Fellow Strikeforce migrants Robbie Lawler and Bobby Voelker will do battle on the main card of this Saturday's UFC on Fox 8 event from The Key Arena in Seattle, Washington. The show is helmed by a title bout between the reigning and inaugural flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson vs. foe-thrashing contender John Moraga while a pivotal welterweight match between contenders Rory MacDonald and Jake Ellenberger holds down the co-main slot.
After bantamweights Liz Carmouche vs. Jessica Andrade light off the Fox card, Bobby Voelker, who's stepping in on short notice for Siyar Bahadurzada, will collide with battle-hardened veteran Robbie Lawler.
It's pretty shocking that "Ruthless" Robbie Lawler (20-9) made his MMA debut in 2001 at age 19, his UFC debut a year later at UFC 37 in 2002, and now boasts a 12-year tenure in the sport, yet is still only age 31. A Miletich Fighting Systems OG, Lawler trampled his first three UFC opponents but was released after winning just one of his next four. Lawler, initially a welterweight, beefed up to middleweight and soldiered on to capture titles in SuperBrawl, ICON Sport (two-time champion), EliteXC (two-time champion) and challenged for the Strikeforce middleweight crown.
Just as it seemed like Lawler was fading into Strikeforce obscurity, the UFC's purchase of the promotion offered a golden ticket, and Lawler capitalized by dropping back down to welterweight and surprisingly smashing consummate top-10'er Josh Koscheck in his Octagon return at UFC 157. The thunder-fisted gamer instantly regained credibility with the rousing win and now stands as a fresh and dangerous new presence in the welterweight blender.
Bobby Voelker (24-9) is still probably best known for emerging victorious in his trilogy with Roger Bowling in Strikeforce, but surely intent on reshaping that reputation with the grand opportunity of fighting inside the Octagon. Voelker's god-given love for fighting is exemplified by his opening fight schedule, as "Vicious" notched a jaw-dropping nine outings in 2006, which was his first year of pro MMA.
When he appeared under the Strikeforce banner, Voelker's 20-7 record might have seemed pedestrian, but many of his losses were to respectable opposition like Justin Wilcox and former UFC'ers Kevin Burns and Jacob Volkmann, and Voelker closed out his Strikeforce stint with a 4-1 pace. The 34-year-old scrapper dropped his Octagon debut to Patrick Cote; the performance was not only authenticating in defeat, but 9 of the 11 media sources on MMADecisions.com penned in Voelker for the win.
Voelker is physically strong, aggressive, and a tough-as-nails brawler. He's at his best when he's able to close distance and wear his opponent down with clinch- or top-control whilst battering them with short-range knees and dirty boxing. He's obviously not absent of technique or skill, but his M.O. is lowering his head and bull-rushing into close quarters to make the fight a grueling and down-and-dirty grinder. He's a heavy-handed slugger with an effective one-two and boxing, but his punches are a bit wide and he usually prefers to step in and lock horns after hurling big leather.
He's also the type to make sure nothing comes easy for his opponent: he'll answer each shred of offense with something of his own, and advancing position -- whether it's moving him onto the fence, circling his large girth off the fence or something as simple as grabbing wrist control in the clinch -- is almost impossible to accomplish without feeling the stinging hum-drum of Voelker's fists or knees.
Though Lawler has produced some of the most brutal knockouts in MMA history, his potent offense is delivered with polished striking finesse -- and his merciless dusting of Matt Lindland is a prime example of how timing, precision, and artful technique facilitate Lawler's exemplary finishing ratio (17 TKO's, 1 sub and 2 decisions). While his wrestling and submission grappling are not as voracious as his handiwork, Lawler's years of top-flight experience and foundation under the great Pat Miletich endow him with few -- if any -- fundamental flaws. He's rock solid in both categories, and no stranger to adjusting his striking arsenal for those who have a tendency to lower their head and change levels.
If anything, the criticism surrounding his spurts of complacency that surfaced after Lawler's commonplace showing against Tim Kennedy might be the biggest concern, especially against a frenetically paced firecracker in Voelker, who has no off-button and never lets anyone off the hook. In fact, Voelker's propensity to keep coming forward and to clinch up or drop levels and attack the hips could instill some hesitancy in Lawler's electric striking, as we saw in the Kennedy fight.
Personally, I think Lawler thrives on facing power punchers who can't match his speed and finesse, though there are exceptions. He'll want to stay out of cage corners and avoid tangling with Voelker in the phone booth, using his footwork in the open space of the cage to chamber off crisp and quick combinations, or doing the same in the pocket, only adding in his artful bobbing and weaving and use of angles beforehand. If Voelker is able to shrink the gap and get his hands on Lawler consistently, however, I can see an upset transpiring.
My Prediction: Robbie Lawler by TKO.