A Great Story
Right now, Robbie Lawler is my favorite fighter in the welterweight division. It’s not just because of his technical skills, his athletic abilities, or his calm demeanor — it’s all this in conjunction with his epic and perhaps legendary story. Arguably, Lawler possesses the greatest resurgence story in MMA history, gaining championship relevance within four fights.
In Strikeforce, Robbie was 3-5 in his last 8 fights. If you think Mark Hunt’s story is great, then Lawler’s story is even better. If you love how Randy Couture took the heavyweight title, then you ought to love Lawler. Lawler was just inches away from capturing the title, and Hendricks, the new champion, is as legitimate and elite as they come.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been this emotionally invested during a fight. In what was the most epic welterweight bout in years, the fans were strapped in and treated to a roller coaster ride. After a back and forth battle filled with intensity, power, and volume, it was likely “winner takes all by the last round”.
And going into round 5, how the fight unraveled felt so fitting for Lawler: he’s had ups and downs throughout his career. The fight told a similar story — just as how he went down and came up again, he was taking over the fight by storm after round 2.
It would’ve been the perfect comeback story. And although a case can be made for Lawler landing the better shots in the first round, unfortunately, for underdog enthusiasts, we weren’t treated to such ending.
If you haven’t read Jack Slack’s clean and excellent piece on the fight, please do as I’ll be making some references.
Cover / Trapping Range
As Jack already mentioned, it’s abnormal for a bulk of an MMA fight to take place in such range. The Diaz brothers employ it perhaps more often than anyone else, but it’s rare that two fighters actively engage in it.
Even more intriguing — both Lawler and Hendricks can close the distance extremely well. But instead, they chose to stand right in the pocket, ready to exchange at all times. For the most part, Lawler had the better control in this range. He’d cover to lock the punches in, side & down parrying when possible, and if the punches made it past the arms, as the last line of defence, Lawler would slip or roll.
On the other hand, Hendricks did not have a varied response to this (the left was too predictable and his jab is inferior to Lawlers’). His response to the evasion and head movement was to kick Lawler’s legs. It’s perhaps strange to think that a puncher/wrestler kicked his way into winning rounds, but not so surprising when Lawler’s stylistic choice and stance is factored in.
In terms of landing punches, Lawler was way more versatile. But what made this bout interesting was that it’s southpaw vs southpaw, making it a match with more “orthodox” setups, angles, and strategy.
This means the jab is so very relevant — unlike southpaw vs orthodox matches such as Robbie vs. Rory MacDonald and Hendricks vs. GSP. Generally, when it comes to punching in an “orthodox” scenario, the better jabber will dictate the fight.
In these brief sequences, you can see that Lawler has a superior jab — it was consistent throughout the fight. This has huge implications, but let’s discuss briefly what Lawler sacrificed to punch better.
For the most part, when they’d be outside of trapping range, Lawler would point his lead foot at Hendricks. This makes for a very efficient jab and a loaded rear-hand. But as a consequence, this exposes the hamstrings and makes it susceptible to leg-kicks.
But Robbie wasn’t without answers to the kicks — in the final sequence above you can see him load up and land a huge looping shot, the type that discourages further kicks.
Utility Of A Better Jab
The jab is the closest, most efficient, and fastest weapon to the opponent. If it lands, it momentarily stuns the opponent, blinds them, disrupts them, and effectively sets up another shot due to the timing it creates.
On top of that, if a jab is established, there’s plenty more availability for feints and deception.
These are not fancy combinations. But because Lawler can land the jab, he can constantly back Hendricks up and make his rear-hand high percentage.
The Cross Counter
A big part to having a more effective jab isn’t just to have a better jab, but rather to also discourage and punish the opponent’s jab. Make the opponent hesitate to jab and you’ve made the rear-hand more predictable.
One way to shutdown the jab is to throw the cross-counter — right over the top of the jab. This punch only exists in orthodox vs. orthodox or southpaw vs. southpaw matchups. Chad Mendez, Urijah Faber, Alistair Overeem, Junior Dos Santos, Tyrone Spong, Tyron Woodley, etc. have all KOed various opponents with it. This probably wasn’t even half of the cross-counters that Robbie landed — a true testament to Hendrick’s chin.
I’d love to see a rematch one day!
Thank you for readying and stay tuned for more breakdowns. You can contact Lawrence Kenshin on his social media accounts below.