Robbie Lawler vs. Matt Brown Welterweight
When we last left our heroes...
There's something deeply theatrical about this bout. When Robbie Lawler lost to Evan Tanner at UFC 50, it represented the inexorable truth about sports. Or so we thought. That here's a fighter who failed to evolve with the sport, and was watching the game pass him by. A full decade ago.
And here he us...looking to regain another shot to the title by getting past Matt Brown. Cue the record scratching...
Matt Brown exists in the same universe as Lawler in some ways. The initial difference being that Brown had yet to turn pro (his debut was in 2005).
But here was a guy who, like Lawler, was ostensibly a victim of MMA's evolution after posting a 1-4 streak in 2010 and 2011 with losses to Ricardo Almeida, Chris Lytle, Brian Foster, and Seth Baczynski. At best that handful of men are limited gatekeepers; at worst, non UFC material. And that's not even counting his loss to Amir Sadollah (which was a fun fight among many from TUF 7).
This is part of what has everyone excited. It's not just that we would have loved this fight even during their dreadful losing streaks. It's that their losing streaks have rewritten that cynical prizefighting script. Athletic competition is a young man's game. Especially for prizefighter's. Youth is a better guard against the physiological savagery of sports whereas age tends to be a validation of its cruelty.
With Lawler being 32, and Brown, a world weary 33...the MMA gods should have chewed them up and spit them out a long time ago. Especially given their respective styles. Instead here they stand, making their arguments against the collective fade with a clenched fist, and a malevolent resolve.
"The big picture will take care of itself if all the small pieces are taken care of." - Brown
"I've fallen in love with the sport of MMA again. I'm just a fan. Not of any fighter, but of the matchups, what people are trying to accomplish. The battle within the battle, and really what I watch for is: Can guys make adjustments? Are they capable of changing things up in a fight? - Lawler
What both men can violently do...
In the past, the only thing you could say about Lawler is that he hit hard, and fast, but if you could get him down on the ground, that's all you needed. Now, that's not the case. He's a nightmare to put on his back, and even Ronaldo 'Jacare' Souza needed three rounds to finish him in 2011.
Lawler is a great example of how significant one can improve with a different mindset, and a cerebral approach. Physically, he has not changed since his early UFC tenure. But when you consider his quote above, and see the end results, his approach to fighting has paid real dividends.
The real key for Lawler is that he's still as active as he used to be. Beforehand, he lobbed combinations, but he was mostly just a boxer looking for the knockout, and away from the ground. Nowadays, he maintains the same pace, but with movement in addition to utilizing angles and adjustments. Lawler's demeanor betrays his general IQ. He doesn't attract attention to his intelligence, and I think it comes from winning fights the same way he used to: critics assume nothing has changed, when in fact, he's endured a quiet revolution.
As for Brown, if you haven't read Phillip MacKenzie's excellent, utterly unique piece on the bout, you should. But he hits on a very important point about what makes Brown so effective: his ability to not simply mount offense, but to cascade it. Plenty of guys have what we call "killer instinct" and can finish a fight when their opponents are hurt, but very few are capable of building momentum with short bursts of offense. What Brown does so well with his array of punches, kicks, and knees is set the stage for a finish.
How both men can be violently exploited...
Both guys have been able to mask their flaws well, but I'm still skeptical about Brown. Early on in his win streak, I felt like his competition was lacking. When he took out Jordan Mein, Mike Pyle, and Erick Silva, even us skeptics had to take notice.
Still, I feel like Brown has benefited from a lot of matchups. Beating Lawler would absolutely earn him a title shot (insofar as any title shot is earned in the UFC). But Joe Silva hasn't given him a ton of stylistically tough matchups. No Jake Ellenberger (not a guaranteed win for Jake, but I would pick him to win), Jake Shields, Demian Maia, Rory Mac, Carlos Condit, or a Hector Lombard. Nothing.
Matt Brown's a fine fighter, and he'll continue to pick up wins in the UFC, but getting a title shot won't be in the cards. Unlike Lawler, Brown has continued winning irrespective of improvement. Brown does a few things better than he used to, when those punches start landing to the body, I expect Brown to crumble. His best bet is to fight inside where he seems to become a completely different athlete, but Lawler is good at adjusting, so I wouldn't expect to see him fight in Brown's wheelhouse, whereas Brown will absolutely engage with Lawler at range. In fact, I expect Lawler to put away Brown early. So early that fans might even be disappointed. At least until they realize it sets up Lawler vs. Hendricks 2...
Prognostication: Robbie Lawler by TKO, round 1.