Wild Things: Robbie Lawler vs Donald Cerrone
I never saw a wild thing
sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself.
DH Lawrence may not imagined mixed martial artists when he wrote the poem ‘Self-Pity’. Given one in his day, he would have needed to look no further.
Athletes in general are confident bordering on outright cockiness, combat sports athletes more than any. In a sport where being knocked out is a likely outcome, there is no sport that punishes its athletes for failure with as much public ferocity as MMA. The easiest mindset to deal with a world that can collapse around you suddenly is an unflinching, uncompromising level of confidence. Never waver, never doubt, never feel sorry for yourself.
If you are the kind of human whose occupation is a compelled by breaking down another person’s will for 15-25 minutes, knowing your opponent looks to do the same, you have little time for pity. If you are the kind of human being that can step into a cage knowing your consciousness (or a limb) will be the likely consequence, you have little time for self-pity.
If we were to turn Lawrence's poem into a fight, we would get Donald Cerrone versus Robbie Lawler.
Cerrone is MMA’s Cal Ripken Jr. With an astounding 24 UFC fights in six years - an average of a fight every 98 days - few have maintained as torrid a pace as Cowboy. The sight of a scowling Cerrone stalking forward behind sharp kicks and lancing knees is MMA’s version of McDonald’s – the brand of reliability. No matter when or where, Cerrone dishes out meals of action leaving fans satisfied yet hungry for more. His fights against Jamie Varner and Benson Henderson in the WEC are legendary. His UFC run similarly staked his claim as the people’s fighter.
Yet when Cowboy found himself a step close to gold, Cerrone’s reliability faltered. The Cowboy has been bucked from his horse on three significant occasions: losing a crucial fight to Nate Diaz in 2011, a Lightweight title match against Rafael Dos Anjos in 2015, and having a run in Welterweight snapped earlier this year to Jorge Masvidal. Always the bridesmaid, but never the bride.
Cerrone's insistence to push forward, always fighting as soon as he could, suggests Cerrone has little time for dwelling on those losses. Had he, like so many MMA fans, been as broken up about his setbacks, he would never have made such inspiring career turnarounds like defeating Benson Henderson 15 days after beating Myles Jury or recreating himself Welterweight. Cerrone has never had much time for slowing down.
Robbie Lawler is MMA’s James Braddock. Debuting as a fresh-faced 19-year-old, Lawler’s early career was one of great promise, built on a thunderous right hand and dogged aggression. MMA fans saw a young, hungry fighter ready to conquer the sport. However, that ideal was shattered when Lawler was finished in three of his next four fights. The UFC dropped Lawler and he found himself a boat on open water, wallowing in total chaos on the regional circuit. At its worst, Lawler lost five of eight in Strikeforce, fighting far up in weight at times against much larger opponents like Jacare Souza, Tim Kennedy, and Melvin Manhoef.
When he returned to the UFC nine years later in 2013, it was not heralded as a triumphant return but as an afterthought, a walking nostalgia trip. Then his thunderous knockout of Josh Koschek left the MMA world’s mouth agap. A follow-up, highlight reel knockout of Bobby Voelker one fight later and Lawler was suddenly a rejuvenated man. He would snatch the UFC Welterweight title before 2015 was out. After his war defending the strap against Rory Macdonald, upon the sight of a bloodied, roaring Lawler, his lip split gorily, we knew: Robbie Lawler was who we always hoped he could be.
Lawler rap sheet of 38 fights over 16 years rivals anyone in the sport today. But few have spent so much of it riding a rollercoaster. Through it all, Lawler's ability to dish out his brand of snarling, savage justice has been a constant. No fighter’s moniker is more apt. Despite every bump in the road, every misstep, Lawler returned as Ruthless as they come.
In their careers, Cerrone and Lawler have both faced tribulation and achieved triumph. Losses have come, but both men have stood in the face of them, Cerrone with his scowl, Lawler with his roar. You couldn’t find two men who feel less sorry for themselves.
If DH Lawrence were alive today, in this fight he would see wild things - two aggressive, intractable fighters - that would rather die than feel sorry for themselves. On Saturday, one of those wild things will emerge victorious. Don’t feel sorry for the defeated - because they won’t.
Rhys Dowbiggin @Rdowb
Rhys is the host of The Hurt Take on Not The Public Broadcaster