UFC welterweight champion Robbie Lawler. In 2014.
Wait … what?
Yep. It’s a distinct possibility. Now, don’t let the title of my article mislead you. There’s a great reason to root for Johny Hendricks here, and that reason is simple: Most people thought he deserved to get his hand raised against Georges St-Pierre last November, and it would undoubtedly feel like a wrong had been righted if Johny went in there and got it done on Saturday. No doubt. I’m not the biggest Hendricks guy, but even I could admit that that would be a great story.
But it ain’t topping Robbie Lawler. Here’s why you should all get out your Robbie Lawler pom poms and make asses out of yourselves …
1. Because if Lawler wins, there is a 0.00% chance that his victory wont be shit-your-pants thrilling to watch.
I see two possible methods of victory for Lawler here. One would be to come out cautious, feel Hendricks out for a bit, then slowly take over the fight on the feet, like he did against Murilo "Ninja" Rua. If this happens, color me wildly impressed. Rob used to be a big swinger, but over the years he’s really learned how to fight intelligently on the feet.
The other (more likely) scenario is that he leans into a big shot that flattens Hendricks and his D-minus beard (I’m not figuratively referring to his chin, I’m talking about his actual beard), then follows up with his trademark coffin nails on the ground.
(Sidebar: Robbie Lawler might have MMA’s most devastating resume when it comes to hammering the proverbial "coffin nails" into guys. He always seems to get that one extra dome-splitter in. Falaniko Vitale, Tiki Ghosn, Ninja Rua, and of course … actually, let’s let a GIF handle this one …)Tumblr
2. Because it’s a classic style matchup: The savvy veteran striker vs. the decorated, bullish wrestler.
I favor Johny Hendricks to win this fight. I think his takedowns will be the gift that keeps on giving, and I see him being able to use them in spades if and when Robbie makes him uncomfortable on the feet. I don’t think he’ll be able to ragdoll Robbie around the octagon or anything, but his wrestling will most likely be the difference.That being said, alot of people are giving Lawler short shrift.
When I first saw Lawler fight Rory MacDonald, I left that fight thinking that MacDonald dropped the ball in a huge way. He lost a fight in one of the worst possible fashions: By not fighting to his strengths, and by not being active enough until it was too late. I still feel that way, to a degree. But upon rewatching, I realized that I didn’t give Lawler enough credit for his performance. Robbie fought with great veteran savvy and ring generalship, picking his spots to explode and never showing the effects of MacDonald’s quasi-strategic approach. By the third round, he was in complete control of a guy he was supposed to lose soundly to, as he dropped Rory Mac with punches and hammered strikes into his now-battered, bummed out face. Rory had failed, but Robbie had also succeeded in a big way.
So what can he do to Hendricks? Stuffing takedowns is going to be a tremendous key to Robbie’s success. If he can stay off of his back for the majority of the fight, all of a sudden it becomes pretty damn even. In a striking battle, I lean towards Robbie. Hendricks’ power is obviously a factor, but Rob has big power in all limbs as well, and the way Johny lunges in for 2 to 4 second stretches with his hands at his waists is troubling. The way to thwart Hendricks’ lunging would theoretically be to study his timing, plant your feet, and plan a counter. And that scenario is basically tailor made for a striker like Lawler. His combination of lethal hooks, and the fact that he’s knocked guys out with counter punching before (Melvin Manhoef) definitely suggests that this could happen.
3. Because it’s the right thing to do.
I’d rather not see a guy from Oklahoma with the most overrated beard in the history of overrated beards bullrush his way to a UFC title. Not unless I absolutely have to.
I have nothing inherently against people from Oklahoma, but can you guys stop telling me you’re from Oklahoma without me asking you first? It never fails. It’s literally like "Hey man, can I get a pack of Marlboro Lights? I’m from Oklahoma."
Ribbing aside, there’s something about Hendricks’ style that I find aesthetically unpleasing to watch. I think it’s the aforementioned lunging, which he gets away with because he A) has a great chin (for the time being … we’ll see how it holds up over the long haul) and B) always has his takedowns to fall back on if exchanges don’t go his way.
4. Because, if Lawler wins, it would cap off one of the weirdest, longest, most roundabout routes anyone has taken to a UFC title, ever.
Lawler made his UFC debut nearly 12 years ago. Jeff Osborne was still the color guy. Murilo Bustamante beat Matt Lindland for the middleweight title. And Robbie Lawler was a 20 year old kid entering the octagon and slinging leather. He won his debut (a true slobberknocker with Aaron Riley), then went on to have an entertaining test drive inside the octagon. His fight with Chris Lytle at UFC 45 was one of my first favorite contests. Lawler and Lytle got into some wild exchanges, laughing, clapping for each other, and just acting like idiots. I remember thinking "These guys are awesome". Now, they’re still two of my favorite fighters.
After being submitted by the late Evan Tanner, Lawler bounced around a bit and accumulated some stories. There was the time he knocked out Niko Vitale as Vitale’s girlfriend ran into the ring, yelled at him, and got in his face. He got the ball rolling with PRIDE’s first Vegas show (which I was at) by jump kneeing Joey Villasenor’s face into the rafters in 22 seconds.
He fought for PRIDE, King of the Cage, the IFL, Elite XC, Icon Sport, and Strikeforce, all of which were relevant promotions at the time. He scored brutal knockouts (Trigg, Rua, Lindland, Amagov). He dropped fights in a myriad of different ways (grinded out by Tim Kennedy, submitted by Jacare & Shields, outpointed on the feet by Lorenz Larkin). He alternated between winning and losing often, but he never had that performance where you thought "This guy is done. The sport has passed him by." He persevered, kept fighting, kept refining his game, kept doing his thing.
Finally, he gets his shot at UFC gold. Lawler claims that he never gave up on the idea that he could be a UFC champion someday, and maybe that’s true. Up until he beat Rory MacDonald last November, though, it didn’t seem likely. He KO’d Josh Koscheck, a man who lost the ability to take big punches, and Bobby Voelker, who is Bobby Voelker. But the MacDonald win, coupled with GSP vacating, has given him the opportunity of a lifetime. And I can’t lie; I hope he capitalizes.