I understand that I’m not passing along any stunning or profound revelations here, but… it’s amazing that Robbie Lawler finds himself in a UFC welterweight championship fight in 2014. The same fighter who first competed in the UFC from 2002 to 2004, who was 3-5 in eight Strikeforce fights, is now one win away from being the champion in his weight class.
I was pretty vocal about saying that Lawler would lose to Rory MacDonald, and ended up getting burned for it. I believed that MacDonald was better at Lawler at everything except knockout power. When the fight actually took place, MacDonald was visibly hesitant to attack. He seemed visibly nervous as he retreated around the cage, unwilling to get drawn into a punching exchange. By contrast, Lawler was relaxed and confident, and took the fight straight to MacDonald.
In my mind, it was an example of one fighter overachieving and his opponent underachieving. Even then, Lawler only won by split decision as he was taken down four times, but it was a decision I felt Lawler deserved.
But as I’ve had time to reflect on the fight, I think Lawler deserves a lot of credit for fighting to the best of his ability. Lawler is clearly a more effective fighter at welterweight than he was at middleweight in Strikeforce. I remember the Robbie Lawler who got picked apart by Melvin Manhoef and was very tentative against Lorenz Larkin. So far, that Lawler hasn’t showed up in the UFC. He’s been replaced by a much more confident version.
Johny Hendricks is a fighter who has absorbed more significant strikes than he’s landed in the UFC. Necessary context: Hendricks has faced a series of very difficult opponents, including Georges St-Pierre and Carlos Condit. Hendricks also hits a lot harder than his opponents usually do, so his strikes are more effective than his opponents. Regardless, Hendricks has absorbed over three significant strikes per minute, and now faces an opponent in Lawler who has seriously intense punching power.
I’m not sure who would win a striking match between Hendricks and Lawler. Both fighters are very dangerous but they’ve also both struggled at times against various opponents. It seems like a 50-50 situation to me.
That means Hendricks should really attack Lawler with takedowns early and often. Hendricks has landed 4.77 takedowns per 15 minutes in the UFC and WEC, more than any other welterweight currently competing in the UFC. He’s taken down St-Pierre, Josh Koscheck, Rick Story, and anybody else Hendricks has tried to take down. Lawler’s overall takedown defense is average at 63 percent; if St-Pierre and Koscheck got taken down by Hendricks, then Lawler will get taken down as well.
It’s very important for Lawler that he get back to his feet as quickly as possible, and give himself as many chances to win by knockout as possible. By doing so, Lawler will also force Hendricks to burn a ton of energy and perhaps gas himself out in the later rounds.
Where Lawler has hope is that Hendricks lacks a polished Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu game. Hendricks has landed 46 total takedowns but has only passed guard 13 times and attempted five submissions. Hendricks is the kind of fighter who lands takedowns to score points more than anything. He doesn’t profile as a fighter who is likely to finish Lawler on the ground.
Lawler is very dangerous and a constant threat to finish, but I can’t favor him here. The best case scenario for Lawler – standing distance – is still a toss-up as far as I see it. More often, I expect Lawler to be struggling off his back as Hendricks looks to grind him out with takedowns and top control. Lawler has earned my respect but I’ll be surprised if he wins this fight.
Pick: Johny Hendricks by decision
DEGENERATE GAMBLER’S CORNER
Hendricks absorbs too many strikes for me to feel good about betting him at -400. If anything, that price is a bit high… and I say that as somebody who felt Rory MacDonald should have been way more than a 4-1 favorite against Lawler. I’ve learned my lesson, and it’s to not pay a high price to bet against a fighter who is always a threat to win by KO. At the same time, I really think Hendricks is going to win this fight, so I don’t want to bet on Lawler at +325 either.