There aren’t many fighters I’ve been more wrong about in recent memory in Robbie Lawler. To me, Lawler was a good fighter with a history of losing when matched up against top opponents. I didn’t buy him as a real title contender after a strange/fluky KO win over Josh Koscheck and a victory over Bobby Voelker. I was very confident that Rory MacDonald would beat Lawler and it wouldn’t be very competitive… cue the Family Feud “X” sound. I also thought Lawler wouldn’t have an answer for the takedowns of Johny Hendricks, but he did… and made that fight very exciting and competitive.
As much as history suggests that Lawler is merely a “good” fighter who isn’t a great volume striker or wrestler, I have to give him credit for out-performing my expectations on a consistent basis in recent history. I also have to consider that Lawler has been much more effective in the welterweight division than he was in the middleweight division against opponents like Tim Kennedy and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza.
With all of that said, I’m still skeptical about Lawler’s ability to consistently defend takedowns against powerful wrestlers. He did a great job against Hendricks, stopping eight out of 10 takedown attempts in five rounds, but he was also taken down four times by MacDonald and twice in one round by Koscheck. In this fight, Lawler faces another very tough wrestler in Jake Ellenberger, and I have to think that Ellenberger is going to succeed in taking Lawler down at some point.
I’m very conflicted when it comes to Ellenberger. On one hand, he’s the #1 rated welterweight in the UFC according to my Fighter Performance Rating statistic (GSP not included). This is mostly a result of dominating the takedown game, hitting like a ton of bricks, and not getting hit too often by his opponents. However, I feel like Ellenberger has to control fights with takedowns if he wants to win consistently. In his UFC career, Ellenberger is up 203 to 182 in standing strikes on his opponents, which is respectable but not good enough against top competition.
For the most part, Ellenberger makes up for a lack of precision with pure power, as he’s landed eight knockdowns and finished five fights by knockout. That’s great when he’s able to finish the fight, but when he doesn’t, he has a tough time winning a decision on points. Apart from his victory against Diego Sanchez (and who doesn’t land strikes on Diego?) all of Ellenberger’s decisions have either been losses or close wins. Even Ellenberger’s UFC 126 fight against non-striker Carlos Eduardo Rocha ended up being a split decision win for Ellenberger.
As long as this fight stays standing, I have to give the edge to Lawler for a couple reasons. One is that, even though Lawler has historically absorbed more standing strikes than he’s landed (603 landed, 611 absorbed), he sets a much higher pace than Ellenberger, and I don’t think Ellenberger will be able to match it. Another is that Lawler has an iron chin and hasn’t lost a fight by TKO in ten years. Ellenberger doesn’t have a poor chin either, but in a battle between sluggers, I have to think Lawler has a better chance of finishing the fight than Ellenberger.
Make no mistake about it, I’ve learned to respect what Robbie Lawler brings to the table in the UFC these days, as much as his resent resurgence has defied logic. But I just can’t get past the wrestling aspect of the fight. Unless Lawler finishes the fight quickly, I have to think that Ellenberger lands at least a couple takedowns in this fight, and if Ellenberger can control Lawler on the ground at all, it will be difficult for Lawler to make up for that with standing strikes. As much as I’ve come to respect Lawler, I just can’t bring myself to pick him to win yet despite his status as the betting favorite. But instead of being overly confident in Lawler’s defeat, I now see this fight as more of a toss-up and it has all the feel of a split decision with high potential for a controversial outcome.
Pick: Jake Ellenberger by decision