Robbie Lawler was a bit taken aback when he found out that he would be fighting on the preliminary map of a UFC event for the first time in 20 years.
Lawler (29-15 MMA, 14-9 UFC), a former UFC welterweight champion and one of the most exciting competitors in the history of the sport, will fight Bryan Barberena (17-8 MMA, 8-6 UFC) at the undercard of UFC 276which takes place on July 2 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
The main card for the event will air on pay-per-view, following prelims just announced for broadcast on both ABC and ESPN — and early prelims on ESPN and ESPN+.
While the preliminary card platform sometimes brings more eyeballs than the main card of a pay-per-view, there is a certain prestige that comes with being placed at the top of the lineup. Lawler has not been in the preliminaries of a UFC card since his promotional debut against Aaron Riley at UFC 37 in May 2002, admitting he did not expect to be back at this stage of his career.
“I’m not going to lie: I was surprised,” Lawler told MMA Junkie on Friday. “I’m like, ‘OK, whatever.’ I can get out of there earlier, which is nice. I wish they would just put me first. Start the show and then leave. Maybe fly home.”
The fight with Barberena at UFC 276 is a dramatic shift from Lawler’s most recent fight. “Relentless” is come out of a TKO win on Nick Diaz at UFC 266 in September 2021 in a highly anticipated rematch of one of the decisive losses of his career. It was a contest between a tent and a fellow legend, but now Lawler meets Barberena, who isn’t in the same stratosphere as Diaz in regards to star power.
But that’s fine with Lawler, because he knows that Barberena is going to bring an action-packed affair.
“I mean, it’s obviously completely different,” Lawler said. “They’re both left-handers, which is nice. (I) just trained for a leftie in Nick, and Bryan is a leftie. It’s quite a transition. I don’t have to switch too much. But it’s all about staying focused and being a pro and trying to bring that same energy into a fight against Bryan. … There’s definitely no backstory, but Bryan comes to fight, and that’s a pretty good story. I come to fight, and the fans will get what they love: two guys going out and looking for standing finishes. You never know what will happen. Maybe he’ll struggle, but we’ll see. I am excited to go out and show my skills.”
UFC 276 is Lawler’s first fight since he turned 40 in March. He is unwilling to put a timeline on when he will leave the competition, but said he is happy with his performance in the gym and octagon at the moment and has no desire to walk away.
“One fight at a time,” Lawler said. “We’ll see what happens. I like doing this. I can do it at a high level. I train with really good guys at Sanford MMA. They push me. I keep my own. So as long as I enjoy it and my body feels good and I’m excited to fight and put on a show, then I’ll keep doing it.”
The entirety of Lawler’s focus at the moment is centered around Barberena. He’s excited to be a part of the UFC’s annual International Fight Week festivities, and while competition for performance bonuses will be fierce, Lawler expects to be in the running when the UFC buyer drops extra checks at the end of the night. of $50,000.
“I always feel like I’m going out to fight,” Lawler said. “That’s the only way I know how to do this. I’ve been doing this for a long time. I don’t plan on changing my style anytime soon. But there are really good fighters on the map. Really good fighters – really technical, really exciting. Boys who pop, boys who do everything. It’s going to be hard to get that Performance of the Night.”