UFC 201 Results: The Real Winners and Losers from Tyron Woodley to Robbie Lawler
UFC 201 is in the books. On paper, it looked like a forgettable card wedged between the madness of the milestone UFC 200 event and the promise of Nate Diaz and Conor McGregor at UFC 202; in practice, it delivered fantastic finishes, a lot of wild action and a few upsets for the ages.
In the main event, Tyron Woodley became 2016's fifth new UFC champion (seventh, counting interim titleholders). It took just one devastating right hand to separate defending champion Robbie Lawler from consciousness and crown Woodley the new king of one of MMA's most prestigious divisions, the heir to Matt Hughes, Georges St-Pierre and now the ruthless one himself.
Karolina Kowalkiewicz became the second Polish fighter to establish herself as one of the world's top strawweights, sending prohibitive favorite Rose Namajunas back to the drawing board after yet another setback. Kowalkiewicz will now face Joanna Jedrzejczyk for the 115-pound title later this year in what promises to be a barnburner of a fight.
While the top two fights delivered, the rest of the card went up and down.
Jake Ellenberger rebounded from the mother of all rough patches to finish the tough Matt Brown in the first round. Before that, Erik Perez and Francisco Rivera put on a mostly forgettable fight aside from a 20-second stretch of utterly mad exchanges at the beginning of the third round, after which Rivera was so exhausted that he essentially collapsed to the canvas for the rest of the frame.
The main card opener between Fredy Serrano and Ryan Benoit was equal parts fun and bizarre, with Serrano landing wild kicks and huge slams while Benoit cracked him with meat-and-potatoes shots.
On the undercard, Nikita Krylov announced himself as a fighter to watch at 205 pounds in knocking out Ed Herman. Jorge Masvidal defeated Ross Pearson in a fun fight, while Wilson Reis overcame the letdown of losing his title shot by submitting Hector Sandoval in entertaining fashion.
With all that in mind, let's take a look at the event's real winners and losers.
Winner: Tyron Woodley
All it took was one brutal right hand from Tyron Woodley to finish the iron-chinned Robbie Lawler for the first time in more than 12 years. A feint, a stutter-step and one of the quickest, hardest punches in MMA put the champion out for the count.
There was nothing terribly complicated about what Woodley did, but when a basic setup combined with unreal speed and power collided with a chin that had absorbed a tremendous amount of damage in the last few years, nothing fancy was necessary.
This wasn't a knockdown, drag-out war; in fact, it was the quickest finish in welterweight championship history. We didn't really learn anything new about Woodley that we didn't know before: He's an exceptional athlete, carries dynamite in his hands and can finish absolutely anyone in the first round. If the fight had gone a bit longer, perhaps he would have shown off more tools.
But one right hand was all Woodley needed. Whether that will be enough to hold the title against presumptive top contender Stephen Thompson is another story, but it's a story for another day.
For now, Woodley occupies the throne. His journey from All-American wrestler to disappointing Strikeforce prospect to inconsistent UFC welterweight to champion is complete, and there was no bigger winner at UFC 201.
Loser: Robbie Lawler
The unlikely reign of Ruthless Robbie Lawler as UFC champion has come to a clear and definitive end. Tyron Woodley's right hand separated Lawler from consciousness for the first time since Nick Diaz pitter-pattered him into oblivion way back in 2004.
Since then, Lawler has traded shots with punchers like Melvin Manhoef, Scott Smith, Jake Ellenberger and Johny Hendricks. Matt Brown and Carlos Condit are finishers of the highest caliber. All of them tried and failed to put Lawler away, but those many wars took a toll on Brutal Bob, and Woodley was finally able to crack the granite chin once and for all.
Lawler's rise to relevance in 2013 was a shocking and unexpected development, but a welcome one. A fighter who spent so many years wandering through the wilderness of Icon Fight, King of the Cage, EliteXC and Strikeforce returned to the UFC better than ever. He showcased new skills and the benefit of all his years of experience in doing so.
He also showcased unreal ferocity and will to win. Lawler's fifth round against Johny Hendricks is the stuff of legends. So too was his fight of the year with Rory MacDonald at UFC 189. His win over Carlos Condit was controversial, but Lawler's wild aggression in the final frame made it hard to hold it against him.
It was nice to believe that time could run backward, at least for a while, but sooner or later MMA's grim reaper comes for every fighter. At UFC 201, it came for Robbie Lawler.
Lawler is 34 now, and with so many fights and so much wear and tear on his body, it's unlikely that he'll get back to the top.
We'll always have this run, though. Robbie Lawler was a champion, one of the most exciting and entertaining the UFC has ever had.
Winner: Polish MMA
While Rose Namajunas was the favorite to emerge from UFC 201 as the next challenger to dominant champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk's throne, it was the undersized and overlooked Karolina Kowalkiewicz who walked away with the decision win.
After a rough first round in which Namajunas slammed straight punches into her face while sticking and moving at range, Kowalkiewicz turned things around in the second. She sliced and diced Namajunas in the clinch with elbows and especially knees, doing so much damage to her opponent's body that Namajunas had little left in the tank by the third round.
While Namajunas is left to once again reevaluate where she stands after an upset loss, we know exactly where Kowalkiewicz is headed: a matchup with Jedrzejczyk, who submitted her in an amateur fight years ago.
This is a huge win for Polish MMA. To have not one but two fighters at the top of the division for a country that is only just starting to make its presence felt on the world scene is a massive accomplishment, and it gives the UFC a potentially large new market on which to focus.
It's a win for the fans, too, because Jedrzejczyk and Kowalkiewicz are action fighters by nature. Putting on exciting fights is in their marrow, and we'll be the beneficiaries of what promises to be an outstanding fight.
Winner: Jake Ellenberger
Nobody at UFC 201 needed a win more than Jake Ellenberger.
Back in 2012, Ellenberger looked like the next big thing at welterweight. His only loss in the UFC had come against Carlos Condit in his short-notice debut, and he was riding a six-fight winning streak. A shocking loss to Martin Kampmann ended that streak, but after two more wins, Ellenberger seemed like he was back to contention.
Then it all fell apart. He dropped a listless, one-sided decision to Rory MacDonald, ran into the resurgent Robbie Lawler and fell to Kelvin Gastelum. He beat a completely shot Josh Koscheck but then dropped fights to Stephen Thompson and Tarec Saffiedine. Any observer could be forgiven for thinking Ellenberger was done as a top fighter and potentially in the UFC.
All that changed in the first exchange against Matt Brown.
Ellenberger laced him with a vicious combination in the opening seconds and nearly finished the fight right away, looking like the spitting image of the fighter who had given the UFC welterweight division nightmares between 2010 and 2012. He had to overcome some difficulty but then cracked Brown's liver with a body kick and followed up with punches to finish the ultra-durable Brown with strikes for the first time in his career.
Returning to the tutelage of Rafael Cordeiro, the legendary trainer of Wanderlei Silva, Shogun Rua, Fabricio Werdum and Rafael dos Anjos, among many others, seems to have made all the difference. Confidence is Cordeiro's mantra, and confidence is exactly what Ellenberger needed.
Whether this marks the beginning of Ellenberger's rebirth or merely marks a feel-good moment at the end of a long and productive career, this was a stirring display from a fighter who has struggled mightily.
Winner: Nikita Krylov
Nikita Krylov has been the butt of many jokes since he first appeared in the UFC back in 2013 as a raw 21-year-old. His debut fight with Soa Palelei was a gas-fest, his cornerman theatrically picked his nose during a post-fight interview, and he fell victim to a rare Von Flue choke, an indicator of how much he still had left to learn.
Quietly, however, Krylov has transformed himself into one of the best up-and-coming fighters at 205 pounds.
The light heavyweight division is thin on prospects. Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson, the only two top-10 fighters under the age of 33, are already in their prime. Fighters like Shogun Rua, Rashad Evans and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira are clearly past their peak years, and in a deeper division, the turnover would already have started.
Because light heavyweight is so thin with talent, however, that replacement of talent at the top hasn't happened yet. Krylov, along with Corey Anderson and the rising Misha Cirkunov, should benefit from this lack of depth.
It helps that Krylov has drastically improved his skills. In the 24-year-old's younger years, he was a wildly aggressive brawler with only basic grappling skills, little wrestling acumen and a complete inability to pace himself or fight smart.
In knocking out Ed Herman, Krylov showed much better command of distance, good skills in the clinch and most importantly an understanding of how to pace himself. He still worked fast, throwing (per Fightmetric) 118 strikes in less than six minutes of action but didn't put himself in bad positions and he didn't burn through his gas tank.
With that victory over Herman, Krylov ran his winning streak to five, all of them inside the distance. In fact, Krylov has yet to go the three-round distance in his MMA career.
A young, talented finisher who's ready for a step up in competition? Krylov is exactly what the light heavyweight division needs, and he should get a top-10 fighter in his next outing to prove that point.
Loser: Ross Pearson
Ross Pearson has been a mainstay of the UFC's lightweight division since he won The Ultimate Fighter 9 way back in 2009. He coached a season of TUF—The Smashes, an Australia vs. United Kingdom iteration—in 2012 and has been a mainstay of the European and Australian cards that have driven the promotion's international expansion.
Pearson has never been an elite fighter, but he has always provided action and name value while retaining a respectable status at lightweight and featherweight.
His loss to Jorge Masvidal at UFC 201 was his second in a row and his second in the month of July. Former Bellator champion Will Brooks handed him the first just three weeks ago. While neither was unexpected—per Odds Shark, he was a plus-170 underdog against Masvidal and more than 3-1 against Brooks—this losing streak is the first of his career.
More worrisome is the fact that Pearson is now 3-5 in his last eight bouts. Two of those three wins have come by split decision, and none of the losses have been controversial.
Pearson is competitive with good fighters, but he isn't beating any names. He's skilled as a striker and defensive wrestler, but his strengths and limitations are well known at this point. As he gets older and the mileage piles up, his margin for error gets smaller and smaller.
Being an action-fighting gatekeeper is an inherently precarious role. With another loss, will Pearson be able to maintain that slot, especially in a deep and talented lightweight division? Consecutive losses don't bode well.
Winner: Wilson Reis
It would've been easy for Wilson Reis to slip up against the debuting Hector Sandoval. After all, Reis had been scheduled to fight for the flyweight title in UFC 201's co-main event, and he had actually been scheduled to face another debutant, Sean Santella, before Sandoval eventually stepped in.
To go from facing a dominant champion in Demetrious Johnson to an unknown debutant is a recipe for a bad performance, but Reis managed to overcome the emotional letdown and pull off a great performance.
It took Reis only 1:49 to hit takedown after takedown on the normally stout wrestler and then get to Sandoval's back. The rear-naked choke was the fastest submission in the history of the flyweight division, and it cemented Reis as a legitimately elite fighter at 125 pounds.
With The Ultimate Fighter 24 and its full slate of flyweights looming, Reis' shot at Mighty Mouse will likely have to wait. At least one more win after this will be necessary for Reis to keep himself in the conversation.
But in a fight where he had everything to lose and nothing to gain, Reis passed the test with flying colors. It's not easy to turn a series of setbacks like this into a positive, but Reis did.
UFC 201 Full Card Results
- Tyron Woodley def. Robbie Lawler by KO (punches), 2:12, Round 1
- Karolina Kowalkiewicz def. Rose Namajunas by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
- Jake Ellenberger def. Matt Brown by TKO (kick to the body and punches), 1:46, Round 1
- Erik Perez def. Francisco Rivera by unanimous decision (29-28, 30-26, 30-26)
- Ryan Benoit def. Fredy Serrano by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
- Nikita Krylov def. Ed Herman by KO (head kick), :40, Round 2
- Jorge Masvidal def. Ross Pearson by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
- Anthony Hamilton def. Damian Grabowski by KO (punch), :14, Round 1
- Wilson Reis def. Hector Sandoval by submission (rear-naked choke), 1:49, Round 1
- Michael Graves vs. Bojan Velickovic ends in a majority draw (30-27 Graves, 28-28, 28-28)
- Damien Brown def. Cesar Arzamendia by KO (punch), 2:27, Round 1