On the Joe Rogan Podcast, Jonathan Koppenhaver (known as “War Machine”), revealed that while he was on The Ultimate Fighter Season Six (TUF 6), Robbie Lawler was an assistant coach and did not spar.
Lawler was selected as a wrestling coach for Matt Hughes, as they both came out of the legendary Miletich Fight Systems camp.
“He’s tough and his durable… He was one of my coaches on TUF, Baroni would always tell me that Lawler doesn’t spar. I’m like yeah right dude. Lawler, that’s probably all he does is spar, he’s a striker. So I asked him on the show, ‘Hey do you spar?’ He’s like, ‘no man why would I spar? I know how to fight. I dont have to spar, I just wrestle. I wrestle, I run, I lift weights. The way he said it was just funny.”
Rogan then started questioning whether or not it’s a viable option for preventing damage. Koppenhaver shared the sentiment that he believes sparring is most important as a beginner, to get comfortable. But once a competitor is relaxed and comfortable, one does not need to spar hard frequently.
In a 2007 interview with Sherdog, teammate Jens Pulver commented: “Hall: The training sessions at the Miletich camp in Iowa are legendary. Who’s the guy no one wants to spar with?
Pulver: Well, weight-wise, nobody’s lining up to spar with Robbie Lawler. I can tell you that. It’s like pulling teeth knowing I have to stand there and stare across from Robbie Lawler. You basically go in there like, “This is going to hurt. But dammit, I’m going to hurt him back.” And just kind of hold out. But I don’t see people jumping for joy when Robbie Lawler and Robbie Lawler put the gear on.”
Recently, it’s been confirmed by Lawler himself that he didn’t spar for a long time.
Lawler told MMA Junkie: “I went through a patch where I did not spar for the longest time… I just watched other people spar and shadowboxed and learned from their mistakes…
Everything’s kind of clicking at the right time… My skills are getting better, and I’m getting stronger and training with a great team. It’s awesome to be a part of.”
The Miletich camp is known for having gym wars, and it’s not impossible to imagine that a fighter may want to lessen the sparring. But it’s quite peculiar that a fighter can get to an elite level without sparring, especially considering how he knocked out Melvin Manhoef — an elite kickboxer out of the legendary “Mike’s Gym”.
After multiple losses (3 wins 5 losses in the Strikeforce division), Lawler decided that it was time for a change and joined American Top Team. As implied by his statements, he’s sparring again, and the results show: impressive T(KO) wins against Bobby Voelker and Josh Koscheck got him a fight against highly ranked Rory MacDonald. After Georges St-Pierre decided to vacate it indefinitely, a split decision win against Rory MacDonald got him the a championship bout with Johny Hendricks
In Thailand, Thai fighters are known for sparring very light. But other than its technical benefits, many attribute that to a lower risk of injury, and the frequency in which they fight (as often as once a week). North Americans are commonly known for their “gym wars”, and that’s where most of the damage is believed to happen.
As shown by Lawler’s resume, he’s been there since the early days of MMA, and he’s had a career longer than most. He also possesses one of the greatest comeback stories in all of MMA — should he win the belt it will arguably be the greatest.
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