When we last left our heroes...Hell yes. This is the fight we thought we'd get with Jake Ellenberger, but didn't. Or at least I think it is.
While Rory being the favorite is justified, the other narrative going into this fight will be whether or not the mountain of criticism he received for his performance against Jake at the Johnson vs. Moraga show has affected him. Rory probably doesn't care much, truth be told, but he also likely understands that a title shot requires making a statement. Then again with GSP as champ- oh screw this...
While Rory may have a problem with getting a title shot, and being a potential champion, Lawler will have no such qualm. He is 2-0 in his return back to the octagon with wins over Josh Koscheck and Bobby Voelker, both relatively early knockouts.
A win for Lawler has title shot implications while a win for Rory will just have Dana rolling his eyes.
What both men can do: When you watch MacDonald, you're quickly able to unpack just what something as banal as "the new breed of fighter" actually means. Rory isn't just well rounded; he's well rounded and understands the flow of MMA. This is something that has always stuck out at me during an old Yushin Okami interview with Tony Loiseleur, who lamented the fact that outside of the US, MMA is taught with the parts in mind rather than the sum.
Rory knows so well how to transition from one phase to the next. His lengthy, stiff left jab from his southpaw stance allows him to avoid wild haymakers, and takedowns. He has a very powerful right hand, and strong leg kicks, to say nothing of his powerhouse "MMA grappling". He's not some established black belt with a Mundials storybook finish, but his imposing offense on the feet allows him to take advantage of fighters on the ground who might otherwise have different plans. In addition, he's good there. Period. Just watch him treat Nate Diaz like a dunk tank at UFC 129 for proof.
Basically, no weaknesses. Which is what I should have said. Or does he? We'll get to that...
Lawler is experiencing a minor renaissance ala Mark Hunt, but with potential to go much further. Robbie's always been a beast from his southpaw stance...winging hooks, straight lefts, and brutal uppercuts to essentially end careers.
But when you consider how far he's come as a fighter, not much has changed. He's essentially the same kid you knew best in 2002 as the one who brutally beat down that dude with the terrible beard who thought getting brutally knocked out, complete with a rapture face thought the stoppage was unfair "because of a cut".
While Robbie is still a tad one dimensional, his takedown defense has improved pretty well, but the other big thing is that he seems to manage his cardio much better by virtue of proper training, and being the intelligent brawler. His change reminds me a lot of Anderson Silva; Silva wasn't a knockout artist before entering the UFC, and he was facing far inferior competition. But timing, and accuracy changed a lot.
What both men can't do: Lawler's ground game is still questionable, though improved, and clearly an element Rory will be looking to exploit. I think my biggest concern for Robbie is that he has to commit in this fight if he wants to land and Rory's jab and potential takedowns will keep him confounded.
I will say that I don't think the Ellenberger fight tells us a whole lot in terms of how to contrast. Ellenberger's failure to execute was as much of a factor as Rory's technique. Jake seemed to do much better in the 3rd when he wasn't just looking for the right hand, but actually looking to bully Rory for takedowns while also trying to land the right hand.
Robbie has no problem being aggressive, and if there's a problem with Rory's game it's that a hyperaggressive specialist could be an interesting foil. For some reason people pretend Rory was dominating his bout with Carlos Condit but I'd recommend to those people that they watch it again; I'm not saying Condit secretly dominated, but the 3rd round beatdown was set up by hard shots that visible hurt and staggered Rory in the prior rounds.
If Lawler moves forward, defends takedowns, and doesn't get completely dismantled by Rory's jab, he's almost a smart bet to take a questionable Leonard Garcia style decision.
It's not the smart money in my opinion, as Rory should be able to outmaneuver 'Ruthless' with a can't miss jab, and calculated takedowns for a potential finish
X-Factor: How Robbie handles the ground. He didn't completely panic against Jacare, which makes me think he can turn this into a very attrition based battle on par with Condit, but with less double front kicks, theatrics, and the Hallmark ending.
In-Fight Soundtrack: Spinning in Daffodils (not as violent as you think).
Prediction: Rory MacDonald by Decision.