In middleweight action, former EliteXC Middleweight champion and UFC veteran Robbie Lawler (19-6-0-1, 1-2 SF) battles former UFC Middleweight title contender Matt Lindland (22-7, 1-1 SF) in a classic wrestler vs. striker showdown. The bout has major significance in that it will give one of these fighters a leg up as to where they stand in the divisional rankings. At age 40, Lindland continues to stave off retirement, and a win on Saturday night over Lawler will likely give him the confidence to continue his career. For Lawler, a victory should put him back on track as a legitimate upper-echelon fighter under the Strikeforce banner.
It's hard to fathom Lawler being out of the mix at 185 pounds, but he hasn't truly held his own as a top ten fighter over the last few years. He's continued to fight solid competition over the years, but most of those opponents have had failing careers following those losses. The fighters who did defeat Lawler have continued to succeed, and Lawler needs to find a way to evolve into a fighter who can begin winning those bigger fights.
At only 28 years old, Lawler still has a number of years to progress into a well-rounded fighter, and it would be beneficial to see Lawler evolve to a point in which he can threaten with submissions from top control and use his wrestling a bit more. Lawler loves to entertain however, so I don't see that evolution happening unless he's on the doorstep of being considered a low level gatekeeper.
Lindland provides him with the perfect style match-up in my opinion. While Lindland has certainly made a name for himself as one of the elite wrestlers of the sport, his recent failures are hard to ignore. Losses to Ronaldo Souza and Vitor Belfort aren't career crushing as both Belfort and Souza are top tier fighters, but Lindland's inability to work an effective offense that isn't geared toward wrestling limits him.
Of course, both fighters are limited in their strategies. In Lawler's case, it may be more mental as he does have a wrestling background, yet chooses to strike his way to victory. Lindland, on the other hand, doesn't possess a stand-up game that strikes fear in his opponents, and he's more prone to running into wrestlers who can stifle his attempts and bomb him with better striking.
That may be what Lindland runs into when he faces Lawler on Saturday night. While Lawler is by no means on the same level as Lindland in the credentials department, Lindland's weakness in the stand-up game is something that Lawler can take full advantage of over the course of three rounds. I'd be reluctant to believe Lawler will fully commit to his punches for fear of being taken down by Lindland. I'll take Lawler via decision despite it being a rare occurence for the striker. Lindland will likely work for the clinch and try to wear down Lawler, but I suspect Lawler's takedown defense will be problematic for the aging wrestler.