Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald 2: A Retrospective

There are a few fights in the short history of MMA that are responsible for triggering a disproportionately large influx of fans to the sport. One of those flashpoints is Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald 2, the main event of the fondly remembered UFC 189 card. It is the consensus greatest MMA fight of all time; a capstone to what is the consensus greatest UFC card of all time.

The UFC, perhaps cognizant of this fact, has uploaded it as a “Free Fight” to their YouTube channel, in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic which leaves the future of sporting events uncertain.

Interestingly enough, this consensus greatest fight of all time received a fair share of boos from the crowd both during and at the end of the first round. The bloodlust of the fans in attendance at the MGM Grand was evidently not sated by the four preceding fights, three of which ended in KO/TKO and all of which ended in finishes.

This seemed strange to me even at the time; the first round was definitely a feeling out process, but it was not entirely bereft of action.

Nonetheless, anyone who was booing after the first was certainly not booing after the second. MacDonald was finding some success going to the body, but Lawler turned it on toward the end of the round with some devastating shots to the head. MacDonald was bleeding profusely from his face; it was later revealed that he broke his nose.

It was a fight with a number of turning points; moments where we thought one guy or the other was about to take over. In the third round; Rory shoots for a single leg, which Robbie defends beautifully. As a result of the scramble, Rory finds himself in the turtle position and Lawler dishes out damage before the two fighters get back to their feet. This was not the last time MacDonald attempted to wrestle, but it was destined for this fight to remain on the feet.

Late in the third round, McDonald landed a right high kick to the head which Lawler ostensibly blocked. But it soon became evident that this kick hurt Lawler. He backed up toward the fence, where MacDonald let his hands go; punishing Lawler for a good 30 seconds before the bell mercifully ended the round. No one would have blamed referee Big John McCarthy for stopping the fight right then and there. But he didn’t, and Lawler survived the onslaught and live to see the championship rounds.

The fourth round picked up where the third left off, with MacDonald putting it on Lawler. Punches, high kicks, elbows, knees, front kicks to the body; Rory was throwing everything at Robbie. Lawler, although never truly getting his legs back under him, once again survived. Rory smartly retreats and starts choosing his shots carefully (as opposed to burning himself out trying to get the finish), landing some beautiful combos.

Toward the middle of the fourth round, the tide began to turn back in Lawler’s favor. Lawler was landing some nice shots on Rory, whose face was covered in blood, largely thanks to his broken nose.

That broken nose would prove to be the deciding factor in the fight, as in the final round, after repeatedly absorbing powerful shots to the face, Rory simply could not take the pain anymore, falling onto his back and absorbing a bit of ground and pound before the fight was stopped.

Two of the most violent fighters stepped into the cage and produced one of the most violent fights in history. But while the fight is most remembered for its violence, these men also displayed a high level of skill; this was far from Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots. Unfortunately, as with every combat sports war, neither of them would ever be the same.

MacDonald fought just once more in the UFC (a loss to Stephen Thompson) before going to Bellator. He is 3-3-1 since this fight, and has never looked the same. Lawler is 2-4, and has lost 3 consecutive fights. Shockingly, MacDonald earned just $59,000 dollars for this historic performance.

But for 20 or so minutes, you can forget all of this unpleasantness and appreciate these two warriors giving everything they have and producing a masterpiece of a fight.