Robbie Lawler vs. Johny Hendricks: Who takes it?

HendricksVSLawlerUFC 171 is almost upon us and will boast an epic clash for the UFC’s now vacant welterweight title between Johny “Big Rig” Hendricks and “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler. Hendricks enters the fight to many as the uncrowned champion looking to make his first defence after battering Georges St. Pierre in November of last year yet failing to satisfy the judges. Lawler himself enters the bout one of the unlikelier comeback stories of recent years having earned his shot at UFC gold after defeating Josh Koscheck, Bobby Voelker and Rory Macdonald consecutively.

The most important aspect of this matchup is Hendricks’ wrestling. Remove this attribute and both men share some similarities: stocky, powerful southpaws with absurd knockout power. Where they differ is that Lawler has developed into something more closely resembling a counter puncher whereas Hendricks bull rushes his opponents into either his cinderblock of a left hand or world class wrestling. Lawler is also a smart, powerful kicker while Hendricks has yet to show (or need) much in this department.

If Hendricks is smart he will forego any kind of striking engagement against so wily a veteran short of punching his way into a clinch and will try to get Lawler down and keep him there but where the matchup gets interesting is that Hendricks has a tendency to lead with his head. He makes it work because most of his opponents are so preoccupied with the power threat this kind of movement creates but if anyone can “stand and bang” with the best of them it’s Robbie Lawler.

Anyone in doubt of this should take heed of his 2010 bout with Melvin Manhoef, a Dutch Kickboxer who qualifies as one of the hardest hitters in MMA history irrespective of weight class. Manhoef was kicking Lawler’s legs to shreds and lighting him up with extremely hard punches but all the while Lawler was calm, collected and even appeared to be playing possum. This calm paid off in full when he blasted Manhoef unconscious with a single lightning-quick counter and won the fight to the thunder of the crowd.

If Hendricks overextends himself even once Lawler can drop a bomb and instantly change the course of the fight and really, there aren’t many fighters in the UFC less worth brawling with than Robbie Lawler. Wrestling is the obvious choice for Hendricks and Lawler must know this. He is sure to have trained off his back extensively and also may look to catch Hendricks coming forward with a knee strike.

It’s ironic, both men are extremely tough and have shown great chins time and time again but they similarly have such remarkable knockout power a stoppage could occur at any point within the five championship rounds. While this is obviously the case for all fights typically fighters either possess knockout ability in the earlier rounds before tiring or purposefully don’t fight for the knockout as a stylistic choice. Those who possess a permanent knockout threat are rare and this main event thankfully has two of them.

As for who will come out on top if Hendricks fights to his strengths and purposefully avoids going for the knockout he should be able to hold Lawler down for five rounds and secure the belt that eluded him so tragically last time. If Hendricks can’t get Lawler to the mat repeatedly and is forced to fight on the feet then Lawler has a more well-rounded game and could very well be the first man to put Hendricks out cold.

Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler throw down on March 15th at UFC 171.

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