Robbie Lawler is one of the most beloved fighters in UFC history, but as a champion he regularly gets the side eye. Well, got.
His split-decision win over Johny Hendricks was a little bizarre, but it was the split-decision win over Carlos Condit (who outpointed him easily 4 rounds to 1) that got people thinking. It’s like watching your girlfriend/boyfriend get a promotion they didn’t deserve; babe I love you but I don’t think you earned that.
Well, move your eyes front and center. Tyron Woodley blasted Lawler with a right hand that dropped the iron chinned champion in a way not seen since Nick Diaz countered him over a decade ago.
It’s interesting this happened because Robbie Lawler is arguably one of the best boxers if not the best boxer in the UFC.
He essentially stood and absorbed 6 rounds of punishment from Johny Hendricks because of his ability to parry and roll with power shots. He managed to blunt Rory MacDonald’s technical brilliance twice, first by smothering the jabbing hand and then with footwork and straight punches. Before that, he managed to keep Matt Brown at bay with beautiful counters and check hooks. And unlike other skilled MMA boxers (Ross Pearson and Brad Pickett come to mind) the now ex-champion has kicks and knees to mix it up and keep him from being predictable, carrying him to a belt where others fell short.
I’m saying all of this because it shows how little all that matters if you’re predictable and fall for a set up.
While I doubt Woodley performed this set up with my convenience in mind, he nonetheless illustrated a concept I’d covered earlier.
Woodley feinted with his right hand and then ducked. Lawler’s left hand bit on the feint, then went down low to stop what he thought was going to be a takedown. Instead he ate a full looping right hand over the top that ended his championship reign.
Every fighter that uses this set up applies it differently, but with the same result. Lineker shrinks his 5′ 3″ frame even further by crouching, meaning that any opponent who wants to hit him has to move their hand and shoulder out of guard position. Michael Chandler just applies pressure until his opponents get antsy enough to move their left hand, at which point his hair trigger right hand lays them out.
But if I had to pick one fighter Woodley channeled for that set up, it’d be Roy Nelson.
Now Nelson isn’t a “wrestler” by any means, but with the dimensions and density of Mercury (the planet, not the metal) his top game has always been incredible. Nelson’s right hand is always the bigger threat, but it’s avoidable. On the other hand, ending up underneath him almost ensures that you’ll be smothered and beat on until the bell rings or the referee feels bad for you.
So when Nelson went low, Herman understandably brought his hands down to keep him at bay only to have his jaw spun.
Woodley, on the other hand, IS a wrestler. With both high school and collegiate wrestling under his belt and being teammates with Ben “if I get you down you don’t get up” Askren, a takedown is a serious threat. Plus, Lawler’s most definitive losses (other than Nick) have come from fighters who could take him down and keep him there.
So Lawler, one of the best boxers and counter fighters, threw his hand out. And just like Dave Herman, or Dave Rickels, or Michael MacDonald, he was laid out.
One more thing I’d like to point out is how long Tyron Woodley’s right hand was. Overhead rear-handed punches are already risky punches because the length they must travel and the balancing issues upon missing. Unlike Lineker who can get away with this because of his short arms, Woodley’s long right was riskier.
That is, it would have been risky if he didn’t know where Lawler’s chin would be. But since his intention was to get Lawler thinking “takedown”, he predicted the left hand coming down and Lawler backing up. So it made sense at that point to lengthen the strike to lower the possibility of it whiffing. In fact, you can see Lawler about to plant his second foot and skip away as the long right cleans him.
I said it when Fabricio Werdum beat Cain Velasquez and I’ll say it again:
A good gameplan beats a good fighter.
Every. Single. Time.