Robbie Lawler was caught a tad off guard when he found out he would be fighting on the preliminary card 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, is set to fight Bryan Barberena (17-8 MMA, 8-6 UFC) on the undercard of UFC 276, which takes place July 2 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
The main card for the event will air on pay-per-view, following prelims that were just announced to air on both ABC and ESPN – and early prelims on ESPN and ESPN+.
Although the preliminary-card platform sometimes brings more eyeballs than the main card of a pay-per-view, there’s a certain prestige that comes with being placed on the top portion of the lineup. Lawler hasn’t been on the prelims of a UFC card since his promotional debut against Aaron Riley at UFC 37 in May 2002, and he admitted he didn’t expect to be back there 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 get to get out of there earlier, which is nice. I wish they just put me first. Start the show and then get out. Maybe fly home.”
The fight with Barberena at UFC 276 is a dramatic shift from Lawler’s most recent fight. “Ruthless” is coming off a TKO win over Nick Diaz at UFC 266 in September 2021 in a highly anticipated rematch of one of the defining losses of his career. It was a marquee matchup against a fellow legend, but now Lawler meets Barberena, who isn’t in the same stratosphere as Diaz in regard to star power.
That’s fine with Lawler, though, because he knows Barberena is going to bring an action-packed affair.
“I mean, obviously it’s totally different,” Lawler said. “They’re both lefties, which is nice. (I) just trained for a leftie in Nick, and Bryan’s a leftie. It’s a decent transition. I don’t have to switch too much up. But it’s all about staying focused and being a professional and trying to bring that same energy to a fight against Bryan. … There’s definitely no back story, but Bryan comes to fight, and that’s a pretty good story. I come to fight, and the fans are going to get what they love: two guys going out there looking for finishes standing up. You never know what’s going to happen. Maybe he’ll wrestle, but we’ll see. I’m excited to go out there and showcase my skills.”
“Just one fight at a time,” Lawler said. “We’ll see what happens. I enjoy doing this. I can do it at a high level. I’m training with really good guys at Sanford MMA. They’re pushing me. I’m holding my own. So as long as I’m enjoying it and my body feels good and I’m excited to fight and put on a show, then I’m going to continue to do it.”
The entirety of Lawler’s focus at the moment is centered around Barberena. He’s excited to be part of the UFC’s annual International Fight Week festivities, and though the competition is going to be fierce for performance bonuses, Lawler expects to be in the running when the UFC brass issues extra $50,000 checks at the end of the night.
“I always feel like I’m going to go out there and put on a fight,” Lawler said. “That’s the only way I know how to do this. I’ve been doing this a long time. I’m not planning on switching my style anytime soon. But there’s really good fighters on the card. Really good fighters – real technical, real exciting. Guys who bang, guys who do it all. It’s going to be a tough one to get that Performance of the Night.”