For a select class of MMA fighters, their name is enough to make fans come running. The opponent doesn't matter. Undercard doesn't matter. If this guy or gal is in the building, everything else is gravy.
Robbie Lawler is one of these fighters.
The snarling violence savant returns to action for his second fight of 2017. He's taking on a difficult opponent in Rafael dos Anjos, who has dominated both his opponents since moving up to welterweight.
This is must-see TV for anyone with an interest in MMA. Nevertheless, UFC brass decided to build a full card for its 26th Fox special. Following the recent trend, this big TV card is fairly spicy. Let's find the gems of UFC on Fox 26, going down Saturday in frosty Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Robbie Lawler (28-11) vs. Rafael dos Anjos (27-9)
Odds (according to OddsShark): Lawler -105, Dos Anjos -115
Airs on: Fox
It's a bit of a no-brainer, but it would be remiss to not include the main event. This is the only bout you have to watch Saturday. And you have to watch it.
The former welterweight champ is welcoming the former lightweight champ to the top ring of contenders at 170 pounds. Dos Anjos brings incredible pressure against any opponent, and it's hard to take. It may not work Saturday, but Lawler isn't going to go into a defensive stasis. He's a pressure fighter too, and he will hit back with some of the most fearsome power punching in MMA history.
Yet Lawler tends to rely on his chin as a first and last line of defense under most circumstances. Tyron Woodley reminded everyone with his knockout of Lawler that this is not a an open-ended strategy. Dos Anjos doesn't have Woodley's crushing power but still could serve up another reminder.
With striking coach Henri Hooft in the fold, Lawler looked rejuvenated in his most recent fight, a bruising but convincing decision win over Donald Cerrone. But dos Anjos has a weapon Cerrone doesn't: a ground game. According to stat keeper FightMetric, Lawler's takedown defense is a respectable, but not impregnable, 69 percent.
Dos Anjos isn't an Arizona State wrestler, but he has a nice double-leg that he blends well with his standup, not to mention the elite jiu-jitsu that would pose a clear threat to Lawler if the match should go horizontal.
This is a close fight and should be a doozy. Lawler is 35 and has been through a lot of wars. He won't be able to bully dos Anjos and will be at an open disadvantage if the fight hits the ground. The Brazilian strengthens his case for a welterweight title shot, notching one or two near-finishes on Lawler before earning the decision.
Dos Anjos, unanimous decision.
Santiago Ponzinibbio (25-3) vs. Mike Perry (11-1)
Odds: Ponzinibbio -190, Perry +165
Airs on: Fox
Mike Perry has earned a following among hardcore fans for his aggression inside the fight and relentless brodogging outside of it. He's also garnered attention for some racially insensitive remarks.
But results are results, and he's 4-1 since joining the UFC in 2016, winning his two most recent fights. The guy is a banger, pure and simple, looking to swing from the center of the cage or inflict damage from the clinch.
Perry's the underdog here, but who knows? If he wins, he may get the matchup he's previously requested—a booking with one Mr. Lawler.
Santiago Ponzinibbio is not nearly as renowned, but he deserves to be. All he did in his most recent fight was knock out Gunnar Nelson in 82 seconds. Like the main event, this matchup is iron versus iron. The Argentine will trade with Perry but has better footwork and a better arsenal of strikes, particularly kicks. He'll want to work from the outside a little more than Perry, who will want to get in close, decipher movement and launch a massive torpedo down the chute.
The longer this goes, the more it could favor Perry, whose game has fewer moving parts. Here's guessing Ponzinibbio defuses that as an issue, using Perry's aggression against him.
Ponzinibbio, TKO, Rd. 1
Danny Roberts (14-2) vs. Nordine Taleb (13-4)
Odds: Taleb -150, Roberts +130
Airs on: UFC Fight Pass
Frankly, most of the intrigue is on the Fox portion of the card. But let's reach down the undercard for a Fight Pass deep cut.
There are a lot of connections between this fight and another one mentioned. Nordine Taleb put on a good show before losing to Ponzinibbio in February, while Danny Roberts' lone loss in six years came via a 20-second knockout from Perry in 2016.
So call this a consolation fight of sorts. They may not be at that level, but both are competitive and entertaining. Taleb can do a bit of everything, even if his base is kickboxing. Roberts is known as a knockout artist but can pull off submissions too. This fight could go anywhere, and while Taleb probably has a skill edge, Roberts' power striking wins the day and notches a mild upset.
Roberts, TKO, Rd. 2