UFC 201: Lawler vs Woodley Preview

LawlerUFC welterweight champion ‘Ruthless’ Robbie Lawler will defend his belt for the third time against fellow American Top Team fighter Tyron Woodley on Saturday night (30th July) at UFC 201 in Atlanta, Georgia.

In a sport renowned for its moments of violence, Robbie Lawler (27-10, 1 N/C) stands out above most for his ability to get involved in brutal fights. The champion’s 15-year journey from hot-prospect to world champion has been decidedly unconventional, but the 34-year-old Californian has never been one for doing things the easy way.

Like expensive cheese, Lawler is a fighter that has most certainly improved with age. His willingness to stand and trade with opponents earned him some impressive knockouts early in his career, but more technical and well-rounded foes often managed to pick him apart with his inability to fight on the ground often being highlighted.

However, since making his return to the UFC and the welterweight division in 2013, ‘Ruthless’ has won eight of his last nine against world class opposition – a feat that has earned him the 170lb belt and the number four spot in the pound-for-pound rankings.

His opponent, Tyron Woodley (15-3), is a man who has patiently been biding his time for a shot at UFC gold. The NCAA Division I wrestler last stepped foot into the octagon in January 2015 where he earned a close split decision victory over Kelvin Gastelum.

Woodley was scheduled to fight former champion Johny Hendricks at UFC 192 in October 2015, but when Hendricks pulled out due to complications with his weight cut, Woodley took the bold step of deciding not to accept another fight unless it was for the belt – a move that surprisingly paid off.

The match-up

Woodley’s best chance of winning this fight is to knock the champion out in the first round. His two biggest weapons are his right hand and his quick double-leg takedown – both of which rely heavily on explosiveness.  As the fight wears on he runs the risk of becoming tired and predictable, whereas Lawler will only become more dangerous.

You can also expect to see Woodley throwing kicks with his right leg. Lawler has had trouble dealing with leg kicks in the past and Woodley should be able to throw them freely without the fear of being taken down.

Aside from the striking, his other option is to try and out-wrestle Lawler for the first couple of rounds in a bid to tire him out. Woodley comes from a decorated collegiate wrestling background and he’s definitely got the size to keep the champion on the mat if he can get him there.

However, it’s getting him there that will prove challenging. Over the years Lawler has developed phenomenal defensive wresting which helped him to continually stuff the takedowns of high-level wrestlers in Johny Hendricks and Rory MacDonald.

Lawler’s Striking

The champion’s most effective weapon is without a doubt his combinations. Those who say that Lawler isn’t an elite striker clearly haven’t been watching closely over the last few years as he’s evolved.

Early in his career Lawler was winning some fights based purely on his sheer will to break opponents. That threat has now been compounded by a newfound ability to cut angles and land hard, clean shots. He’s also very good at naturally moving his head off the centre line which means he often slips punches without even realising he’s doing it.

What makes him especially unique though is that he’s a southpaw who’s naturally right-handed. This means that although his power hand is his left, his right-handed jab is an extremely effective weapon.

When fighting an orthodox fighter (like Woodley) he’ll close the distance by throwing the right jab and getting his right foot on the outside. A lot of the time this will end up forcing his opponent’s head directly into the path of the oncoming straight left.

Prediction – Lawler by unanimous decision

Lawler’s not getting any younger and with the damage he’s taken over his career it’s only a matter of time before we start to see some decline. It’s these two factors, combined with Woodley’s power, that make an early knockout in favour of the challenger a very real possibility.

However, if we see the Lawler that we’re used to seeing on Saturday night then it’s hard to imagine him not retaining his belt. His striking ability and long list of intangibles have made him one of the most fearsome and entertaining fighters in the UFC today, and for that reason I think we’ll see him pick up a unanimous decision victory.