Robbie Lawler (left) has won five of six fights in his return to the UFC.
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With with no UFC championship tussle in the immediate future, here are a few thoughts to distract your MMA mind away from wondering what to do with that blank space on your wall where you were planning to hang a UFC 176 poster.

By Jeff Wagenheim
July 29, 2014

Robbie Lawler and Matt Brown stopped flinging violence at each other days ago. That ringing in your ears should be gone now. And all that’s left is silence, with no gnawing anticipation of a championship tussle in the immediate future. So here are a few thoughts to distract your MMA mind away from wondering what to do with that blank space on your wall where you were planning to hang a UFC 176 poster:

  • If the Johny Hendricks rematch that “Ruthless Robbie” earned with Saturday’s rambunctious victory happens on the Jan. 3 fight card scheduled for Las Vegas, as expected, it will be Robbie’s second welterweight title shot in less than 10 months. Not bad for a career that two years ago appeared to be fizzling into a nothingness of unfulfilled potential. For the second time.

Back in the summer of 2012, Lawler (24-10, 1 NC) was completing a Strikeforce run that saw him lose five of eight fights. Five years before joining that promotion, he had washed out of the UFC as loser of three of his last four bouts following a 7-0 start to his career.

But now the 32-year-old has won five of six in this second UFC stint, and Saturday’s fisticuffs with Brown represented his second Fight of the Night performance in his last three bouts. Those three fights took place over a stretch of just over four months.

Resurgence. Rejuvenation. Renewal. Ruthless Robbie.

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  • Anthony Johnson was another who was awarded a $50,000 bonus on Saturday fight, but while Lawler needed to put in 25 hard minutes to earn his, “Rumble” secured his Performance of the Night check in just 44 seconds. That’s how long it took him to starch Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in the San Jose co-main event.

An eight-fight winning streak capped by a lightning-strike knockout over a veteran top-tier contender is something to brag about. But afterward Johnson was humble and reflective. “The best thing that ever happened to me is for Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta to cut me,” Johnson (18-4) said immediately afterward in the octagon, referring to the decision of the UFC president and CEO to cut him two years ago for missing weight prior to three bouts. “I’m grateful they gave me the chance to look at myself in the mirror.”

What Johnson saw in the looking glass was a man who, despite his ability to beat up opponents in the cage, was doing more harm to himself and those who supported him. As he elaborated during the post-fight press conference, “After I got cut by the UFC for not making weight, I realized I was making myself look like a fool. I was hurting my team. I was hurting my family. I was hurting myself. Sooner or later, you’ve got to grow up in life, and I think that in the two years I was away from the UFC, I grew up quite a bit.”

He’s grown up not just figuratively. After struggling for years to make welterweight’s 170-pound limit and even missing weight -- by 11 pounds! -- after moving up to middleweight, Johnson now is campaigning at light heavyweight. And with wins over Nogueira and Top 10 guy Phil Davis since his UFC rebirth, “Rumble” is rising in the 205-pound mix. Humbly. Yet scarily.

  • There was a time when the UFC’s scheduling tease would have been a puzzle. Brazilian media was told recently that the fight promotion would be returning to Rio de Janeiro on Oct. 25 with a title fight. Now, not so long ago that could have meant the event was going to be headlined by a title defense by Renan Barão or, going back a bit further, by Anderson Silva or, further back still, by Junior dos Santos. Brazil has had its share of champions.

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Now there’s but one. And yes, it’ll be José Aldo defending his featherweight strap -- and his nation’s deep fighting pride -- in a rematch with Chad Mendes in the marquee matchup of UFC 179 at Maracanãzinho Gymnasium. They were scheduled to clash this weekend in Los Angeles, but Aldo injured his neck in training and both the fight and the entire card, UFC 176, were nixed. Dana White confirmed on Saturday night that the main event had been rescheduled for Rio.

So instead of getting this shot at Aldo in L.A., Mendes, a Californian, will have to return to the same city (though a different arena) where the champ knocked him out in the first round back in January 2012. Since then, Mendes has fought and won five times, all but once by KO. Aldo has defended the strap three times against the steel of the 145-pound division.

The second go-round has the added flavor of a bitter rivalry, with Mendes’s bantamweight training partner with Team Alpha Male, T.J. Dillashaw, having dethroned Aldo’s Nova União teammate Barão two months ago.

Can October just get here already?

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