Robbie Lawler and Carlos Condit go for broke and no one loses
I’m going to get this out of the way early: I am not upset about what happened on Saturday. As you likely know, Robbie Lawler retained his welterweight title via a controversial split decision over Carlos Condit.
In a vacuum, that second sentence feels like justice. Robbie Lawler came to fight. Carlos Condit came to fight. They both fought until they were wobbling on their feet, exhausted. The enduring image of them in the exact same pose — arms up on the cage top, heads tilted forward gasping for air — highlight why this sport can be as special as it does. It was dramatic.
Lawler winning does feel like justice. Our idea of Lawler is that he always shows up not to score points but to win fights. The split lip against MacDonald, standing in the pocket against Johny Hendricks (whose left hand had rendered many contenders unconscious before they hit the mat), his war against Matt Brown. After this fight, you couldn’t question whether Lawler threw everything to win.
Condit winning would also feel like justice. He, too, comes to win fights — to the point he ignored every takedown in his bout with Hendricks, continuing to wade forward and was put on the mat an incredible 12 times. He pushes to end the fight.
I’m painting the picture that if we took these preconceived notions about what Lawler and Condit do, then they both won the fight. Lawler threw hard, looking to end the fight with each punch and came close a number of times. Then in the fifth round, he went for broke. Condit, meanwhile, threw volume and stole Lawler’s initiative to the point Lawler barely threw for long stretches. Condit never backed down, threw every strike in his arsenal and continued to move forward.
Who really lost? As Lawler himself put it, 'There were two winners here tonight.'
We take preconceived notions into fights. Whether they are about how to judge a fight or what a fighter is all about, we bring biases to the table.
I watch fights to a fighter display their craft at a high level. This means I enjoyed watching Georges St. Pierre side-ride Nick Diaz for five rounds because it was a display of just how ridiculously better GSP was than Diaz at grappling. I enjoyed watching Anderson Silva against Forrest Griffin because Griffin couldn’t hit Silva that day if Silva was a paper bag. I do not enjoy most Diego Sanchez fights because he’s no better at biting down on his mouthpiece and swinging punches than a fighter who has a chin and ignorance of defense.
Those are my biases. It’s why seeing Jose Aldo embarrassed by Conor McGregor, a masterful striker, was painful — because Jose Aldo is a masterful striker in his own right.
In any fight, our preconceived notions need to be thrown out the window. We don’t know what the fighters are liable to do, what they plan to execute, or what their reactions to any situation will be. For instance, we often forget Condit does tend to dance the fine line between winning fights and winning rounds. When Condit fought Nick Diaz, we all expected fireworks and received a clinic in methodical stick-and-moving from Condit en route to a decision victory. He won — but not what we expected or wanted.
Our preconceived notion that this was highway robbery is also undermined when you consider that Lawler and Condit never should have happened. Condit was 1-3 entering his previous win over Thiago Alves, the win that propelled him towards this fight with Lawler.
While we may be lamenting the decision today, we must remind ourselves the sport exists to give us these dramatic moments. The UFC knows this better than anyone. It’s why Condit got a title shot. It’s why Lawler has becoming an enduring champion with only three title fight wins whereas a reign like Benson Henderson's is forgotten despite four title fight wins (and his first two, both against Frankie Edgar, being as in question as two of Lawler’s).
Few keep the belt around their waist for long. That is the enduring notion that propels the UFC’s promotional powers. Near the top, there are very few Anderson Silva’s, Georges St. Piere’s, Jose Aldo’s or Demetrious Johnson’s. Heavy is the head that wears the crown. As often works with crowns, sometimes one head keeps for reasons beyond our notions.
Rhys Dowbiggin @Rdowb
Rhys has worked six years in the public relations industry rubbing shoulders with movie stars (who ignored him) to athletes (who tolerated him). He likes tiki-taka football, jelly beans, and arguing with Bruce about everything.