Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight stars Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler duked it out last night (Dec. 6, 2014) inside Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Hendricks' recent bouts -- win or lose -- have been incredibly close. So to really cement his position as champion, Hendricks needed a dominant performance.
Lawler may have lost to Hendricks earlier this year, but that only lit a fire under his ass. While his opponent was on the sidelines recovering from injuries, Lawler was chopping through the rest of the division, hoping to create a different result the second time around.
Lawler did not intend to start slowly in this fight. He immediately punching into the clinch, where he landed a few strong knees to the body. Hendricks began looking for the takedown, as he had to slow Lawler down.
Eventually, Hendricks managed to push Lawler into the fence. From this position, both men traded knees, while Hendricks looked for the takedown. With about 40 seconds left in the round, Hendricks secured his first double-leg takedown of the fight, but not before he landed a few hard low kicks.
The first round could go either way, as both men had their moments.
Lawler coasted at the beginning of the second round, allowing Hendricks to land plenty of hard low kicks without any repercussion. Then, Hendricks finished another takedown, though Lawler kept his back to the fence throughout. With a little over a minute left, Lawler returned to his feet and landed a nice front kick to the jaw.
Near the end of the round, Lawler landed some very heavy kicks, but it wasn't anywhere close to enough to win him the round.
Once again, Lawler threw very few strikes to open the third round. His strategy had to be based around conserving energy, but he was eating shots while he did so. Then, Hendricks hit a single-leg and pressured Lawler into the fence when "Ruthless" returned to his feet.
For the first time, Lawler accomplished nothing, as Hendricks controlled both the wrestling and striking.
This time, Lawler turned it up a bit after a minute or so. He really looked for his high kick, which nearly landed at one point. However, Hendricks was still winning a majority of the exchanges and finished a single leg.
At the end of the round, Hendricks chose a bizarre minute to take a break. With about 20 seconds left, Lawler sprawled out on a shot. Hendricks simply stayed in that position, letting Lawler land free punches and elbows for the final parts of the round and making the round closer than it needed to be.
After a quick exchange, Hendricks forced the fight against the fence with a takedown attempt. Before long, Herb Dean separated the two, and the fight returned to the center of the Octagon.
Lawler began pushing the pace but could not make something happen with his power punches. Due to the close nature of the first and fourth rounds, it was potentially either man's fight, making it imperative that someone make their mark.
That man was definitely Lawler.
As Hendricks again laid down while underneath Lawler's sprawl, "Ruthless" unleashed a barrage of punches and elbows to the head and body. These clearly hurt "Big Rigg," so he abandoned the takedown. When he did, Lawler went on a rampage, swinging heavy kicks and punches and doing his damnedest to finish the bout.
Though he failed to finish Hendricks, it likely earned him the fight.
In one of the most tense moments I can remember as an MMA fan, Lawler earned the split decision.
Overall, the decision (see scorecards here) could've justly gone to either fighter. In rounds one and four, it came down to Lawler's damage against Hendricks' top control. In the end, two of the three judges scored it for Lawler's offense.
Lawler's game plan was one of the strangest things I've ever seen work. Overall, it seemed to comprise biding his time to unleash his offense and do as much damage possible with his energy. The major downside of this was that it allowed Hendricks to frequently land punches and low kicks without response, which made the takedown come much easier.
However, the plus side eventually won Lawler the fight. In the first round, Lawler's explosion took up much of the first half of the round, as he tore into Hendricks with knees and punches. When he relaxed, Hendricks regained momentum, but it seems that the judges still gave Lawler the round and he didn't have to exert himself.
That's a win. A risky one, sure, but a win nonetheless.
The fourth round was a similar story, except Lawler's burst was in the final moments of the round, which definitely left an impact on the judges. Finally, in the fifth, Lawler took that explosion into overdrive, nearly beating the former champion senseless in a fit of rage that lasted the final minute of the bout.
There's something almost poetic about this strategy. Lawler's made a career out of thriving in chaos, and this game plan certainly reflected that. There were definitely some technical issues with Lawler's performance, but for now, let's just focus on the incredible fact that Robbie Lawler is a UFC titleholder in 2014.
Whether a trilogy scrap with Johny Hendricks or a rematch with Rory MacDonald awaits "Ruthless," I'm certain that all eyes will be on the new champion.
Hendricks has a major problem. To put it simply, Hendricks takes breaks. Sometimes, he doesn't push for an entire round, like the fifth in his title fight with St. Pierre. Other times, he simply pauses for a few seconds, less than one minute, and takes a breather.
That's simply not an option if he wants to win consistently against the best welterweights in the world. At an elite level, he cannot afford a moment of relaxation.
Really, it comes down to whether it's a problem of mentality or conditioning. Rogan repeatedly praised Hendricks' ability to stay relaxed throughout, but perhaps its that same attitude that lets him relax on the bottom until suddenly the most dangerous power puncher in the division is throwing haymakers at him.
Alternatively, Hendricks could simply not have the gas tank to push hard for 25 minutes. In all likelihood, it's probably a combination of the two, as Hendricks relaxes himself and takes breaks in order to remain relatively fresh in the championship rounds.
Either way, it's an issue, and Hendricks has to solve it to become a truly dominant champion.
At UFC 181, Robbie Lawler successfully snatched the UFC title from Johny Hendricks in a second five round war. Can the new champion hold onto his crown?
For complete UFC 181: "Hendricks vs Lawler 2" results and play-by-play click HERE.