Robbie Lawler’s 10 greatest knockouts, ranked

Whenever you hear UFC play-by-play commentator Jon Anik refer to the UFC welterweight division as “ruthless,” you can’t help but assume that he’s paying homage to the weight class’ former ruling warlord, Robbie Lawler.

A fighter who initially entered the organization with the billing of “the next big thing,” Lawler saw his fair share of ups and downs before returning to the UFC and winning the welterweight title over a decade later at UFC 181.

In between UFC stints, Lawler accrued experience and sharpened his skills by fighting for a plethora of promotions from Strikeforce to PRIDE. Lawler also won titles at 185 pounds in organizations like Icon (formerly Superbrawl) and Elite XC during Hawaii’s heyday of MMA.

With the former UFC champion retiring after besting Niko Price at UFC 290, I thought it would be fun to take a trip down memory lane to rank my favorite Lawler knockouts.

Without further ado …

Robbie Lawler knocks out Tiki Ghosn at UFC 40 (Nov. 22, 2002)

Coming in at No. 10 is a classic Lawler knockout that cemented his status as a prospect to watch.

Although Lawler already earned a stoppage inside of the octagon opposite Steve Berger at UFC 37.5, Tiki Ghosn was thought to be somewhat of a step up in competition.

Ghosn came in with a solid approach of attacking Lawler’s lead leg with kicks (something that his next opponent, Pete Spratt, definitely took note of), but Lawler – as we would end up seeing on many occasions – was able to abruptly change the course of the contest with a devastating check hook.

Not only did Lawler knock Ghosn clean out, but he also sent poor old referee Nelson Hamilton flying into a forward roll for good measure.

It was a vintage Lawler celebration with a comical post-fight interview that gave us this gem from Ghosn:

Robbie Lawler knocks out Joey Villasenor at PRIDE 32 (Oct. 21, 2006)

Despite this being Lawler’s lone PRIDE FC appearance, there was no way I wasn’t going to have his fight with Joey Villasenor on this list.

Villasenor, who was a Jackson-Wink MMA OG long before Jon Jones ever set foot in the gym, was a perfect matchup for Lawler on paper with regard to providing a fun, action fight.

Unfortunately for anyone expecting a war, the fight didn’t last long.

Lawler, as he would occasionally do to kickoff rounds, opened with his patented Thai kicks from the power side that practically elevated the Iowa native every time he threw them. This, of course, forced an unfavorable reaction from Villasenor that saw him change levels right into a Lawler knee.

Nevertheless, it was still a solid choice to kick off the night in what was Pride’s U.S. debut.

Robbie Lawler knocks out Murilo Rua at Elite XC: Uprising (Sept. 15, 2007)

Sneaking into the No. 8 spot is a champion vs. champion affair that saw two legendary camps square off.

Lawler, who was coming over as the Icon middleweight champion, was representing Militech Fighting Systems. While Murilo Rua (“Shogun’s” brother) recently won the vacant title against Joey Villasenor and was representing Chute Boxe.

Rua came out and smartly followed the blueprint of previous Lawler opponents by attacking his legs. The problem, however, was that Rua lacked the wrestling needed to neutralize a fighter like Lawler and eventually paid the price for it.

Lawler displayed his classic mixture of menacing pressure and possum-playing counters en route to finding a plethora of punishing uppercuts along the fence.

As Bill Golberg said in his post-fight interview with the newly minted Elite XC champ, Lawler was basically collecting belts in Hawaii at this point of his career.

Robbie Lawler knocks out Falaniko Vitale at Suberbrawl 41 (July 23, 2005)

Firmly at No. 7 is Lawler’s first fight with Falaniko Vitale under the legendary Superbrawl banner.

When people talk about Hawaiian MMA, names like Vitale don’t get brought up enough.

An early pioneer of Hawaiian MMA and the sitting Superbrawl champion, Vitale was on the best winning streak of his career, winning 12 of his last 13 fights prior to meeting Lawler. Vitale had wins over names like Matt Linland and Yushin Okami, as well as a win over the UFC’s first middleweight champion, Dave Menne.

In fact, organizations like PRIDE were looking to pick up Vitale if he earned another win over a UFC name. Unfortunately for Vitale, Lawler – like he arguably did to many fighters in retrospect – brutally changed the course of the Hawaiian’s career with a series of knockout punches.

It was a back-and-forth fight where Vitale was able to demonstrate his well-rounded skills, but Lawler found a way to rally after having to jump out of the ring to avoid a leg lock prior.

Vitale’s sister famously rushed Lawler into the ring moments after the finish, but Lawler took it in stride and paid his respects to the Hawaiian crowd. Vitale also gives a memorable post-fight speech prior to putting the belt on Lawler, reminding the masses of the working-class struggles that many Hawaiian fighters like himself had to go through to get to these stages.

Later on in his career on an episode of “UFC Tonight,” Lawler was asked who in his career hit him the hardest. His answer: Falaniko Vitale.

Robbie Lawler knocks out Frank Trigg at Icon 48 (March 31, 2007)

Although this finish of Frank Trigg is arguably Lawler’s most brutal knockout, it’ll have to settle for No. 6 with regard to “greatest.”

There was already a ton of bad blood headed into this fight given Trigg’s history with Matt Hughes, but “Twinkle Toes” made things worse by stepping up his pre-fight gamesmanship and giving Lawler a playful kiss.

The fight was a back-and-forth war that saw Trigg mixing in offense from almost every phase in order to neutralize the punishing punches of Lawler. However, after a grueling three rounds of fighting, Trigg found himself in the last place you’d want to be with Lawler inside of a ring: and that’s in the corner.

The late punches from Lawler make for an admittedly rough watch for myself and many, as Trigg has been quoted as saying that the fight “nearly killed” him.

For what it’s worth, Lawler, later on in life, did tell a member of Trigg’s corner team that he definitely looks back on that differently now that he’s matured.

Robbie Lawler knocks out Scott Smith at Elite XC: Unfinished Business (July 26, 2008)

In what was arguably one of the most brutal body beatdowns prior to Matt Brown vs. Jordan Mein, there’s no way that Lawler’s rematch with Scott Smith doesn’t make this list.

Their first encounter at Elite XC: Primetime was an absolute classic in the making before it was unfortunately stopped in the third round due to an eye poke from Lawler.

That said, Lawler was able to build off of his successful bodywork from their first fight by bringing in similar tools to the rematch.

Smith was able to find some early success against Lawler via slicing elbows and flurries along the fence. However, Lawler steadily corralled Smith against the cage in the second round in order to punish his body with everything from punches to knees.

Smith eventually crumbled to the floor, where Lawler finished him off with some Khalil Rountree-like soccer kicks to the body.

Robbie Lawler knocks out Matt Lindland at Strikeforce: Henderson vs. Babalu (Dec. 4, 2010)

Although you could argue that the matchmaking styles of Scott Coker and Rich Chou made for some favorite-heavy affairs, they also put matchups together that produced unforgettable knockouts along the way.

After losing to Renato Sobral at Strikeforce: Los Angeles, Lawler was given an opportunity to bounce back against Matt “The Law” Lindland.

Unfortunately for Lindland, the match lasted about as long as Mauro Ranallo’s legendary Christmas-themed call of the KO.

Robbie Lawler knocks out Melvin Manhoef at Strikeforce: Miami (Jan. 30, 2010)

Coming in at the number three spot is one of my favorite comeback KOs from Lawler’s catalog.

Lawler was coming off of a submission loss to Jake Shields for the Strikeforce middleweight title, while Melvin Manhoef was fresh off a destruction of Kazuo Misaki at K-1: Dynamite 2009.

Manhoef came out like a bat out of hell, viciously attacking Lawler’s legs and body with thudding Thai kicks.

Although Lawler appeared to be hurt and on the backfoot early, the savvy veteran always keeps a crucial southpaw weapon in his back pocket: the check right hook.

Eventually getting a feel for Manhoef’s attacks, Lawler was able to time a check hook and follow-up left that put his opponent to sleep faster than a Bill Cosby cocktail.

Robbie Lawler knocks out Niko Price at UFC 290 (July 8, 2023)

(Stephen R. Sylvanie, USA TODAY Sports)

(Stephen R. Sylvanie, USA TODAY Sports)

Over 250 pay-per-views after his promotional debut at UFC 37, and Lawler showed he could still do the damn thing.

Perhaps this is a classic case of recency bias given the timing of publish, but it’s hard to top the emotions that Lawler’s final UFC knockout – and everything surrounding it – gave us on the night of a legendary card at UFC 290.

From walking out to the theme from “The Last of the Mohicans” to the incredible farewell package that the UFC put together, it was a storybook ending for Lawler.

Given how this story typically ends in combat sports, hopes weren’t exactly high as Lawler found himself entrenched as a nearly a 2-1 underdog opposite the younger Niko Price.

Thankfully for Lawler and his fans alike, the former champion came out firing on all cylinders and was able to quickly finish Price with hard punches off a single collar tie.

Robbie Lawler knocks out Rory MacDonald at UFC 189 (July 11, 2015)

Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie

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