UFC 181 features two debut title defenses for the lightweight and welterweight division champions. Following GSP’s departure, Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawlerwere selected to battle for the welterweight title in UFC 171. Analyzing the close battle that was their first fight, here’s what we can expect for Saturday’s rematch.
Lawler didn’t earn the nickname “Ruthless” for nothing. He fought a standing battle against a slugger known for one-punch KO power (see John Fitch KO). You’d be hard pressed to make the case that Lawler took the first or second round, but he had some key technique points that could seriously make a difference in their next fight. When Hendricks opened the fight with leg kicks, Lawler charged Hendricks for the clinch when he was off balance on one leg. Hendricks relied on this technique to take away Lawler’s mobility, and combating the leg kick with a strong retaliation could save his mobility for the next fight.
Hendricks was not successful in takedown attempts, but he was the better striker. Lawler had difficulty connecting with more than a jab, where Hendricks was able to really put together punching and kicking combinations. See Hendrick’s punching combinations at 10:30 and 11:20 of the above video to get an idea of how technical he was in the opening rounds. Lawler, however, put a quick sprawl on every takedown attempt.
Robbie went full on ruthless in the third round. While he was outstriken in the first and second, the momentum swung Lawler’s way. Lawler turns it on with his left hand starting at 17:00 and landing another left at 17:20 that Joe Rogan says hurts him. It’s hard to determine if the following onslaught is a greater testament to Lawler’s powerful striking or the strength of Hendricks’ chin. Amazingly, “Big Rigg” is able to survive.
The opener of round 4 feels like a formal introduction to the 5″ reach advantage that Lawler has over Hendricks. With excellent precision, Robbie seemingly couldn’t miss with right hooks. When Hendricks would defend the hook, Lawler had lazer-sharp jabs on Hendricks’ chin. Hendricks was able to fire back and defend, acting on pure instinct to fight back against Lawler. Hendricks finally gets the takedown at the end the 4th, getting in near guillotine submission territory before getting cut off by the bell.
The fifth round was almost a complete toss up. What most likely edged Hendricks over the decision was the damage that he had caused to Lawler’s lead leg and the takedown he finally earned a minute left in the 5th. Hendricks won the decision, but this was a close battle. The takedown at the very end may have been enough to make a final impression.
Hendricks vs. Lawler II should be an excellent rematch. Both fighters were in trouble at separate points during the fight and both managed to bring themselves out of the woods. Hendricks proved to be deadly when it comes to connecting punch and kick combinations, while Lawler demonstrated his knockout power with heavy left hooks. Lawler was able to stop nearly every takedown attempt, but perhaps Hendricks’ leg kicks were enough to take away his sprawling speed. If Hendricks can really pass Robbie’s sprawl and bring the fight to the ground, we could see a whole new kind of fight than the first. If “Ruthless” Robbie could have it his way, we would likely see a second standing battle.