Lawler promises balanced attack when he takes on dos Anjos in Winnipeg

WINNIPEG — UFC fans should see a new-and-improved Robbie Lawler in two months.

Following his unanimous decision over Donald Cerrone this past July, the former welterweight champion took a closer look at himself and decided he wanted to make improvements.

The No. 1-ranked contender is working on his grappling and striking, but he's also aiming to get quicker and stronger to showcase a more-balanced attack.

So far things are going as planned, Lawler told media Wednesday as he and No. 5-ranked Rafael dos Anjos promoted their UFC Fight Night headliner Dec. 16 at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg.

"I have nine, eight weeks left and my body feels great," Lawler, 37, said. "I feel stronger than I've been in a long time, just building from here."

The winner will get to meet welterweight champion Tyron Woodley in a title bout.

For Lawler that would be a rematch with the man he lost the title to in a July 2016 first-round knockout, but that's not what's driving him.

"If I don't get past Rafael it doesn't really matter, so you've got to focus on one fight and get that done and see what happens after that," said Lawler, who brings a 28-11 record with one no contest into the event.

The loss to Woodley was actually a positive thing for the California native, who trains in Florida.

"I changed a lot of things around me, worked on myself and got better," the father of a seven-year-old son said.

"When you lose in life, sometimes you win. I feel like I'm one of those guys who's always been a winner. If I lose, what can I learn from that situation? How can I change things?

"That's what I went and did. It wasn't a loss, it was a win."

Dos Anjos (27-9), a former lightweight champ who turns 33 next week, is unbeaten in two fights since moving up to the 170-pound weight class earlier this year.

A shot at a welterweight title against Woodley is extra incentive for the Brazilian, who holds a jiu-jitsu black belt.

"It's one more thing to motivate me, to become a two-division champion," said dos Anjos, who won the lightweight title in March 2015 and lost it the following year.

His two victories this year against Neil Magny and Tarec Saffiedine reinforced he made the right decision to move up from the 155-pound class.

He recalled the struggle of cutting 19 pounds in the week leading up what ended up being a first-round knockout and title loss at the hands of Eddie Alvarez in July 2016.

"On the warm-up before the fight, I couldn't break my sweat," dos Ajos recalled of dehydration.

"I was trying to break the sweat and I was dry. That was bad. When I got clicked on my chin it wasn't that hard and I was seeing everything, but I lost my legs. I couldn't stand. That was bad."

He still has to drop from his usual 180 or so, but overall he feels better physically, mentally and personally. He recently went on a European vacation with his wife and two sons aged 17 and eight.

"I'm still making adjustments," he said of competing in the new division, "but I just feel healthier."

The main card for the Winnipeg event also features Canadian light-heavyweight Misha Cirkunov (13-3) taking on American-based Brazilian Glover Teixeira. The eighth-ranked Cirkunov, from Toronto, has won eight of his last nine fights.

The welterweight bout pits Argentinian Santiago Ponzinibbio against American Mike Perry, while the featherweight fight is a rematch between former champion Jose Aldo of Brazil and American Ricardo Lamas.

Judy Owen, The Canadian Press