Strikeforce Los Angeles Preview: Robbie Lawler, Renato "Babalu" Sobral Battle for Shot at Respective Titles

Lawler_vs_babalu_medium In the main event on Wednesday night, former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Renato "Babalu" Sobral (35-8, 1-1 Strikeforce) will battle the last EliteXC middleweight champion "Ruthless" Robbie Lawler (19-5-0-1, 1-1 Strikeforce) in a catchweight bout at 195 pounds. Lawler won his most recent contest in a spectacular comeback victory over dangerous Dutch knockout artist Melvin Manhoef while Sobral hasn't fought since losing to Gegard Mousasi back in August of last year.

The bout has drawn some criticism as a sure sign that Strikeforce is lacking depth in both the light heavyweight and middleweight divisions, but Scott Coker has assured the fighters that the winner would earn a title shot in their respective division. Sobral would battle Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal while Lawler would more than likely fight Ronaldo Souza for a vacant middleweight title unless Jake Shields happens to re-sign with the organization.

Lawler has made his career with his knockout power. Sixteen of his nineteen wins have come via knockout, and his sprawl and brawl tactics are some of the best you'll see in the sport. With a wrestling base and Matt Hughes in his camp, he has the abilities to regain his feet and occasionally throw opponents to the floor for a beating.

Lawler isn't indestructible however. Manhoef was dominating Lawler in their contest at Strikeforce: Miami by using brutal leg kicks and power-packed combinations. Manhoef's aggression eventually paved the way for Lawler to slip a nasty counter punch that landed flush and knocked Manhoef out, but the action did prove that Lawler is susceptible to a more powerful opponent as well as showing he won't deviate from his standard gameplan despite Manhoef's obvious weaknesses to takedowns.

Sobral won't offer that type of power or striking acumen, but he's improving as a puncher. His striking isn't going to produce a lot of power, but he can surprise opponents with kicks from distance and elbow strikes in the clinch. In fact, his elbow strikes have been one of the key weapons in his arsenal and given him a reputation as being tenacious in damaging opponents on the feet.

Sobral's obvious advantage in this fight will be on the ground, and Lawler has historically had problems with Brazilian jiu-jitsu grapplers who can avoid his power on the feet. Jason "Mayhem" Miller, Jake Shields, and even the late Evan Tanner were all successful in submitting Lawler, but he really hasn't fought anyone with the type of credentials and proven submission acumen like Sobral in years with the exception of Shields, who choked him out in a little over 2 minutes.

This is a tough call. On one hand, Sobral has the abilities on the ground to be a real threat, but he'll have some problems trying to wade through the power punching of Robbie Lawler to gain a takedown and put him into danger. On the other hand, Lawler's punching is obviously powerful enough to knock out Sobral, and both men have been susceptible to each other's strengths against past opponents.

Weight could be an issue as I expect Sobral to be slightly heavier at fight time, but I think Lawler ultimately has the advantage in this fight. Sobral will have to find a way to push through Lawler's range and power, and it will most likely result in taking damage from Lawler's heavy hands. As that damage accumulates, I think Sobral slows down and becomes highly susceptible to the knockout. I'll take Lawler via TKO.


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