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UFC 181 fight card: Johny Hendricks vs Robbie Lawler fight preview

Johny Hendricks looks to defend his belt from the onslaught of Robbie Lawler later tonight (Sat., Dec. 6, 2014) at UFC 181 inside Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. With the knowledge of their first fight in mind, what adjustments must be made for either man in order to claim victory? Find out below!

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) welterweights Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler are set to collide over the 170-pound title once again later this evening (Sat., Dec. 6, 2014) on pay-per-view (PPV) in UFC 181's main event inside Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.

It hasn't been easy, but Hendricks has worked his way to the top of the UFC mountain. During his ascension, Hendricks had several very tight battles -- scraps that could have went either way. For his first title defense, Hendricks will look to be truly dominant.

Though he failed to capture the title, Lawler has fought like a championship-caliber fighter. If he can make a few minor changes, Lawler has a very good shot at stealing the strap.

Let's take a look at the keys to victory for each fighter:

Johny Hendricks
Record: 15-2
Key Wins: Robbie Lawler (UFC 171), Jon Fitch (UFC 141), Carlos Condit (UFC 158)
Key Losses: George St. Pierre (UFC 167), Rick Story (TUF 12 Finale)
Keys to Victory: Hendricks is a powerhouse. Between his ridiculously successful collegiate wrestling background and brutal overhand left, Hendricks is capable of overwhelming the defenses of even veteran opponents.

Whenever there's a rematch, it's the victor's goal to replicate his successes and improve upon any errors. Essentially, that means that Hendricks knows quite well what will and will not work against his upcoming opponent.

For example, Hendricks had great success with his low kicks. He landed them consistently, which slowly wore down Lawler's ability to throw with power and slip Hendrick's punches. Against a puncher like "Big Rigg," simply absorbing his strikes isn't an option.

On the flip side, Hendricks also discovered that he cannot easily takedown Lawler, which many expected him to do. With that knowledge in mind, Hendricks can largely focus on his stand up ahead of this bout. He still must remain threaten with his wrestling, but Hendricks can devote his camp to striking with Lawler once again.

To that end, Hendricks should add more body shots into his attack in this bout, especially early. The sooner Hendricks wears out Lawler with low kicks and punches, the quicker that he'll be able to take control of the bout.

Robbie Lawler
Record: 24-10 (1)
Key Wins: Rory MacDonald (UFC 167), Matt Brown (UFC on FOX 12), Josh Koscheck (UFC 157)
Key Losses: Johny Hendricks (UFC 171), Lorenz Larkin (Strikeforce: Rockhold vs Kennedy)
Keys to Victory: Lawler is one of the trickiest strikers in the division, as his lengthy career has allowed him to develop excellent defense and composure to match his "Ruthless" powerful. In addition, his defensive grappling has finally progressed to the point where he's able to defend or get up from the vast majority of his opponent's takedowns.

First and foremost, Lawler needs to start quickly. He cannot take two rounds to find his range and rhythm, as there's a decent chance that this bout will again go to a decision. With that in mind, simply giving away even one round puts Lawler is a hole that's difficult to dig out of.

Additionally, Lawler needs to utilize his kicks. He's obviously wary of being taken down, but it's important that he trust in his takedown defense. Plus, it's really difficult to turn a slamming round kick to the head or body into a takedown, as Hendricks will have to focus on his kick defense.

The deciding factor of the first bout was likely Hendricks' low kicks. They made it easier for Hendricks to land punches, takedowns, and avoid Lawler's own punches.

Therefore, Lawler cannot allow his opponent to land such a huge number of low kicks. There are many solutions to this problem, but I think Lawler should look to counter with punches. Lawler is a very aware fighter; he recognizes when a low kick is coming even if he cannot check it. When that happens, Lawler needs to explode into a counter strike as quickly as possible.

It's not a perfect solution -- and Lawler will still eat some leg kicks -- but it will force Hendricks to hesitate on that strike. Even if Lawler's counters miss, simply deterring Hendricks from throwing the low kick is a victory.

Bottom Line: It's for the title, the first fight was incredible, and the second will likely follow suit. What more can you ask for?

Hendricks finally got his hands on a UFC title earlier this year, and he's in no rush to give it away. This is his first potential title defense, which is part of the requirement of being a "true champion" according to some. Should Hendricks earn his second victory over Lawler, it will go a long way in aiding his legacy.

Should Hendricks lose, he'll likely get another opportunity to fight for the title before long. He may earn the rubber match immediately, but he's no more than a victory or two away.

On the other hand, this is very likely Lawler's last chance to fight for the title. It's not impossible that Lawler could eventually earn a third title shot, but it would have to be against someone other than Hendricks.

If Lawler pulls off the upset, he'll be successfully living up to the hype given to him nearly a decade ago. The story of his career would certainly be among the greatest comebacks in MMA history, as Lawler was truly written off years ago.

At UFC 181, Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler will go to war for the second time in 2014. Which fighter will take the belt home?

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