Two of the UFC's brightest young featherweights will duke it out this Saturday night (August 11, 2012) as Justin Lawrence takes on Max Holloway in the opening bout of the UFC 150 main card in Denver, Colorado.
Lawrence was the favorite to win this past season of The Ultimate Fighter before getting upset in the quarterfinal round by the eventual winner Michael Chiesa. He stepped up his game and scored a Knockout of the Year candidate on the show's finale. Now, after dropping down a a weight class, he's ready to show his potential.
Max Holloway is still one of the youngest fighters signed with the UFC. The lanky featherweight possesses a strong gas tank and a warrior spirit, willing to take on Dustin Poirier in his promotional debut. He got his first UFC victory in his last fight against Pat Schilling and he's ready to go on a nice streak on a bigger pay-per-view stage.
Can Lawrence stay undefeated and get inside Holloway's range? Will Holloway rise to the occasion and put an end to Lawrence's hype? What's the key to victory for both men on Saturday night?
Let's find out:
Record: 4-0 overall, 1-0 in the UFC
Key Wins: John Cofer (TUF Live Finale)
Key Losses: none
How he got here: Justin Lawrence got a very early start in the world of combat sports. He was a very talented kickboxer, winning multiple national titles at a young age and supposedly having over 150 amateur kickboxing fights.
Lawrence transitioned to mixed martial arts in 2007, winning all five of his amateur fights before turning pro in 2010 at just 20 years old. He made his professional debut on the Strikeforce: St. Louis undercard, winning via technical decision after soccer kicking his opponent late in the third round.
He would fight at Ultimate Cage Battles just four months later and after winning his bout, he made some connections with Blackhouse fighter Eduardo Pamplona, who had also been competing at the event. Lawrence began training at Blackhouse in California and after winning his third bout, he would be invited onto the 15th season of The Ultimate Fighter.
To get on the show, Lawrence took on WEC veteran James Krause and streamrolled him, winning via first round knockout to the surprise of many. He followed that up by obliterating cagey grappler Cristiano Marcello with a brutal second round knockout as well. He was a favorite to win the whole thing, but was upset in the third round against eventual show winner Mike Chiesa.
He proved the hype real against John Cofer, destroying the wrestler with a picture-perfect head kick on The Ultimate Fighter Finale. Now, he'll be dropping down a weight class and stepping into the cage against a very young and talented UFC featherweight in Max Holloway.
How he gets it done: Lawrence needs to keep it simple against Cofer, and that means either getting inside with his powerful punching or staying on the far outside and hammering away with kicks.
Holloway has a simple style, although he's aggressive and throws a high volume of strikes. If Lawrence can withstand the pressure of a constant assault, there should be plenty of opportunities to counter effectively with power whether it's a head kick, body kick or a big punch.
Controlling distance and frustrating Holloway will be incredibly important for Lawrence. If he can get himself in a good striking groove, Holloway could be in for a big surprise when he wades in throwing bombs.
Record: 5-1 overall, 1-1 in the UFC
Key Wins: Pat Schilling (TUF Live Finale)
Key Losses: Dustin Poirier (UFC 143)
How he got here: Max Holloway, hailing from Hawaii, got into MMA very early. Fighting for the X-1 promotion on the big island, "Blessed" scored three straight victories, including winning the X-1 lightweight title over WEC and Strikeforce veteran Harris Sarmiento.
The Sarmiento victory put Holloway on the map, even garnering him a slot on the 2012 BE Scouting Report, and a follow-up decision win put the 20 year old firmly in the UFC's sites. When both Erik Koch and Ricardo Lamas got injured, the youngster was called up to the UFC to face rising contender Dustin Poirier on the UFC 143 undercard.
In that bout, Holloway was controlled and outmuscled by the bigger, stronger and more experienced Poirier, losing via mounted triangle armbar in the first round. He did the UFC a favor so they're giving him another shot. Holloway stepped in against someone a little more on his level in Pat Schilling at The Ultimate Fighter Live Finale and he beat "Thrilling" from pillar to post for three straight rounds to earn a dominant unanimous decision.
He'll try to give himself his first winning record in the UFC on Saturday night.
How he gets it done: They key for Holloway is to use his strengths which are his dynamic striking and his incredible pace, while avoiding allowing Lawrence to get comfortable.
That means he's got to be a little extra aggressive in his stand-up attack. If he gives Lawrence too much space and some time to get his bearings, the TUF Live veteran could very well get in a groove and blast him with one of those nasty head kicks.
The other important factor for Holloway is to force Schilling to work extra hard for everything by never slowing down. Lawrence faded in his fight against Michael Chiesa and if Holloway pushes him to the limit, he could fade again. Pressure and pace are the keys for Holloway here.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight could be size. Despite the fact that Lawrence is dropping down to featherweight, Holloway will still be holding a significant height and reach advantage. Holloway has three inches on Lawrence both with his arms and his distance from the ground. If he can utilize this properly, he'll have a very good chance of frustrating the karate fighter and forcing bad decisions.
Bad decisions aren't uncommon with Lawrence. He's still relatively inexperienced in professional MMA and he made a terrible choice on The Ultimate Fighter in repeatedly diving into Michael Chiesa's guard and eventually getting stopped. If he makes a similar mistake, that's all Holloway could need to put him away.
Bottom Line: This is a battle of two very dynamic and entertaining strikers who enjoy throwing a wide variety of punches, kicks and other striking attacks. This fight could be a barnburner like Anthony Njokuani vs. Edson Barboza or it could be a one-sided shellacking. There's no way of knowing until both men step into the Octagon and begin throwing down. Regardless, I'm expecting fireworks and someone could definitely be getting knocked out.
Who will come out on top at UFC 150? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!