As of Saturday night, we have yet another new UFC welterweight champion in “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler. The new champ took the belt off of Johny Hendricks, who seized the vacant welterweight strap in a close decision victory against Lawler earlier this year. Both fighters boxed each other for 25 minutes, but a single takedown in the 5th round led to Hendricks’s victory in their first encounter; this match up though, proved much different. Lawler didn’t get the win without a lot of adversity however as many fans watching believed Hendricks did enough to earn the decision. So let’s break down Robbie Lawler’s performance, which was full of fantastic highlights, but lowlights too.
The real reason Lawler won this rematch was because he was able to create moments in the fight. The very first blitzkrieg that Lawler came out with was a single highlighted moment of the fight that you will remember for a long time. Then, the end of the fifth round was no doubt one of the most intense finishes to a fight I have ever seen. Lawler’s ability to just completely turn it on was a really refreshing sight after seeing Lawler lose to Hendricks before basically due to not seizing the moment. The best thing about Lawler’s performance was that he did seize the moment, and he got all the fans behind him in the beginning, and the end of the fight.
I knew heading into the rematch that Lawler’s use of kicks was going to be pivotal. Robbie relied on purely his boxing skills in the first bout, and just couldn’t mount enough effective offense because of it. This time, Robbie utilized effective attacks to the body with knees in the first round, and kicks in the fifth. I also really liked Robbie’s aggressive takedown defense with the onslaught of violent elbows to the body. I think he knew Hendricks’s chin was too solid, and that a smarter approach would be to attack his body. Very smart decision for Lawler.
Lawler’s takedown defense was also on point as he defended around 12 takedown attempts from the Oklahoma State wrestler. It seemed like Hendricks was really relying on his wrestling to out-point Lawler, but when he could only complete a total of 5 takedowns throughout the entire 25 minute bout, it showed that Lawler put in some serious work to tighten up an otherwise weak part of his game.
The last thing Lawler did well, and I already touched on this, was his intensity levels. The deadly stare he had in the beginning of the fight during the intros got the fans behind him. The blitzkrieg of knees to the body in the beginning got the fans behind him. And of course, the onslaught at the end combined with the deadly stare down at the buzzer once again got the fans behind. Lawler’s intensity made a huge impact on the outcome of the fight.
Lawler’s performance no doubt had a lot of things to critique though. The most obvious of which was his inactivity, but I’ll get to that under The Ugly. This section is going to highlight some parts of Lawler’s game that was noticeably weak, but didn’t really negatively effect him a whole lot. The main bad part of Lawler’s performance came in the first and second round.
Hendricks showed up with a vastly diversified striking game; something we have never seen from him before. We knew Hendricks had a left hand coming into the first bout; after the first fight we knew Hendricks had good boxing skills all around. In the first and second rounds against Lawler in the rematch however, we got to see Hendricks put another weapon in his arsenal with his leg kicks. Johny landed about 40 leg kicks in the first fight, but in this fight Hendricks landed around 70 HARD leg kicks. We saw Hendricks turn his hip over and land powerful, effective leg kicks over and over at the end of his punching combinations, and Lawler showed no initiative to stopping that. There weren’t any attempts to check his kicks, back out of range, or even angle off and try to counter. Lawler just covered up and took the punishment.
I also was wanting to see more out of Lawler’s head kicks. There was a front kick, and about three or four head kicks that Lawler landed flush with, but that’s all. I definitely think that he could have mounted way more of an offensive game if he threw more of those kicks. At the very least he could have followed them up with punches and/or a knee to the body, but he didn’t. Besides for the single onslaughts in the beginning and end of the fight, Lawler’s offense was nothing but single strikes. Even though they landed hard, they should have been followed up.
The majority of critiques that most people have about Lawler’s performance definitely belong here in The Ugly. The most obvious of which was Lawler’s complete inactivity during the second and third rounds. Now, a lot of people were saying that Lawler was just pacing himself, but if he had to spend 2 out of the 5 rounds of the fight with zero offense just to pace himself then conditioning was definitely a factor. Lawler didn’t have to take any breaks in their first encounter, and most recently he didn’t take any breaks against Matt Brown in a fight that also went 25 minutes. Lawler’s unusual lapse of action let Hendricks make a serious challenge to the scoring of the contest. Even though this is just one thing I’m bringing up, Lawler’s inactivity was a gigantic hole in his performance.