Let’s play a little game, shall we Lowkickers?
The first person in this scenario is thought to have some of the most concussive power in combat sports. He made his UFC debut in 2002 at UFC 37 when single handedly proved why Aaron Riley is one of the toughest men on the face of the Earth. He’s been a small middleweight for most of his career now, but has returned to welterweight for one more run inside the UFC. Any guesses?
The second person is an extremely talented lightweight that has been a bit of an underachiever throughout his career. He entered the octagon at UFC 44, and absolutely obliterated Gerald Strebent. After a knockout loss to Yves Edwards he blazed a trail on the local scene, and helped turn San Jose into a mixed martial arts hotbed. He’s had some injury troubles, but is looking to find his groove at 34 years old. Need a hint?
The men I’m speaking on are Robbie Lawler and Josh Thomson, two of the most accomplished (and hungry) fighters entering the UFC after the fall of Strikeforce. Josh began his recent UFC run with an emphatic TKO of the iron chinned Nate Diaz last Saturday. Robbie finished the perennial contender Josh Koscheck at UFC 157 in the first round, and is set to face off against the last Strikeforce Champion Tarec Saffiedine at UFC on Fox 8.
Robbie left the UFC for greener pastures as he was truly one of the most sought after American prospects after his run in the UFC. Pat Miletich hinted in multiple interviews made 6 and 7 years ago that Lawler coming back to the UFC wouldn't happen because he was getting paid over 6 figures a year by multiple other promoters. Staying at middleweight, after his last UFC fight against Evan Tanner, didn't affect him in a negative light. He took out multiple high profile names around the time like Joey Villasenor, Falaniko Vitale, and Frank Trigg. His lone setback was against Jason Miller before entering Elite XC, and then moving over to Strikeforce.
His Strikeforce run was a bit forgettable as he went 3-5, and lost to the highest ranked guys he faced. It was not all bad though, as his last fight against Lorenz Larkin showed him that if he wanted to make one more run at the top of the sport he needed to do it at 170. Something to keep in mind for the future for Robbie is will this foray back to 170 hurt his conditioning. The reason he gave for moving up 8 years ago was the weight cut was doing too much damage to his body. If Tarec is able to pull him into deep waters its possible he could wilt under the pressure. However, if he can push through the grind Robbie is a tough match up for anybody in the world.
Thomson departed what was the second biggest promotion on the planet (at the time) not because he was getting great offers elsewhere. Josh exited because his entire division was cut from the promotion. After Josh and Yves Edwards went at it at UFC 49, in what should have been a title fight as both were highly ranked, The UFC decided to focus on welterweight through heavyweight. Which meant guys like Thomson, Edwards, and Hermes Franca were left out of the fold.
Josh didn’t stay unemployed for long though, and fought almost exclusively in California over the next 4 years helping build Strikeforce. He went 5-1 in his Strikeforce career before earning a title shot against his friend Gilbert Melendez. Josh took a decision in what is undoubtedly the best performance of his career so far.
The next 4 years didn’t treat him so well. Injuries started to add up, and he ended up having to drop multiple fights (and fight injured in the ones he decided to go through with). A loss to Tatsuya Kawajiri was the final straw for him as he decided to stay on the sidelines until he was 100% healthy. His first fight back was a boring, but clear decision win against KJ Noons (that he famously chastised himself right after the fight was over). Next up was a rubber match against Gil. Thomson again got a small injury in training, but took the fight anyway. In what many experts perceive as statement that he was back, Thomson put on a wonderful performance losing a razor thin decision after dominating the second half of the fight.
After sitting out the last few months of Strikeforce Thomson took out Nate this past weekend. It was a virtuoso type performance, which not only showcased Josh’s underrated skill-set, but also proved he could put an extremely intelligent game plan together. The future again looks bright for the guy who Rogan once labeled the biggest 155lber competing in mixed martial arts (he now is “average” for the weight class). He is again firmly entrenched in the top ten ranks, and looking to take on another contender.
What Thomson has to stay away from is overtraining. He is a notorious gym rat that has been overzealous while fighting injured on more than one occasion. At 34, he can’t afford to take himself out of the game at this stage in his career.