Every division has an unranked fighter no one wants to face–one of them made it all the way to a title fight

Posted: March 7, 2014 in Commentary/Opinion

Robbie-Lawler-005-SFMMA is such an intricate sport that many things can change in a very short time period. Windows of peak ability for a fighter open and close before you even know it; and one simple mistake in a fight can not only lose that fight, but also change the course of a career. That’s why a guy could arguably be unranked, but still be feared as a threat to a champion—if he ever got that far.

Since that first paragraph probably makes no sense, let me elaborate and then give some examples. Heavyweight might be the best example of all, because even the lowest ranked fighters in the division have the power to provide a knockout. Could Todd Duffee beat Cain Velasquez? The bigger question is why would they ever fight? But that’s not the point in this argument. The point is Duffee could knock Cain out I suppose.

Now let me give a couple more realistic examples of fighters who aren’t considered contenders, but if they ever ran off a few wins in a row, they could create problems for any champion. I’ll start with lightweight Melvin Guillard. He has enough holes in his game that running off a bunch of wins in a row is highly unlikely. But if he fought the champ on any given day, his power is plenty good to catch lightning in a bottle. He can knock out any lightweight—he has 20 in his career. Is it totally unbelievable that Guillard could somehow knock out Anthony Pettis if they ever got into the cage together? I don’t think it’s that far-fetched.

At middleweight, what about a guy like Uriah Hall? He’s shown flashes of brilliance in the cage, mixed in with plenty flashes of mediocrity. There’s no denying his athletic skill, but to date his mental capacity doesn’t match his raw physical tools. We know he’s heady. What if he was a last minute replacement (in a string of fluky circumstances that make this example somewhat less ridiculous) and had to fight Chris Weidman for the belt (side note, they already fought at Ring of Combat several years ago—Weidman owned him)?

And to add more fuel to the fire, what if Hall somehow thought Weidman called him a pussy or something—anything to set him off. Could Hall knock Weidman out? Is it possible? Sure it’s possible. Although I’d never put money on it, or even predict it, I know enough about the sport to realize almost anything can happen once the bell rings.

As crazy as these examples are—admittedly, the Hall example is much more implausible than Guillard—we’re actually seeing that exact set of circumstances for real at welterweight right now. The guy who no one really wants to fight somehow found himself in a title scenario. Of course, I’m referring to Robbie Lawler.

Lawler’s power is legendary to say the least. But let’s also be frank—he has holes in his game too. Those holes had been exposed to the tune of a dismal 3-5 record in Strikeforce right before coming to the UFC. But Lawler caught lightning in a bottle, not once, but three straight fights. And incredibly, two of those opponents are (were) contenders—Josh Koscheck and Rory MacDonald—who he had no business defeating.

Now we’re only a week or so away from seeing Robbie Lawler attempt to win the (now vacant) world championship from Johny Hendricks. Honestly, as improbable as the Guillard and Hall examples are, make no mistake, the Lawler scenario is just as impossible. But in MMA, anything can happen.

Because of the way MMA is structured, it’s hard to “sneak up” on anyone. In the MLB, a team toiling in the cellar could get on a 10 game roll without bringing much attention to themselves. Next thing you know, they’re only 6 games out of the wildcard spot and everyone is saying ‘where the hell did they come from?’ That’s impossible in MMA. Lawler’s win streak and subsequent title fight has been a full year in the making, so he didn’t literally sneak up on us.

And that’s kind of a shame, because the fight will likely not be built up in that manner—and it should be. Lawler’s route to this fight is an amazing thing and fans shouldn’t forget that just a year ago, he was very likely going to be cut from the UFC if Koscheck destroyed him. But here he is—the guy who no one really wanted to fight but wouldn’t admit it. The guy who—if I wrote this article a year ago—would have been my number one example for ‘what if.’ The funny thing is, if that article was written a year ago, everyone would have ridiculed me for it—in much the same way I’m probably getting ridiculed for using Guillard and Hall as examples. But that’s okay. Sometimes it’s fun as hell when things don’t go the way you expect.

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