Before I talk about this fight, I need to put a disclaimer on this post. I’ve been mostly wrong about Robbie Lawler since he returned to the UFC. I picked Josh Koscheck to beat him. I picked Rory MacDonald to beat him and thought MacDonald was undervalued as a nearly 4-1 favorite. I picked Jake Ellenberger to beat him. So that’s not a good record. You could easily ignore what I have to say about this fight, and I wouldn’t blame you for it at all.
With that said, I’ve gained a tremendous amount of respect for Lawler as a fighter who has suddenly become a confident, aggressive striker with very good KO power and solid takedown defense. None of those things were true of Lawler when he competed in Strikeforce. Instead, Lawler was the guy who got chewed up for most of one round before knocking out Melvin Manhoef out of nowhere, and the guy who looked like a shot fighter in a lackluster loss to Lorenz Larkin.
It’s an improbable career turnaround, and it culminated with Lawler coming so close to winning the UFC welterweight title against Johny Hendricks in March. There’s no denying now that Lawler is not a fluke – his sudden improvements are for real.
Here’s the thing. While it took me way too long to respect Lawler as a high level fighter… I think the same thing is true of the MMA world regarding Matt Brown.
Don’t get me wrong, I had very little respect for Brown as a UFC welterweight a handful of fights ago. I thought he could beat the Chris Copes of the world but anytime he was matched up against a decent opponent, I would pick against him. Brown simply had a dismal record.
Somewhere along the way, Brown learned how to defend submissions, and then things turned around for him. A fighter who was 5-5 in the UFC suddenly went on a seven-fight winning streak, and now Brown finds himself possibly one win away from a title shot.
The thing is – Brown was always a pretty good striker. He’s a career 12-0 in fights ending by KO/TKO and only lost twice by decision. One of those two losses was a dubious split decision against Dong Hyun Kim at UFC 88. Even when his UFC record was 5-5, Brown was up 265-168 in significant strikes landed. His problem was always losing fights by submission. Now Brown has cleaned up that part of his game, and much like Mark Hunt, a fast rise up the ranks occurred after that.
Of course, Brown won’t have to worry about submissions when he faces Lawler. This figures to be a brutal back and forth striking match, a battle between fighters who simply don’t lose by knockout.
If the betting public is to be believed, then Lawler should be able to defeat Brown in somewhat one-sided fashion. Brown opened as a +180 underdog, a price that makes sense given how well Lawler has performed against guys like Hendricks and MacDonald. The one thing Brown hasn’t proven is that he has what it takes to defeat a top-tier fighter.
But since then, the lines moved dramatically, to the point where Brown got all the way up to +310. That’s why I say the MMA world isn’t respecting Brown enough. Brown has always been a good and punishing striker with poor submission defense… but now he’s cleaned up the one glaring weakness in his game. Matt Brown is for real – but all I see are people talking about how they’re looking forward to watching Lawler tear him apart.
Maybe a win against Lawler would finally convince people that Brown is a legitimate title threat. As much as I would love to predict that outcome, I can’t do it. There are two things holding me back. One is the fact that Brown was clearly out-struck by Stephen Thompson. Thompson is a great striker and possibly better than Lawler, but it’s a data point that suggests Brown is vulnerable against high-level strikers… and Lawler has to be considered a high-level striker by MMA standards at this point.
The other hesitation is Brown’s recent history of being hurt badly when hit in the body. Brown was nearly stopped quickly by Erick Silva due to taking punishment to the body. It’s quite possible that Lawler will be able to take better advantage of Brown not absorbing body strikes well.
My prediction is that we’re going to see something of a slugfest, with Lawler landing more strikes and winning by decision in the end. As for my degenerate gambling action, it will be on the underdog.
Pick: Robbie Lawler by decision