Posted 07/24/2014 by Mike Fagan in Untethered MMA

UFC on Fox 12: Robbie Lawler vs. Matt Brown Preview

The internet rejoiced when the UFC announced Matt Brown and Robbie Lawler would headline a Fox show in July. Not only are Brown and Lawler both (miraculously) legitimate title contenders, but their ball-dropping, leather-slinging, no-safe-words fighting styles make for a perfect showcase fight on the big network show.

This shouldn’t surprise us anymore. A couple weeks ago, I broke down how the UFC could ideally structure their cards. The UFC’s big problem has been watered-down pay-per-views thanks to meaningful fights between medium names headlining Fox Sports 1 or, even worse, Fight Pass shows. Lost in this (and in the tired talk of “oversaturation”) is the fact that the UFC has done a great job constructing these network shows.

Take the last Fox show in April. Fabricio Werdum and Travis Browne headlined, which isn’t the greatest main attraction for a casual audience, but it’s a relevant, high-stakes fight between two skilled heavyweights. The co-main featured Miesha Tate, who may be the only woman in the UFC not named Ronda Rousey with any sort of name value. Donald Cerrone and Edson Barboza delivered on the action expected of it, and Yoel Romero opened the show in a picture-perfect showcase sort of fight. (Oh, and Khabib Nurmagomedov and Rafael dos Anjos just happened to be the transition fight from Fox Sports 1 into the main card.)

This isn’t an isolated case. You can question some of the headliners (I’m looking at you 2012 Brandon Vera), but the UFC and Fox have found a main card formula that works.


This isn’t the first time you’ve heard this, and it likely won’t be the last time you hear it before Saturday, but if you had told me Robbie Lawler and Matt Brown would meet in the main event of a major card in 2014, I would have slapped you across the head and stolen your copy of the Sports Almanac.

Lawler looked like a mid-level gatekeeper when he returned to the UFC to fight Josh Koscheck last February. He’d started his MMA career 4-0 and rattled off three straight victories in the UFC as a 20 year old way back in 2002. His first lost came due to a hip injury against Pete Spratt, but Lawler rebounded with a decision victory over Chris Lytle. His first (and only) knockout loss came against Nick Diaz and a loss to Evan Tanner at middleweight saw him outside the UFC. There he went 8-1 – the lone loss coming against Jason Miller in Hawaii – and Lawler looked like he was turning things around as EliteXC assimilated into Strikeforce.

Lawler went 3-5 in Strikeforce, though his quality of opposition had ramped up as well. Jake Shields submitted him in a 182-pound catchweight fight. He then “moved up” to fight Renato “Babalu” Sobral at a 195-pound catchweight and lost that fight by decision. He lost back-to-back fights to Tim Kennedy and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, and ended his Strikeforce run with a decision loss to Lorenz Larkin (who is 1-3 in the UFC against middle-of-the-pack guys).

But Lawler finished Josh Koscheck and followed that up with a finish of Bobby Voelker. Then he surprised everyone with a split decision upset against Rory MacDonald and found himself in a welterweight title fight against Johny Hendricks after Georges St-Pierre abandoned the sports, its fans, and common decency for the glamor of a quiet home life. He lost the fight, narrowly, but rebounded with another finish – this time against Jake Ellenberger – and here we are.

Brown’s story is the improbability of Lawler’s plus some arbitrary number because I’m not sure what scale we’re using here. Matt Brown joined the cast of the Ultimate Fighter 7 (that’s the season coached by Quinton Jackson and Forrest Griffin for you old, forgetful fans or you new posers) with a 7-6 pro MMA record. And that’s not a record that’s better than it looks. His first and last losses came to UFC vets Pete Spratt and Chris Lytle, respectively, but the other four came to names like Mikey Gomez, Chris Liguori, Jesse Chilton, and Daniel Moraes.

Brown started his UFC run 3-1 with wins over no one of note before a 1-4 streak had fans questioning his qualifications as a “UFC fighter.” But then Brown beat Chris Cope. And Stephen Thompson. And Luis Ramos. And Mike Swick. And Jordan Mein. And Mike Pyle. And Erick Silva. The UFC’s been smart during this seven-fight win streak. They’ve given him incremental test after incremental test; Robbie Lawler’s the first top-ten will fight during this run. And now, if Brown improbably wins (he’s a 3-1 underdog), they have a fascinating story not tainted by artificial UFC hype.

Mike Fagan is a weekly contributor to MMA Owl. He also hosts Untethered MMA every Thursday at 7 p.m. ET. Follow him on Twitter


Mike Fagan