Robbie Lawler is going to take another soul on Saturday night.
Sandwiched between the landmark UFC 200 card and a firestorm UFC 202 main event, UFC 201 has gotten much less attention than it deserves. Other than the standard UFC Embedded and Countdown package, the media push has been lacking.
How is that even possible when “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler is about to go to war in another wild title fight? Did we learn nothing from his last 3 years in the UFC? Lawler is the UFC’s premier shock trooper, a damage-dealer who steps into the Octagon to steal souls.
If anyone deserves a push, it’s him. Anything less would be, in the words of Luke Thomas, “promotional malpractice.”
Today, we’re going to give Robbie Lawler his due with a comprehensive breakdown of his upcoming fight against Tyron “T-Wood” Woodley. We focus in particular on each man’s performance against common opponent Rory MacDonald, analyzing fight footage to find Lawler’s path to victory and highlight Woodley’s fatal flaws. Read on to learn which techniques to watch for on Saturday night, and find out how Lawler’s style is tailor-made to cut through “T-Wood.”
Weapons to Watch For at UFC 201: Robbie’s Left Cross
When it’s time to harvest souls, Robbie favors a scything left cross. A refined version of the looping left hand he leaned on early in his career, the cross or “straight left” was Robbie’s main weapon against Rory MacDonald at UFC 189. His corner told him to “keep it basic,” and he did, landing the cross again and again, eventually shattering the courageous Canadian’s nose with the punch to earn the stoppage in round 5.
Robbie’s stance and lead hand activity are both designed to set up his crushing left cross. On Saturday night, you’ll notice him working from an upper body stance reminiscent of Floyd Mayweather’s “shoulder roll” or “shell” position, as he did here against MacDonald:
Rather than squaring his shoulders up like a Muay Thai fighter, Robbie angles or “blades” his stance like a boxer, placing his right side far ahead of his super-cocked left shoulder. This position allows him to measure opponents and probe with the lead hand from behind the safety of his right shoulder, while keeping him ready to uncork left crosses with maximum leverage.
Expect Lawler to paw at Woodley with his lead right hand. This has both offensive and defensive utility, allowing him to measure distance and move opponents into his power, while also shutting down his orthodox opponent’s left jab.
You can see him pawing with the lead right hand here, ranging MacDonald and smothering his jab:
Now check out the offensive application of the pawing lead hand. Robbie casts a few non-committal right hooks out at MacDonald:
These punches act as feints to freeze MacDonald and numb his reaction to the set-up. Once Rory dismissed the feint and stopped responding to the hook, Robbie used it as a set up…
…and landed the crushing left cross he loves so much. If you notice Rory’s hand positioning in Frame 1, you’ll see him failing to react to the hook.
Robbie will be using his bladed stance and active lead hand feints to hunt for the straight left cross all night against Woodley, and for good reason: it’s the perfect foil to his chosen fighting style.
T-Wood’s 3 Fatal Flaws
Tyron Woodley makes 3 technical errors that could cost him the welterweight title on July 30th.
1. Woodley bites too hard on feints.
Feints are a seasoned striker’s doomsday device, and a novice’s kryptonite. Against Rory MacDonald, Woodley bit on feints all night. MacDonald used head movement, hand and foot fakes, and throw-away shots to keep Woodley frozen for much of their 3 round affair. Woodley spent too much time being reactive with his back against the cage:
In frame 1, we see Woodley overreaching for a jab that never came. By frame 2, Woodley’s reactive movements have completely shifted his feet out of a fighting stance, while the final frame shows him scrambling to parry ghost punches and phantom kicks. Every time Woodley reacts to a feint, he creates an opening for his opponent to exploit. Against Lawler, that’s a big problem.
Expect Lawler to freeze Woodley with feints using head movement and a probing lead hand, then drop the hammer with his left cross.
2. Woodley loves loading up on rear low kicks.
Woodley has a nasty rear low kick, something he’s probably only refined during his time with Duke Roufus. He used it to spin Jake Shields to the floor, soften up Josh Koscheck, and even earned a rare TKO by leg kick against Carlos Condit at UFC 171:
Unfortunately, it’s the wrong tool for the job against Robbie Lawler. For a southpaw, one of the most effective counters to the right low kick from an orthodox opponent involves planting the lead leg, eating the shin, and drilling a cross down the pipe. The straight punch lands first, and the kicker is forced to absorb the impact while standing on one leg. Expect Lawler to time a few lancing straight lefts as Woodley loads up with his favorite low kick.
3. Woodley leans on his looping right hand.
Southpaw vs orthodox match-ups usually turn into a battle of the rear hand, with each fighter jostling for a favorable front-foot position to launch their cross. But unlike Lawler, the cross isn’t a big part of Woodley’s game.
T-Wood likes to hook. Like many explosive wrestlers, Woodley is a monstrous puncher, and he’s used his looping right hand to smash down some of the best in the division:
By traveling in a wider arc, the looping right hand can often generate more power than the straight cross, though it takes longer to reach the target. With roughly 540 days of training at Roufus Sport since his last fight, it’s possible that Woodley’s looping tendencies were schooled out of him, but it seems unlikely given the success he’s had with it in the past. Fighters tend to default to old habits when they’re deep in the trenches. Woodley isn’t the first fighter to fall in love with the rear-handed hook, and he won’t be the last.
Unfortunately, the looping right hand is a terrible weapon to deploy against Robbie Lawler. If Woodley relies on it, he’ll find himself beaten to the punch again and again by Robbie’s straight left; the fastest way from A to B is always traveling in a straight line, even when you’ve got speed like T-Wood. Lawler did just that against MacDonald:
Lawler cracked and even staggered MacDonald with this punch, sneaking inside the arc of his opponent’s hook to run him into a lancing left hand. You can expect more of the same at UFC 201.
UFC 201: Lawler vs Woodley – The Pick
Lawler’s cross-hunting approach is the perfect foil for Woodley’s looping, leg-kicking, feint-fearing style.
Furthermore, unlike Woodley, Lawler has been through grueling championship fights, many of which were won with a rousing 5th round rally. His heart and will cannot be questioned; Robbie Lawler is in there to take his opponent out, even if that means throwing his body onto the gears that keep Woodley going.
Expect Lawler to retain his title with a bloody TKO finish. And tell your friends to watch, because the UFC promotional machine hasn’t done enough to laud the welterweight division’s warrior-king.
I hope this breakdown informs your fight training, makes you money on a parlay, or gives you some ammunition to wow your friends at the bar. You can request future breakdowns or troll me for getting this one wrong on Twitter – I’m @macrea.