July 29, 2016

UFC 201: Robbie Lawler Isn't the PPV Draw He Should Be

By Adam Martin

Robbie Lawler is one of the best and most exciting fighters in the world today, but is he a pay-per-view draw? The UFC Welterweight Champion has headlined three PPVs since 2014, with the buyrates for those events as follows:

UFC 171: 300,000 (against Johny Hendricks)
UFC 181: 400,000 (against Johny Hendricks)
UFC 195: 300,000 (against Carlos Condit)

Those are decent numbers in this day and age, but certainly nothing to write home about, especially considering the quality of those opponents and the incredible fights all three of those bouts were.

In addition to those cards that Lawler headlined, he also was also on the undercard or in the co-main event of four PPVs. Their buyrates, as well as the main events of those cards, are listed below:

UFC 157: 450,000 (against Josh Koscheck, main event was Ronda Rousey's UFC debut vs. Liz Carmouche)
UFC 167: 630,000 (against Rory MacDonald, main event was Georges St-Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks)
UFC 173: 215,000 (against Jake Ellenberger, main event was TJ Dillashaw vs. Renan Barao)
UFC 189: 825,000 (against Rory MacDonald, main event was Conor McGregor vs. Chad Mendes)

In Lawler's nine bouts in the UFC since returning to the promotion in 2013, the longtime veteran of the sport has won four Fight of the Night awards as well as a Knockout of the Night award. Yet for whatever reason, his incredible fights haven't translated into him becoming a huge superstar at the box office, but rather a secondary star who seems best served in a co-main event role, despite the fact that he's clearly one of the best P4P fighters in MMA.

I'm not sure why this is, but perhaps it speaks to MMA culture, where great fighters who also have loud mouths, like McGregor and Rousey, tend to draw more than great fighters who speak little. Lawler is one of those fighters who does his talking with his fists, and while that's fine, it's also hurting him because he isn't selling as many PPVs and therefore is losing potential money as far as PPV points are concerned.

I don't think Lawler cares that much, since he's likely still making better money than 95 percent of the fighters in the sport, and the fact that he's holding a belt proves he's training and fighting the right way. But if Lawler started to open up more, started talking more, and started promoting more, he could be a PPV superstar in the same vein as GSP was.

For example, several months ago Lawler did an interview with an Atlanta TV station to promote his upcoming fight against Tyron Woodley at UFC 201, and it went viral. When the interviewer asked him if he'd fight McGregor, Lawler said he'd take his soul if the two ever met. It was genuine trash talk, and coming from Lawler's stoic face, it was extremely scary, and the video of him saying it crashed the internet. Lawler doesn't need to talk trash the same way McGregor
does, but if he can say things like his “soul” comment, and start saying it when more eyeballs are on him, he really has the potential to be a bigger draw in this sport, even at 34.

UFC 201 is flying under the radar because it's sandwiched between UFC 200 and UFC 202, and on paper, it's an exciting card but not super stacked. Still, Lawler is in the main event, and the UFC is counting on him and Woodley to sell a decent amount of PPVs. Considering the quality of the matchup, this PPV should really be doing something like 500,000 buys. But instead, I have a feeling it's going to do 300,000 or maybe even less. It's not Lawler's fault the UFC didn't stack the card, but at the same time, if he started promoting himself a bit more, perhaps there would be more PPV buys and he could benefit by making more money from those PPVs sold. Again, he is making solid money, but as a prizefighter, the goal is always to make as much money as possible.

If Lawler was smart, if he beats Woodley, he should call out McGregor, because if McGregor beats Nate Diaz at UFC 202, then it makes sense for him to skip the line and get the next title shot at 170 lbs, as the UFC is a business and no one draws bigger than McGregor. Or if he doesn't call out McGregor, then maybe he should call out GSP, who has talked many times about returning to the sport. Both of those fights would be massive box-office sellers and would make the UFC a lot of money, but especially Lawler and his opponents.

Instead, I have a feeling that if Lawler wins he won't call out anyone, and it will be a mistake, because McGregor is right there, ripe for the picking, as he fights in just a few weeks. Maybe Lawler realizes with how big his "soul" comment about McGregor got that this is a good opportunity for him to call out "Notorious" and potentially make a lot of money against an undersized opponent, but considering how quiet Lawler usually is, that probably isn't likely to happen. Still, a fight fan can dream that, even at 34, Lawler can change the way he promotes his fights. He's already changed the way he fights to turn from a gatekeeper into a champion, and now let's see if he can pass another hurdle, and move from a supporting act to a bonafide superstar. Lawler has all the tools, and he's been around the sport a long time, so let's see if he can do it.

UFC 201
Robbie Lawler vs. Tyron Woodley (UFC Welterweight Championship)

Click the stars to rate your anticipation for this fight.


UFC 201: Lawler vs. Woodley takes place on July 30, 2016 at Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.

Click the stars to rate how good you think UFC 201 will be.

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