Lawler has won four of his last five, and while a couple of those most recent fights did go to decision, “Ruthless Robbie” has had KO’s in 19 of his 23 career wins.
So when unabashed aggression meets relentless hostility on Saturday night at the SAP Center, with the whir of leather filling the air, sweat and blood flying off snapped-back noggins, someone eventually is going to drop. Maybe each guy will have a woozy trip to the canvas before the party’s over. But the crowd’s raucous crescendo will come when one man doesn’t get up and the other has his hand raised, which concurrently will raise the stakes. The winner has been promised a shot at champion Johny Hendricks.
The bearded belt holder represents the lone blemish on Lawler’s recent resume. They clashed in a March bout held to determine George St-Pierre’s successor as 170-pound king. Robbie had earned that opportunity four months earlier by beating Rory MacDonald, a narrow victory that’s still paying dividends. MacDonald has bounced back with a pair of exhilarating victories, and is right behind the champ in the SI.com welterweight rankings. But the title shot will go to the survivor between Lawler (22-10, 1 NC), ranked No. 3, and Brown (19-11), who sits at No. 9.
A large reason for that matchmaking is the wow factor. Sometimes the UFC goes for a glittery story line, as is the case in the ongoing saga of Gina Carano, whom the behemoth fight promotion is trying to woo out of a five-year retirement in order to put her movie star celeb into a big-money mismatch with Ronda Rousey. The talkative Conor McGregor also falls into that category, in a way, by getting a home game in Dublin in just his third UFC fight.
With Lawler and Brown, however, the entertainment factor is of a different flavor. It’s all about the fight. It’s all about the brutality. The UFC knows that it can stick either of these guys into a pay-per-view main event with Hendricks, and the wallet-opening public will immediately understand what’s being sold: violence.
The fans will not get Dancing with the Stars.
Though Brown is the one on a hot streak, Lawler is about a 4-1 favorite, presumably because he’s been competing at a higher level. By beating MacDonald and then going five rugged rounds with Hendricks, “Ruthless Robbie” has a starry item on his resume that his opponent lacks.
Beyond that, what separates the fighters is a subtle difference in style. The Brown gear box shifts into only one direction. He moves forward, forever and always, and if he’s within grabbing distance, look out. He has mauled many an opponent in many a phone booth.
When the 33-year-old Brown makes his advances, of course, he’ll be entering the firing range where Lawler’s left hand wants him. Robbie isn’t one to keep his distance, necessarily, but his assault can and will do harm even before he’s entered harm’s way.
So Brown will get hit. He knows that. Lawler, 32, knows that, too -- and also knows that his opponent is called “The Immortal” for a reason. Brown will continue to move forward. Where else is there to go?
That defines not just one man’s fighting style, or even both men’s, but also the career paths these fighters have taken. Before returning to the UFC last year, Lawler had lost three of his last four Strikeforce fights and was on a lackadaisically downward spiral. Brown was a 14-11 fighter who’d dropped four of five before turning things around less than three years ago.
Now they share a spotlit stage with the promise of even brighter lights ahead. For one of them, that is. The other, all but assuredly, will have his lights put out.