Robbie Lawler vs. Tyron Woodley Pre-Fight Analysis - UFC 201

UFC 201 will be taking place this Saturday afternoon, at the Philips Arena (home of the Hawks) in Atlanta, Georgia. Looking at the card, I think it's getting severely overlooked. Yes, the train lost steam after Demetrious Johnson pulled out of his championship bout due to an undisclosed injury. However, there are a ton of interesting names and matchups. We'll be able to see the return of Ian McCall (UPDATE: McCall will not be competing), alongside some exciting fighters like Jorge Masvidal, Matt Brown, and Francisco Rivera. Plus, the evening's co-main will feature a fascinating Women's Strawweight clash between Rose Namajunas and Karolina Kowalkiewicz that will likely decide Joanna JÄ™drzejczyk's next opponent. Having said that, the real attraction will be the Welterweight title bout between Robbie Lawler and Tyron Woodley. Today, we'll briefly analyse the fight. Let's get to it:

Robbie Lawler vs. Tyron Woodley

Competing since 2001, Robbie Lawler is not your typical Mixed Martial Artist. As a matter of fact, he's best described as a gladiator. This man doesn't care about rules, slowly outpointing your adversary, or time limits;he just wants to get in the octagon and take somebody's head off. Early in his career, he was very wild and relied heavily on his heavy hands. Tactically superior strikers began to give him trouble. Eventually, he was let go from the UFC. Nevertheless, he switched gyms and joined ATT. The decision truly payed off. He became a more disciplined, patient, and technical striker. Once he resigned with the company, he was a changed warrior. After defeating the likes of Josh Koscheck, Rory MacDonald, and Johnny Hendricks, he finally won the Welterweight championship. He's been on a tear ever since.

When it comes to his game, Robbie is a stand-up assassin. Everything he throws, from jabs to haymakers, is viciously powerful. He can also take one hell of a punch. His boxing is extremely clean and crisp, with superb footwork and head movement. What I particularly enjoy about Lawler is the way he utilizes patterns to break elite strikers. He will repeatedly throw a combination to program his opponent's brain to believe the combo is coming again. Following that, he will switch things up in order to catch you with a bomb that stops the bout. It's important to mention that even if you desperately don't want to trade punches with him, you'll probably be forced to. Next to Jose Aldo, he has the best takedown defense in MMA (his sprawls are mind-blowing). This Saturday, he looks to defend his belt for the third time, when he faces off against top contender T-Wood.

Tyron Woodley is a 2 x NCAA Division 1 All American Wrestler, fighting since 2009. Following his split decision victory over Kelvin Gastelum in early 2015, he stated he would not step into the octagon unless it was for the gold. It almost took him two years, but he's finally getting his break. As soon as this bout was announced, the MMA community was rather vocal about guys like Stephen Thompson and Demian Maia being more deserving of the shot.While I definitively agree with the consensus, I can't be that mad; Woodley's style should make for a very exciting battle.

Now, Tyron is a pretty versatile competitor. But for the most part, he's known for three big things: his explosiveness, wrestling, and ferocious right hand. Perhaps more remarkable, he's able to chain said elements in highly impressive fashion. He will throw insanely quick (and equally damaging) punches, and if they don't knock you down by themselves, he'll instantly power his way through the takedown. His top game is incredibly heavy and suffocating. At 34 years of age, this is his chance to achieve childhood dreams and win the belt. If he's ever coming out on top, it's now. This is the year of the underdog (Alvarez, Bisping, Miocic).

Before we analyse the bout itself, I must mention that this fight has an absurd amount of wildcards. Robbie's past three fights have been 5 round wars. The type that change the way a fighter performs. Lawler is one of the toughest men on the planet, so he has mostly kept the pace. However, don't get it twisted: this is a brutal sport. Sooner or later, he'll steadily start to decline. Will it be at UFC 201? I don't think so, but you never know. On the other side, Woodley hasn't fought for over 19 months. Ring rust is absolutely a thing, so even if he wisely used the time off to improve his bag of skills, he might not look like the Tyron we're all used to seeing. We also have the fact that this will be an Orthodox versus a Southpaw. Finally. both guys train at the same gym (different branches, but still sort of awkward). My point is: there's only so much you can predict.

If you ask me how I see the fight playing out, Lawler is the strong favorite. How could he not be? The experience and track-record factors are on his side. The key to Robbie retaining will be pressure. He's always been a fan of pushing the pace and putting his opposition on the cage. That's exactly what he'll need to do in order to defeat Woodley. Tyron has shown problems when fighting with his back against the wall. He tends to panic and make mistakes. Rory Macdonald was able to pick him apart in that exact position. Robbie's tight striking in the pocket should guide him to a finish. Plus, Woodley is a big fella who typically gasses after the initial rounds. As we all know, 5th round Robbie is one of the scariest creatures in the universe.

When it comes to Woodley, the only way I see him winning is with a flashy KO in the initial rounds. I don't honestly think his wrestling will play a big part for two reasons. The first one is, Lawler has exemplary TD defense and scrambling abilities. If he eventually got taken down, he should be able to pop back up relatively easy. Tyron's key are leg kicks. The current champion has trouble handling leg kicks. At UFC 171, Johnny Hendricks consistently landed combinations that turned around chopping the legs. They unbalanced Lawler, keeping him from landing with full power, and allowed Hendricks to do some damage. We all understand that Woodley's biggest offensive threat is the right hand. A guy like Robbie will craft a gameplan around avoiding it. However, if he mixed his attacks with a variety of shots, there would be a bigger sense of unpredictability, and the opportunity to connect with the right would potentially open up.

Overall, I predict Woodley slowing down after a couple of rounds, and Lawler ruthlessly finishing him in the fourth round.

Prediction: Robbie Lawler

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