The Forward Roll: UFC 157 edition

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

When Robbie Lawler returned to the UFC after nearly nine years away, the calendar insisted he was only 30 years old. How could that be? Lawler is one of those guys who seems to have been around forever. He competed in the old Extreme Challenge shows. He fought in the UFC soon after Zuffa bought it from original owners SEG. He challenged Tiki Ghosn and Evan Tanner and Pete Spratt and others who had their best success during what seemed like another time.

Lawler himself was a onetime UFC poster boy who didn't quite work out the first time around. He was a crushing puncher with a connection to what was at the time arguably the world's premier fight team, Miletich Fighting Systems, and he was earmarked for glory. It didn't quite work out. He won his first three fights, then lost three out of his next four. From there, an elbow injury derailed his UFC run and sent Lawler on an odyssey around the map. It was a long and rocky trip.

In the last five years, for example, Lawler was capable of the brilliant, like his stunning comeback KO of Melvin Manhoef in January 2010, and the disappointing, like his upset at the hands of Lorenz Larkin.

Even during those times, Lawler could often be found on the periphery of the UFC scene, working with other fighters but looking like someone who was trying to find his way back home.

Against Josh Koscheck at UFC 157, he did. It had been 3,382 days between UFC victories for Lawler when he teed up Kos and scored his first top 10 win in over five years.

MMA is a sport in which athletes often age prematurely. Is Lawler 30 years old or 30 years young? At least for one night, he proved it was the latter, but the clock ticks on.

On to the predictions ...

Ronda Rousey
Even the "fans" who boycotted the event in protest of women topping the marquee owe Rousey the respect due any fighter who withstood the pressure that came with history, the distracting attention of fight week as a headliner, and most significantly, the adversity of an opponent's tight squeeze. Rousey survived and extended her first-round arm bar streak to a lucky seven. In each of her last two fights, though, she has shown cracks of vulnerability. That's actually a good selling point for the Rousey haters, who now have a more realistic hope of seeing her unseated in the near future.
Prediction: It's almost a lock that she faces the winner of April's Miesha Tate vs. Cat Zingano fight.

Liz Carmouche
Carmouche brought the fight to Rousey, extending her longer than anyone else has been able to. That's not much of a silver lining but it's something. While Rousey was a sure thing as a media darling during the leadup to the bout, Carmouche was right on her heels, doing interviews with Larry King, The New York Times and other mainstream outlets. That's very meaningful in a time when it's difficult to stand out from the other 400+ fighters on the roster. Carmouche should have a fairly high-profile fight her next time out.
Prediction: She faces Julie Kedzie.

Lyoto Machida
This one is supposed to be easy. Machida won, and Dana White said that he is now the No. 1 contender. I don't think it's a lock though. Far from it. Here's what he's up against. 1) Other fighters competing for that spot -- including Alexander Gustafsson and Glover Teixeira -- are preparing to fight. 2) The UFC would love to do Jon Jones vs. Anderson Silva in the fall if it's possible. 3) Daniel Cormier is planning a drop to 205 after fighting Frank Mir in April. With all that and a long wait until the Jones vs. Chael Sonnen winner is ready to go, that's a lot of time for Dana White and company to reconsider their decision.
Prediction: Machida ends up fighting the Gustafsson vs. Mousasi winner in the summer.

Dan Henderson
Hendo is now 42 years, and after losing his No. 1 contender slot, you have to wonder if he's lost his last best chance at fighting for a UFC belt. The division's terrain is difficult to navigate even for the young and powerful. On the other hand, I suppose it's possible that Henderson's timing was a little bit off after 15 months away. It's not like he was routed. According to FightMetric, he actually out-landed Machida 54-28, but it was Machida who landed the more significant strikes, 27-20. I guess we'll get our answer next time.
Prediction: He faces the loser of the Gustafsson vs. Mousasi fight.

Urijah Faber
Here, we have ourselves a problem. For the last five years or so, Faber has beaten every contender put in front of him, but he can't win any time a title is in front of him. He's 0-5 with belts on the line, and has already lost to bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz and interim bantamweight titleholder Renan Barao. But he's already beaten contenders like Eddie Wineland and Raphael Assuncao. Ugh. I just don't feel it's right to shove him back into another title match, so he has to win another fight against top competition.
Prediction: He faces Michael McDonald.

Court McGee
Any concerns about McGee's trademark conditioning being affected by his move to welterweight were allayed in a performance which saw him land 198 total strikes. McGee's activity, strong wrestling base and excellent chin will make him an intriguing talent at 170.
Prediction: He fights the winner of the Dan Miller vs. Jordan Mein fight at UFC 158.

Robbie Lawler
Well, that's how to return with an impact. In his return to welterweight, the thumper retained his power with a knockout of longtime contender Koscheck. Lawler also said something interesting at the post-fight press conference, saying that Koscheck didn't feel heavy on top of him, which means as much about Lawler's defensive wrestling skills and ability to return to his feet as it does about Koscheck. A mobile and agile Lawler is a scary proposition.
Prediction: He faces the winner of UFC on FUEL 8's Siyar Bahadurzada vs. Dong Hyun Kim match.

Brendan Schaub
Schaub wasn't a crowd-pleaser on Saturday night, but his minimalist execution was at least understandable. After suffering crushing knockouts in consecutive fights, Schaub did what was necessary to survive Lavar Johnson's firepower and exit the scene with his consciousness and his job.
Prediction: Schaub faces Travis Browne as long as Browne gets past Gabriel Gonzaga at the TUF 17 Finale.

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