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.

 

 

 

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UFC Fight Night Ottawa: MacDonald vs Thompson Preview

The UFC heads to Ottawa for the first time on Saturday night (18th June) for a welterweight showdown between the Canadian Rory MacDonald and Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson. A win would see either fighter thrust into the number one contender spot but for MacDonald there could be even more at stake…

The UFC’s welterweight division has got a reputation for being one of the most talent-stacked and exciting divisions in combat sports. Dominant champions such as Georges St. Pierre and Matt Hughes have consistently been at the centre of some of this young sport’s biggest moments, meaning that the pressure from fans for fighters to perform can be pretty high.

You could forgive the current crop of 170lb fighters then for struggling to live up to the dizzyingly high expectations set by their legendary predecessors. However, a quick scan of the division’s top ten throws up a ton of mouth-watering match ups – the most exciting being right at the top of the division between  #1 ranked brawler Rory MacDonald and #2 ranked karate and kickboxing prodigy Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson.

Following in the footsteps of his Tristar team mate, mentor and fellow Canadian Georges St. Pierre, Rory was tipped by many to be the new face of the 170lb division when he made his UFC debut against Mike Guymon aged just 21-years-old. Following a loss to Carlos Condit in his second UFC bout MacDonald went on to win eight of his next ten fights – thus cementing himself as a serious title threat at welterweight.

There is one man in the division who MacDonald is yet to overcome, though. Both of the two defeats he has suffered in his last ten fights have come at the hands of the division’s current champion ‘Ruthless’ Robbie Lawler – the most recent of which was one of the most brutal and bloody title fights we’ve ever seen inside the Octagon at UFC 189 in July last year (I implore you to watch that fight if you’ve not seen it).

The big question going into the fight with ‘Wonderboy’ then is if Rory will come back the same fighter after the damage he sustained in that last fight. There’s no question that the Canadian has the tools and the ability to overcome Thompson – but we’ve seen plenty of fighters return from brutal beatings without the same mental edge plenty of times before.

He needs to dictate the pace of the fight by closing the distance with his boxing before taking Thompson to the mat where he has multiple ways to finish the fight. Getting ‘Wonderboy’ to the mat though has been something that even some of the best wrestlers in the division have failed to do.

Thompson fights long with a very unique side-on karate stance that gives his opponent barely anything to shoot at when going for a takedown – meaning that getting hold of both of his legs is almost impossible. In his last fight against Johny Hendricks, ‘Wonderboy’ dismantled him with kicks and punches and barely allowed the former champion close enough to land a punch, never mind a takedown.

That’s why it’s important for Rory to come out very fast if he wants to win this fight. Letting Thompson get into a rhythm with his kicks is just about the worst thing he could do as it allows him to slowly pick his opponent apart.

Free Agency

A win for either fighter would surely see them pitted against the winner of Lawler vs Woodley for a shot at the belt. However, with Rory on the last fight of his contract a win would give him unique leverage when he tests the free agency market – something a fighter of his calibre has never done before.

This scenario would give the UFC a very big headache should he demand a huge payday. The idea of letting the division’s number one contender walk away and sign for Bellator is unfathomable from a fan’s perspective, especially if it prevents a third fight with Lawler from taking place. Letting him leave would also arguably be the first time an elite fighter in his prime has snubbed the UFC for a rival promotion, and I can assure you that the UFC absolutely do not want that to happen.

Whether Rory wins or loses, you can be certain that Bellator will table a huge offer in an attempt to lure the Canadian to fight for them. Althoug fans want to see Lawler vs MacDonald 3, most would agree that the next best thing would be a clash between Rory and the current Bellator welterweight champion Andrey Koreshkov – a man who convincingly defeated Benson Henderson in his most recent title defence.