UFC 171: Hendricks vs. Lawler Head-to-Toe Breakdown
There are many who feel Johny Hendricks should already have the welterweight crown, but he'll get another chance to earn it when he meets Robbie Lawler at UFC 171 on Saturday.
At UFC 167, Hendricks took long-reigning welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre to a close decision. While an overwhelming majority of MMA media members saw the bout in favor of Hendricks, according to MMADecisions.com, St-Pierre retained his belt in a split call.
On the same fight card, Lawler scored an upset win over St-Pierre teammate Rory MacDonald. The victory established the veteran as one of the top contenders in the 170-pound class.
Not long after UFC 167 ended, St-Pierre vacated his title for personal reasons, leaving Hendricks and Lawler to quarrel over the welterweight championship. Now that the time is coming for the heavy hitters to meet inside the Octagon, here is a closer look at how Hendricks and Lawler match up in all areas.
Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler both rose through the welterweight ranks with help from their exceptional striking power.
"Bigg Rigg" stopped Martin Kampmann and Jon Fitch with his left hand en route to his recent shot at the 170-pound championship. Lawler, meanwhile, has scored two finishes in his three appearances since returning to the UFC roster.
The potential for a knockout exists from either side in this matchup.
At the same time, both fighters have excellent chins. Hendricks has never been stopped, and Lawler's only knockout loss came against Nick Diaz all the way back at UFC 47.
Despite Hendricks' power, Lawler is going to move forward, much like Carlos Condit did against the southpaw. In that matchup, Hendricks found himself backed up against the fence frequently, but he was regularly able to make Condit miss before taking the center of the Octagon.
In the opening round, Condit ran Hendricks into the fence with a combination. When "The Natural Born Killer" looked to capitalize with a left hook, he swung at air and was turned around by a collar tie from Hendricks. Once he had reversed positions, Hendricks took a step back and countered a Condit jab with a hard left hand.
Hendricks has been labeled by many as a striker who will just wing his left hand. If that's all there was to his striking, though, he would have suffered the same fate Josh Koscheck did against Georges St-Pierre. Instead, Hendricks landed on the welterweight legend regularly and arguably should have won.
Utilizing good head movement, Hendricks won't be an easy target for Lawler to hit, and he could have success counterstriking when Lawler gets wild.
Still, Lawler's striking can't be discounted. He utilizes kicks more effectively than Hendricks and, with flying knees also in his arsenal, is a more diverse stand-up fighter than the recent title challenger. With the amount of power he can generate in small spaces, Lawler is capable of handing Hendricks his first knockout loss.
Considering Hendricks, an NCAA champion wrestler, is probably going to be looking for takedowns frequently, Lawler's knees will be worth watching. It might not have been the blow that prompted the finish, but Lawler landed a nice knee on Josh Koscheck just before finishing Hendricks' fellow NCAA champion wrestler in his UFC return.
Any time the fighters are standing, both men will be in danger on Saturday. A very slight advantage goes to Hendricks due to his unblemished chin and ability to control opponents in the clinch. Again, though, either man has a real possibility of ending this when in an upright position.
Robbie Lawler's defensive wrestling has been to blame for most of his recent losses.
When he got his shot at the Strikeforce Middleweight Championship, Lawler was taken down four times before being submitted by Ronaldo Souza in the third round. Tim Kennedy also recorded five takedowns against Lawler in a Strikeforce matchup.
While Souza and Kennedy are both very good grapplers, neither is viewed as a better wrestler than Hendricks. A two-time NCAA champion, Bigg Rigg might own the best takedown artists in the welterweight division now that Georges St-Pierre is on hiatus.
At UFC 167, Hendricks became the first fighter to score multiple takedowns on St-Pierre since UFC 50, where Matt Hughes submitted the Canadian.
While they could bring the fight to an end, Lawler's regularly used flying knees might only increase Hendricks' edge when it comes to wrestling. A high-risk, high-reward technique, the flying knee will leave Lawler defenseless against takedowns when he misses.
In the third round of his bout with Rory MacDonald, Lawler made a poor decision and attempted the flying knee to open the stanza. It resulted in a takedown that could have lost him the fight had he not been able to escape later on.
Hendricks has already shown the ability to shut down the flying knee and counter with takedowns. Against Carlos Condit, who owns a flying knee knockout win over Dong Hyun Kim, Hendricks was able to block the attack and answer with a double-leg takedown as his opponent returned to the canvas.
Even against conservative adversaries, Hendricks usually owns a significant edge with regard to takedowns. Lawler's tendency to get out of control and take risks will result in him being taken to the ground multiple times in this matchup.
While neither of these fighters are known for their submission abilities, both work well from the top position.
Johny Hendricks spent a good amount of time in Carlos Condit's guard at UFC 158 and was rarely threatened by submissions. Having never been submitted despite rolling against Condit, who has 13 career submission wins, Hendricks would not be in much danger at all should he decide to take Robbie Lawler down.
At the same time, with only one submission victory of his own and none inside the Octagon, Hendricks would more than likely look to chip away at Lawler with ground-and-pound rather than work toward a submission finish.
That is good news for Lawler, who has been submitted five times in his MMA career. However, with no submission wins on his record since September 2005, Lawler won't have much to offer Hendricks should he end up underneath the elite wrestler.
A former 185-pounder, Robbie Lawler is one of the few fighters more physically imposing than Johny Hendricks in the welterweight division.
Heading into a championship bout, that size could come at a cost, though.
While Hendricks is coming off of a strong showing in a fight with Georges St-Pierre that went to the scorecards, Lawler has never seen a fifth round in his MMA career. In a matchup between two fighters who throw ever strike with full power, Lawler could fade should this reach the later rounds.
Robbie Lawler has the power to end a fight at any second, but this will be a tough matchup for him.
While he has the wrestling to exploit Lawler's biggest weakness, Johny Hendricks also possesses the chin to trade with Lawler when he needs to. Like he did against Carlos Condit, Hendricks will likely force exchanges and drop levels for takedowns when his opponent returns.
The resurgence of Lawler has been fun to watch, but this is where he hits a wall. Hendricks' takedowns will make the difference in a fight that will go to the judges.
Prediction: Hendricks defeats Lawler by decision.