The last time Robbie Lawler fought Johny “Bigg Rigg” Hendricks at UFC 171, the battle was for the welterweight title vacated by long-time champion Georges St. Pierre, who decided to walk away from the sport. Hendricks and Lawler were the most obvious candidates for this title fight. Hendricks lost a very close split-decision to Georges St. Pierre (many felt that Hendricks won that fight), while Lawler walked through Josh Koschek, Bobby Voelker, and then defeated St. Pierre’s protege and top welterweight ranked, Rory MacDonald.
Hendricks and Lawler fought a five round war. The fight was very close, and Hendricks did just enough to come out on top. According to the fight metrics (http://www.fightmetric.com/fight-details/cdf58f62e289efec), Hendricks landed more total strikes (186 for Hendricks, 162 for Lawler), and eight more significant strikes for Hendricks. Hendricks also used his Division I wrestling skills to take Lawler down twice, Lawler did not attempt a take down, rather tried to keep it standing.
Lawler did have more accuracy in his significant strikes (45% to Hendricks’ 39%), and Lawler did have Hendricks in trouble at times. Going into his rematch against Hendricks, “Ruthless” has two advantages: the first is he knows his opponent better (this can obviously go the same for Hendricks), the second being Hendricks has not fought since their first encounter back in March, while Lawler is fresh of ring rust defeating Jake Ellenberger and Matt “The Immortal” Brown.
Hendricks took time off to undergo surgery on a torn bicep after his fight with Robbie Lawler, Hendricks returned to training in May of 2014. It will be interesting to see how this time off will affect the champ’s performance. With the first fight being so close, what can Lawler do different to score a different outcome? Here are three big keys to victory:
1.) Let the fists fly – Lawler lives up to his nickname “Ruthless”, he is a very dangerous striker with his punching and kicking (19 of his 24 wins came via TKO / KO). Hendricks is 16-2 with both defeats coming by decision. In other words, Hendricks has never been stopped. Hendricks is as tough as they come and his chin is battle tested. This doesn’t mean that Hendricks cannot be knocked out. If anyone can accomplish this, it is Lawler with his dangerous striking.
2.) Sprawl, Sprawl, SPRAWL!!! Hendricks is clearly the better wrestler. Lawler is no slouch in this area though. Lawler was an All-State honors recipient in wrestling back in high school, and for the past 13 years he trained with very talented wrestlers at Militech Fighting Systems (Matt Hughes, anyone?). Lawler was always great with his take down defense, and in their first fight, Hendricks only took down Lawler twice out of 10 attempts (a 20% success rate). Yes, the take downs were enough to secure points for Hendricks, but if Lawler can sprawl and gain position or a good shot, he could make Hendricks regret that he went for the take down.
3.) Make sure that gas tank is full – This is a five round fight, and more than likely, this will go the distance, as both fighters are very smart and will play it careful. If Lawler cannot catch Hendricks and stop him in the early rounds, he needs to have enough in his gast tank to make it for five full rounds, the “championship rounds”, could become Lawler’s advantage if Hendricks does indeed suffer from “ring rust”. Hendricks, being a wrestler, has great endurance and likes to grind it out and wear his opponents down. If Lawler is still ready to brawl in the later rounds, he will have a good chance at out striking the champ and winning the rounds.
The odds makers have this fight close. Fightbetnetwork.com has Hendricks the favorite at -201, and Lawler at +186 (if you want to see lop-sided odds, see our story on Conor McGregor vs Dennis Siver). This fight could go either way, and if anyone can stop Johny Hendricks in the UFC right now, it is Robbie Lawler.