ATLANTA -- It has been open season on UFC champions in 2016. That trend continued this weekend.
The end of Lawler's title reign, which began in December 2014, was swift: One crushing right hand by Woodley put Lawler away at the 2:12 mark, making it the fastest finish in UFC welterweight title fight history.
Woodley (16-3), a former teammate of Lawler's at American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida, admitted it was bittersweet taking the title from an opponent he admired. Woodley, 34, now trains out of an ATT affiliate he opened in St. Louis.
"I was relaxed in the back," Woodley said. "I was nervous that I wasn't nervous. I knew what Robbie brought to the table. He's a tough competitor. This is not the first fight I would have picked. He's a friend of mine, and I admire his career. Hats off to Robbie. Ever since I stepped in this Octagon, I've had this mission. It feels amazing."
Lawler, who suffered just the second knockout loss of his career and the first since 2004, gave Woodley credit for the win.
"It is what it is," Lawler said. "He feinted me, my hand went down, he threw a punch over the top and it caught me. I expected that kind of stuff, but I was sitting back a little bit, not moving like I needed to. He took advantage."
Woodley is known for his piston-like overhand right, and it showed up in the biggest fight of his career. He came out in the opening minutes circling away from Woodley, giving away the center of the Octagon.
Lawler (27-11) happily took the middle and started pursuing Woodley with measured punches and kicks. He blocked Woodley's first right hand of the night and then fended off an attempt at a takedown in the clinch. Lawler did show a lot of respect to Woodley's power, which might have contributed to the knockdown. According to Fightmetric research, Lawler threw only seven total strikes.
"We just knew Robbie would be well-prepared for takedowns and hit me with knees and uppercuts," Woodley said. "I used a little speed, a blitz to cover the gap. I saw the opening and went for the right hand. Something kept telling me the right hand would be open."
Saturday marked the fifth knockout of Woodley's UFC career.
The UFC title ends a long road for Woodley to reach the top. After suffering a lackluster loss to Rory MacDonald in June 2014, Woodley won back-to-back fights against Dong Hyun Kim and Kelvin Gastelum. He was then scheduled to fight former champion Johny Hendricks last October, but the fight was canceled the day before because Hendricks couldn't make weight.
Rather than take on another fight, Woodley elected to wait for a title fight against Lawler, even though it wasn't guaranteed. It worked out, but he told ESPN.com before Saturday he would never allow an opponent to dictate his fight schedule again. As a newly crowned champion, that shouldn't be an issue.
His first challenge might come in the form of Stephen Thompson (13-1). A former professional kickboxer, Thompson is on a seven-fight win streak, which includes wins against Johny Hendricks and MacDonald.
Diaz (26-9) is set to come off an 18-month suspension for marijuana metabolites on Aug. 1. St-Pierre (25-2) vacated the title in 2013, but has publicly commented on a potential comeback multiple times in recent months.
"I think Nick Diaz comes off suspension in two days. I would love to fight him at UFC 202," Woodley said. "I think he deserves it. He's a guy who's been around the sport for a long time, puts a lot of butts in the seats, sells a lot of pay-per-views.
"Or I would like to fight Georges St-Pierre in New York City. Stephen Thompson said he wanted to fight Robbie Lawler. He said it was a better matchup, fans would be excited to watch. He'll get an opportunity for that fight."