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UFC 201: Robbie Lawler vs Tyron Woodley Toe to Toe Preview - A Complete Breakdown

Phil and David break down everything you need to know about Lawler vs Woodley for UFC 201 in Atlanta, and everything you don't about the Lawler Calculation Engine.

Artwork by Phil MacKenzie

Robbie Lawler defends his title against Tyron Woodley this July 30, 2016 at the Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.

One sentence summary:

Phil: A potential Carlito's Way title fight, where our hero takes out the threats, but loses at the last minute to that guy that no-one expected.

David: MMA's favorite War Machine of few words defends his title against MMA's most criticized Civil Pugilist of few weapons.


Record: Robbie Lawler 27-10-1 NC Tyron Woodley 15-3

Odds: Robbie Lawler -150 Tyron Woodley +130

History / Introduction to both fighters

Phil: Robbie Lawler does what he wants, sometimes to his own detriment, but then tries to make up for it by trying really hard to win right at the end. That's the fractal of his career.

David: It's been awhile since we've seen Lawler lose, but it feels like just yesterday since we've seen him look human. While the image of Lawler reigning the division in conjunction with getting triangle choked by Evan Tanner to punctuate his UFC exit in 2004 is still difficult to process, there's nothing about his current journey that falls below inspired.

Phil: This is one of the more legitimately puzzling title shots in recent memory. Woodley is not particularly popular with the brass, is often not that fun to watch, and has a recent record which is eclipsed by multiple contenders, most notably Wonderboy. I just don't get it. I'm figuring he must have cut some kind of deal, but I have no idea what it could be. Still, I like Woodley. He's a sharp guy; a student of the game, both inside and out of the cage.

David: I thought for sure Woodley would be the Jon Fitch of 2016: a tough, successful welterweight doing everything in his power to earn a title shot. Just without the aesthetics to help market him into that status. Instead he somehow pulled a Chael Sonnen: accidentally stumbling into the title picture for god knows what reason. The Dong win is fine, and Gastelum is a really underrated welterweight (I'd mention the Hendricks win in support for this, but Hendricks looked like someone whose fate was decided by Pontius Pilate). But that's slim.

What's at stake?

David: I have a feeling that welterweight is about to undergo a middleweight shift into the Lovecraftian unknown. Lawler is great. I love the guy. But I have a hard time seeing him defend for more than two fights, and I suspect this fight is the beginning. Yes, I'm picking Woodley.

Phil: I also have an ominous feeling. If Woodley wins this... it is a severing. Like Nunes/Tate, where there was a line of interest tying back to the fighter that people cared about (Rousey), which finally got cut away. In this manner, Lawler losing is a severing of a period of unbelievably thrilling title fights and of a final connection back to that GSP/Hendricks/Condit era.

Where do they want it?

David: I can't just copy and paste previous paragraphs, can I? I still say that part of Lawler's shift in proficiency is his jab. Yeah, I know. It's not his best weapon. He's got Predator's shoulder cannon stuffed inside his left for that. But it's a punch he's good at hiding from his opponent until it's too late. The reason I point at out his jab is that I notice he throws it more as the fight wears on. Again, not a lot. But just enough to tag his opponent with. It's a very counter-intuitive strategy when you think about what the jab is designed for in the first place, but it works in part because Lawler throws it to hurt. He's not a master of strategy. But he's brilliant at tactics. And it's why he's gotten so far despite getting ostensibly tossed in the recycle bin after the Larkin fight.

Phil: Lawler is a brutal calculator. He wants to figure out what the opponent is going to do and is unafraid of getting in the firing line in order to do that. This doesn't mean that he's defensively porous - he has great integrated head movement, hand parries, and is extremely difficult to hit clean - but he does give his opponent chances.

The left hand is the big money punch, and he will still wing it if he gets sufficiently mad, but the sneaky right hook and that jab are what he uses when the will to win and the fighter's mind are working in concert. He's a fine kicker and clinch striker, but it feels a little as though Lawler's approach is paring down into more of a counterpunching style in recent years. Combined with the "take your best shot" knife-edge approach to ascertaining the opponent's patterns, he always seems like a uniquely vulnerable champion. Simultaneously terrifying, but also that guy where you can look at every challenger and see a path to victory.

David: When I watch Woodley fight, I keep hearing Supa Hot Fire's voice. "Psyke! That's the wrong number!" And yes, I didn't even know where the hell that meme came from until last year. Anyway, Woodley has a very unnatural way of doing combat, but that's not to say it's ineffective. Reading Patrick Wyman's preview on BR (oops, I mean Dr.! Patrick Wyman) reminded me how inert he is when it comes to the left side of his body. He's like a psychological case study: one of those unfortunate but unique souls eating food only on the right side of the plate because they suffer from hemispatial neglect, unable to direct their attention toward the left view of the world's compass. It's weird to think of Woodley as "handicapped" in some way, but he kind of is. But of course, you can still eat dinner on only one side of the plate without losing your nutrients. Somehow, Woodley manages it. What can I say? He's got those fast twitch muscle fibers. Lawler is kind of perfect for Woodley in some ways because Woodley doesn't need to be versatile in order to compete with Lawler's rhythm. He just needs to survive long enough to thread the needle, remaining a threat throughout.

Phil: Woodley is a proximity counter fighter. Essentially what this means is that there is a Death Zone(TM) around him, where to step inside means that he will surge out and either hit you very hard, or take you down. He is not strong if forced to lead, and if someone can effectively attack (or make him believe that they're going to attack) from outside that slice of range, it is possible to make him over-commit. However, this is again one of those fights where despite being far more diverse in his approach, Lawler's game doesn't appear well-designed to shut Woodley out. He likes just coming straight into that zone and getting to work.

Insight from past fights?

David: I would argue, Lawler's very first loss: when Robbie got his hip destroyed by Pete Spratt. It's hard to forget that fight. Not only because Lawler was seen as a can't miss prospect. But because Phil Baroni did the commentary for that fight. Woodley does have a really nice leg kick. And Lawler, at every point in his career, has shown an unwillingness to address them with strategy. Not only are the leg kicks a part of Woodley's potential equation for success, but all of Lawler's fights are replete with instances of him getting hit first because he almost needs it: for Robbie, the "feeling out process" is quite literal.

Phil: The early going in the Condit fight is concerning, because Condit briefly fought in an exact mirror of the way that Woodley does- he backed up to the cage, landed a hard leg kick as Lawler followed, then laced Lawler with a counter right hand. Shortly afterwards, he dropped Lawler with a one-two off the cage. Hmm. Condit is not as good at fighting like Tyron Woodley as Tyron Woodley is.


David: Lawler's ability to take punches. It's become increasingly clear that he can be stunned, and hurt. In all of his last three fights, in point of fact. Woodley has the best raw power of anyone on that list thus far. I don't see him resetting, smiling, nodding his head, and going back to war if he's hurt by Woodley.

Phil: The Lawler Calculation Engine. As one of the better fighters at figuring his opponents out, I think Lawler reaps sizable benefits from previous experience against opponents. Hendricks I to Hendricks II; MacDonald I and II; he came out extremely aggressive against Ellenberger, who he'd sparred with before. There are rumors that Lawler has beaten his ATT teammate Woodley rather easily in spars before... but I also think that Woodley would be exactly the kind of guy to sandbag.


David: As complicated as this fight is strategically, I think the potential outcome is simple to determine: Lawler isn't tactically aggressive enough to neutralize Woodley's ability to tag him throughout the fight. Nor is he long enough to neutralize him through technique and attrition the way Rory did. As long as Woodley gets periodic, but progressive opportunities to land, Lawler's chances to win diminish in my opinion. Then Tyron takes the Benny Blanco opportunity. Tyron Woodley by TKO, round 3.

Phil: I picked Lawler in the staff picks... but I think it's time for the Cheater Hedge. A big right hand was singing to me the whole time I was thinking about RDA-Alvarez, and I ignored it. It's doing it again now. Brutal Bob has been just been a smidge too hittable of late; a slight physical deterioration which changes a punch which would miss into one which is just deflected into one which lands. If Lawler lets Woodley put the leather on him that Condit or MacDonald did, it's hard to see him not going out. If the fight goes to the third round or later, Woodley's comparative lack of craft will be exploited by Lawler's ability to adapt, and he'll likely get finished, but Tyron Woodley by KO, round 2.

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