"Ruthless" Robbie Lawler is back in action this weekend, which seems to be just the jolt of adrenaline needed for those who have been worn down by the endless drumbeat of talk about USADA, fighters unions, the UFC sale, and pretty much everything in the fight game except fighting.
So we'll talk about Lawler's title defense against Tyron Woodley at UFC 201, the ramifications of Holly Holm's loss to Valentina Shevchenko last weekend, and yeah, we'll touch upon that other stuff, too. So let's get started ...
Where from here for Holly Holm?
@love_life7474: What's next 4 Holm? Reports say viewer numbers were great but w/ the recent losses will the UFC keep her n play?
Holly Holm's past year has been like a case study in how quickly conventional wisdom shifts in this sport, and how knee-jerk reactions so often carry the day. This time last summer, she was coming off a pair of less-than-overwhelming decision victories in the UFC and was deemed someone who was still a prospect -- one who might compete for the bantamweight title one day, but not yet there. Then she controversially got the shot at Ronda Rousey's title ahead of Miesha Tate and was thought to simply have a puncher's chance. Then she absolutely clobbered Rousey, and was suddenly transformed in the public into an unbeatable superwoman who just happened to be a really nice person when she wasn't throwing head kicks. Then she lost the belt to Tate in an upset and was branded MMA's equivalent to Buster Douglas. Now, after a loss to Valentina Shevchenko, Holm is being called over the hill ... just a year after she was branded as still a work in progress.
It all gets a little dizzying after awhile. If Holm has done anything over the past year and change, she's become the baseline around which you can demonstrate just how deep the WBW division has become, just how much parity there is in the top tier of competitors, and just how quickly the women's 135-pound class has matured. Yes, Holm is really, really good. Yes, she has flaws, just like everyone else in the division. But the losses suffered by Rousey, Holm, and Tate don't turn them into frauds. Amanda Nunes is really good, too, and so is Valentina Shevchenko, and we'll find out sooner rather than later where Juliana Pena rates on this list, too.
As for Holm, the answer in the immediate aftermath is simply one of going back to the drawing board. Holly does great picking apart fighters who come straight at her, but Shevhenko's patient counter attacks gave her fits. She'll have to do something about that. The good news is, Holm has been an adaptable fighter and she has elite trainers. She also has a fan following, as evidenced by UFC on FOX 20's strong ratings. Holm would do well to take a page out of Tate's book: Tate's enduring popularity is in large part due to her ability to pick herself back up after a big loss and get right back into the fray. As Holm can due the same, six months from now, the current outlook on Holm could look just as silly as every bit of conventional wisdom we've tried to pin on her in the past year.
Where does Robbie Lawler rank?
@ScreaminDemonLP: Where does Robbie Lawler stand in the all-time WW ranks if he beats Tyron Woodley?
Remember when Lawler won the UFC welterweight title on that narrow decision over Johny Hendricks at UFC 181? Back then, the sight of the "Ruthless" one with a UFC title belt around his waist almost seemed surreal. A bit more than a year and a half later, it's almost hard to picture him without the belt.
The run Lawler has gone on over the past few years is all the more remarkable given how much turnover there has been at the championship level at just about every division except flyweight. Somehow, he's not only redeemed his only loss over the past, but managed to swim through some of the deepest waters we've ever seen a champion get through.
At this point, only Georges St-Pierre and Matt Hughes are ahead of Lawler when listing the all-time great UFC welterweight champs. Lawler still has a long way to go to surpass GSP, who was so far ahead of the competition that his fights were often anti-climactic, for a long period of time. But a win over Woodley, followed by a win over Thompson, could be enough to bump Lawler ahead of Hughes. Such a run would give Lawler 10 wins in his past 11 fights, by and large against a far tougher level of competition than Hughes faced for the bulk of his career.
So as of now, Lawler rates No. 3 on this list. No. 1 is far in the distance. But the second spot is within his sights.
Can T-Wood win?
ADillon__ Jul 27: Are people overlooking @TWooodley?
They are, but I can understand why. He hasn't fought in a year and a half. That's not his fault, since Johny Hendricks was the one who had to pull out of their UFC 192 fight at the last minute, not Woodley. Either way, Woodley's been out of sight, and the last time we saw him, he didn't exactly set the world afire with his split decision over Kelvin Gastelum. And Woodley's detractors have discredited his loss to Carlos Condit since Condit blew out his knee, conveniently ignoring that Woodley was dominating the fight up until that point. It's not too hard to see how you can paint a picture that Woodley's unworthy. But that overlooks what Woodley's managed to accomplish when he's at his best. And somewhere along the way, all of those wars Lawler has been in will add up. So just like you can paint a picture which discounts Woodley, you can also paint another one in which Woodley wins, so this could turn out to be an interesting fight after all.
@Alexvu35: What is next for the Condit-Maia winner?
Good question. When will Stephen Thompson be ready to return from his thumb injury? That could play a role in who gets next. On the merits, it's hard to deny "Wonderboy" his title shot with the way he's torn through the opposition, but whomever emerges from the Aug. 27 fight between Condit and Demian Maia sure would seem to be the next in line. Condit basically just needs one solid win to get back in the fray; in the case of Maia, a win over the Condit would be the one which finally made his rise impossible to deny. "Wonderboy" should get next, but the Condit-Maia winner isn't far off.
@kizitossema: I'm not sure how you will go about creating a union for a combat sport?
It obviously won't be easy. Combat sports fighters remain non-unionized decades after most of the rest of the sports did so. The thing that makes this such a tricky proposition is intrinsically individual nature of the sport. Not only do these guys have a narrow window in the limelight, but things are structured in such a manner that those at the top are the only ones making the big bucks. And they're the only ones with the leverage to make real change.
I'm not going to use anyone's name here because I don't want to put words in anyone's mouth, but it's not too hard to understand the mentality of a major headlining fighter in this situation. It takes a relentless self-focus to get to the top in the first place. No one was helping them when they were first coming up and couldn't make ends meet, so why would they jeopardize their huge paydays for the sake of the guys at the bottom, now?
(And it's not like this is unique to combat sports: I've been in the sports journalism business my entire professional life and have never once seen a star columnist or reporter lift a finger over low-paid or unpaid interns' working conditions).
Still, the mere fact that fighters are talking about this now is a big step forward. Mark Hunt is screaming from the rooftops, T.J. Dillashaw has made his thoughts known, Ben Henderson says he's down with the cause. This isn't quite the same as Ronda Rousey or Conor McGregor saying they'll lead the charge, but just a year or two ago, we weren't even hearing this in public from fighters along the lines of Hunt, Dillashaw, or Bendo. I remain skeptical this will ever get to the finish line, but at least the issue has finally bubbled to the surface.
@real_tinydancer: Can we just get to Diaz vs McGregor 2 already?
You do know "Ruthless" Robbie Lawler is fighting this weekend, right?