Lawler is a former SuperBrawl, Icon, and EliteXC middleweight champion who rose to prominence in the UFC as a young welterweight. He is fresh off an unsuccessful attempt at snaring the Strikeforce strap from Ronaldo Souza, the BJJ phenom who submitted Lawler in his first title defense. "Jacare" battled with none other than Tim Kennedy for five rounds and earned a unanimous decision to take over the middleweight throne that Jake Shields left vacant.
Lawler and Kennedy share a host of common opponents besides Souza. They both hold a win over devastating kickboxer Melvin Manhoef, who proved feisty for both to put away, but was thoroughly crunching Lawler until folding from an overhand right that came out of nowhere. Kennedy split results with Jason Miller -- winning the first encounter in a 2003 Extreme Challenge event and dropping the rematch at the 2007 HDNet Fights "Reckless Abandon" show -- while Lawler coughed up the Icon championship amidst a "Mayhem" arm triangle in 2006. Kennedy has only one loss via strikes on his record, which was delivered in his MMA debut by fellow Strikeforce middleweight Scott Smith. Lawler twice engaged Smith in EliteXC circa 2008: their first match was tagged a No Contest from an unintentional eye poke, but "Ruthless" hammered out a second round TKO a few months later.
Kennedy's recent record is a little prettier, but Lawler's faced more top opposition, and more often. They both kicked off their fighting career in 2001, but Lawler has twenty-five fights under his belt; fifteen for Kennedy. Neither fighter can be categorized as one-dimensional by any means, but the marked difference in their individual strengths is apparent: Lawler casts off skull-splitting boxing while Kennedy is a technical powerhouse from the top position.
They keys to imposing their advantages are analyzed in the full entry.
Lawler's single-shot power is unquestionable. An astounding fifteen of his eighteen victories come by TKO.
To the left we see an absolutely diabolical sequence from Lawler against Matt Lindland. To break down the eruption of violence that occurs, first note that you're eyes can barely register the three blindingly fast punches that land in less than a second (I actually used a stopwatch).
Lawler bobs beautifully under Lindland's incoming attack and unfurls a brutal uppercut, then follows up with two more punches while sweeping his head to the left. Lindland buckles immediately, but if you watch carefully, he seems to regain his wits when he hits the canvas and rolls onto his back, but Lawler stamps him out for good with a freakishly accurate overhand right.
Ever the sportsman, Lawler also gives us a glimpse of his tender side by gently repositioning the blissfully catatonic Lindland so as not to scuff up his heels after sending his head hurtling past Saturn.
His brightest weapons are his straight left, uppercut, flying knee and his right hand in every conceivable capacity. His years under the tutelage of Pat Militech and training with the wily Jeremy Horn have endowed Lawler with a resilient ground game, though it's never applied by choice and mostly defensive- and escape-oriented.
Tim Kennedy is somewhat of a rare breed in that he doesn't necessarily shine in one particular background, but just exudes an air of unflinching toughness in everything he does. This rugged fortitude is exactly what you'd expect from a decorated member of the Army's Special Forces who received the Bronze Medal for valor under fire.
The first intense training Kennedy received as a youth was piano and cooking lessons, so he's just as qualified to rattle off a moving concerto in F minor or serve up a splendidly garnished cheese soufflé as he is to crack heads.
He made his MMA debut in 2001 against fellow Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Henderson cast member Scott Smith, who to this day is the only fighter to finish Kennedy with strikes. Since that initial foray, Kennedy has blasted upward with twelve wins and only two respectable losses, the last of which was a fairly contentious decision against "Jacare" for the title. In a back and forth standing battle that was much closer than the unanimous vote for the Brazilian reflects, Kennedy showed a notable enhancement with his boxing skills.
Even though he doesn't boast resplendent wrestling credentials, Kennedy's top game is nothing less than murderous.
His gorilla-like grappling is a nice mixture of technical positioning, spidery guard passing, immense strength and thunderous strikes, all exerted with unrelenting tenacity. Most fighters that overwhelm from the top seem to alternate between maintaining control and achieving a dominant position while injecting offense in spurts, but Kennedy combines all of those traits into a seamless onslaught of suffocation.
Kennedy dueled takedowns with respectable -- albeit a bit declining-- South African wrestler Trevor Prangley, and eventually planted the veteran on his back and scampered through his guard to constrict a standing mata leao. In fact, throughout Kennedy's career it's been proven that he hates people's necks, as five of his seven submission victories have encircled the throat or jugular in one way or another, with the remaining two coming by way of strikes.
This stat is evidence of the way foes tend to wilt underneath his thrashings from the top. Turning away from his monster strikes or making a risky attempt at escaping are mistakes Kennedy has devoured in the past, and is also his best chance of finishing Lawler.
Both Lawler and Kennedy have recently faced opponents with similar strategies and strengths. Kennedy weathered a torrent of strikes from vaunted kickboxer Melvin Manhoef before forcing him into his world and eliciting the tap, and Lawler was out-hustled by a stronger wrestler with elite ground technique in Renato Sobral. I should also mention Lindland, even though three of the Team Quest legend's TKO losses were delivered by accurate strikers who caught him when clumsily closing distance, as well as Jake Shields, who nailed a guillotine from the clinch.
Kennedy will embody this same style of tactical and predatory stalking. He'll also be magnetized to Lawler's exposed neck throughout his takedown and clinch attempts, and when you factor in the rock-solid chin he's shown, the odds seem to favor Kennedy catching a sub in a scramble or simply forcing Lawler to spend all his time defending.
The big difference between Manhoef and Lawler is that the former relied heavily on kicks, which landed with crushing velocity but left him more vulnerable to have a leg snatched. Lawler's hands morph into a high-speed propeller directly in front of him, keeping him balanced and better prepared to control the head on takedowns or shuck Kennedy off with underhooks and whizzers from the clinch.
Even though I'm going to agree with the betting odds and take Kennedy in this one, Lawler definitely has the aggression, accuracy, speed and power to bring the apocalypse with one shot.
My Prediction: Kennedy by decision
Gifs via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com