The UFC’s welterweight division has been controlled for years by the dominant Georges St-Pierre. It’s a division that’s seen very little change at the top, but two improbable stars are looking to shake things up.

“Ruthless” Robbie Lawler and Matt “The Immortal” Brown are both on their way to completely revitalizing their careers in the Octagon. Both are in positions to become major title contenders and overcome an immense amount of struggles throughout their careers.

Lawler burst onto the MMA scene all the way back in 2002 when he debuted at UFC 37. He instantly became the unofficial golden boy of the UFC, with many comparing him to boxing great Mike Tyson due to the brutal punching power he possessed. Lawler was well on his way to becoming a major star with a record of 8-1 before meeting a then-unknown Nick Diaz. Pegged as a grappler (Diaz) vs. striker (Lawler) match-up, Diaz actually out-struck Lawler for much of the fight en route to delivering a finishing blow that caused a Lawler faceplant into the canvas.

Lawler lost his next match-up to Evan Tanner and departed from the UFC. Possessing a big name to go with his big power, Lawler found success on the regional scene prior to joining the upstart EliteXC. He took out Murilo “Ninja” Rua and Scott Smith to win the EliteXC middleweight championship and joined Strikeforce after EliteXC closed up shop. It is here where Lawler’s career began to spiral downward.

During his stint with Strikeforce, Lawler went 3-5 and struggled to remain relevant in an ever-evolving sport. MMA had become a global phenomenon, and it appeared as though Lawler would join the rest of his “old guard” counterparts either on the senior circuit or in retirement.

But Lawler came home to the UFC once Strikeforce folded and was immediately placed in the cage with another fading star, Josh Koscheck. The match-up appeared to be an absolute nightmare for Lawler. Nobody doubted Lawler had the power to end Koscheck’s night, but it was expected to be a wrestling clinic taught by the former All-American Koscheck. Funny thing is, the complete opposite occurred. Not only did Lawler successfully make the 170-pound weight limit for the first time in years, but he earned “Knockout of the Night” honors for his first-round TKO of Koscheck.

A highlight-reel knockout over Bobby Voelker followed, but it did little to elevate Lawler’s status. Many still had him pegged as a fighter with continued drawing power, but little chance to actually compete in the top 10. That all changed at UFC 167 when Lawler dethroned Rory MacDonald, the heir apparent to GSP, by split decision. By not allowing MacDonald to use his top game, Lawler showed that he had improved on the ground. He also demonstrated that he still has plenty of pop in his hands. The win over MacDonald has Lawler sitting at third in the UFC welterweight rankings and very well could be involved in the next UFC title match-up if GSP doesn’t return to face Johny Hendricks.

Let’s not forget the other half of the unlikely duo of welterweight contenders. Matt Brown has never had a big name or a highlight-reel finish to write home about. He began his UFC career as a middle-of-the-pack fighter, and it appeared as though that’s where his ceiling would remain. He quietly put together a 3-1 run to begin his UFC career, but had an absolutely disastrous 2010 that saw him drop three straight. A win over John Howard saved his job, if only for another day. A simple mistake against Seth Baczynski looked to be the last straw for Brown.

However, just as his nickname suggests, “The Immortal” lived to fight another day. After the submission loss to Baczynski at UFC 139, Brown has yet to taste defeat again, a streak that spans six straight wins. Included in those wins are knockouts over the very durable Mike Swick and Mike Pyle and top prospects Jordan Mein and Stephen Thompson. Brown has seemingly gone through life with one foot on the edge, from a heroin overdose to a middling journeyman-type career. But just when it appears Brown is down and out, he somehow turns things around. He’ll look to continue that magic against Carlos Condit at UFC on Fox 9. A win could place him in a position to challenge for the UFC title very soon.

But which guy has had the more impressive resurgence thus far?

Well, Brown’s career revival surpasses that of Lawler’s. Although Lawler has beaten stiffer competition in his recent return to the Octagon, we’ve known and seen that Lawler can be an elite-level fighter when he’s allowed to use his striking game. There’s never been a doubt about Lawler’s talent or potential. The same can’t be said of Brown. If the UFC had cut him after the three losses in 2010, not many fans would have noticed that his roster page was missing.

The UFC would’ve met little resistance to cutting Brown, even after the Baczynski loss, regardless of how silly of a mistake it was for Brown to get caught in the guillotine. It would mark the fourth time in five fights that Brown had been finished by submission, and a fighter on a 1-3 run isn’t an easy sell to fans. However, Brown could be counted on to make a fight interesting and, as we all know, that’s always a plus to the UFC brass.

Not only has Brown revived his career from the depths, but he may reach the heights of being labeled an elite fighter if he beats Condit. It won’t be easy, though. Brown’s intensity will be matched by Condit’s aggression, and Condit is regarded as one of the top three welterweights in the world for a reason.

Just imagine the nostalgia and craziness of this headliner: “Robbie Lawler vs. Matt Brown for the welterweight title.” If both can continue to get their hands raised, this crazy probability may become a reality.

Photo: Matt Brown (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

About The Author

Kyle Symes
Staff Writer

Kyle is a recent graduate of Aurora University, where he obtained a Bachelor's in Communications. Kyle resides in Illinois, just outside of Chicago. He played baseball and football in both high school and college, but is now focusing on an amateur MMA career.