Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) welterweights Robbie Lawler and Jake Ellenberger will go to war on the main card of UFC 173 this Saturday night (May 24, 2014), airing live at 10 p.m. EST on pay-per-view (PPV) from MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Lawler was last seen losing a decision to newly crowned champion Johny Hendricks in the main event of March 15's UFC 171. Looking to erase the bad memories of the narrow loss, the No. 1-ranked "Ruthless" signed on for a quick turnaround to face No. 5-ranked Ellenberger.
He may be able to secure another title shot by defeating "Juggernaut," who most recently lost a very uninspired decision to Rory MacDonald at UFC on FOX 8 in July 2013.
There's no question that Ellenberger brings a lethal mix of knockout power and wrestling ability to the Octagon, but his only two wins since February 2012 have been over Nate Marquardt and Jay Hieron, not exactly the top of the welterweight food chain.
Both fighters have a lot to prove at UFC 173, and both can end any welterweight's night with one flurry. That should add up to quite the exciting affair in Sin City.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Lawler vs. Ellenberger:
Record: 22-10(1) overall, 7-4 UFC
Key Wins: Rory MacDonald (UFC 167), Josh Koscheck (UFC 157), Chris Lytle (UFC 45), Murilo Rua (EliteXC: Uprising)
Key Losses: Johny Hendricks (UFC 171), Nick Diaz (UFC 47), Evan Tanner (UFC 47), Jake Shields (Strikeforce: Lawler vs. Shields), Ronaldo Souza (Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Cyborg), Tim Kennedy (Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Henderson)
Keys to Victory: With 18 knockouts in 22 wins, it's safe to say that Lawler relies on his striking power to get the job done. He landed a ton of punches on "Bigg Rigg" at UFC 171, but surprisingly couldn't finish the fight.
Lawler knows he could have the belt wrapped around his waist had he only pushed the pace a bit more, so he should show up to Las Vegas beyond motivated to put forth a better effort. Ellenberger proved he could be knocked out against Martin Kampmann, and Lawler is a more proven finisher than "Hitman."
He's going to be pressing the action from the opening bell to put a stamp on Ellenberger and get back to title contender status. It's a solid strategy, but Lawler has to avoid getting overzealous against "Juggernaut," because doing so could spell a shocking knockout loss.
Lawler also needs to use his wrestling skills to avoid Ellenberger's takedowns, and he has to stay sharp should this fight hit the mat. He's lost five fights by submission, but Ellenberger hasn't tapped out an opponent since 2006, making that aspect more of an outside threat to Lawler.
Hendricks showed us that the gameplan to defeat Lawler was to plant him on the canvas so his can't unleash his strikes. "Ruthless" has to make sure Ellenberger doesn't do the same thing.
Record: 29-7 overall, 8-3 UFC
Key Wins: Jake Shields (UFC Fight Night 25), Diego Sanchez (UFC on Fuel TV 1), Mike Pyle (UFC 108), John Howard (UFC on Versus 2)
Key Losses: Rory MacDonald (UFC on FOX 8), Carlos Condit (UFC Fight Night 19), Martin Kampmann (TUF 15 Finale)
Keys to Victory: Enjoying a lofty ranking spot in what may be the toughest division in all of MMA, Ellenberger has to prove that his prime position is justified. He's looked rather pedestrian in recent efforts; wins over fighters like Marquardt and Hieron are not going to do much for his career path at this point.
Ellenberger is ready to get rid of the bad memories of his loss to MacDonald, a fight that was fueled by trash talk but failed to deliver. To do so, "Juggernaut" has to arrive to UFC 173 with no lasting effects of the partially torn hamstring that forced him out of his scheduled UFC Fight Night 34 headliner against former Strikeforce champion Tarec Saffiedine.
But that's far from all he has to do to win.
Like Lawler, Ellenberger has to use his thunderous power in a controlled manner. We've seen him gas before after going for huge flurries against Sanchez and Kampmann; one fight he won by decision, the other he suffered a devastating setback.
Lawler was an all-state wrestler in high school, but Ellenberger should hold the advantage thanks to this NCAA Division II mat background. He was able to take down MacDonald at the end of their fight, but by then it was too late to win on points.
Ellenberger might win a slugfest against Lawler, but that's the ultimate coin flip, so going back to his wrestling base will help him nullify his opponent's "Ruthless" power.
Bottom Line from Las Vegas: The bottom line for this fight is that it is an absolutely crucial one in a division where there is simply no room for mistakes.
After many years of going through the motions, Lawler is hungry to be a UFC champion. His camp change to Florida's American Top Team has worked wonders for his skills, and you can tell that he's still bitter about his loss to Hendricks.
That means he's going to be very tough to stop.
Ellenberger, on the other hand, may actually have more pressure on his shoulders. He's been regarded as one of the top welterweights in UFC for a few years now, but at some point, he's going to have to start delivering on that promise.
A win over Lawler is the perfect way to accomplish that.
If he can somehow get by "Ruthless," Ellenberger will fast track himself towards a coveted 170-pound title shot, probably getting one with another win over a Top 5-ranked opponent.
That makes this match-up the most important bout of the Omaha native's life.
With so many direct title implications in a stacked division, this promises to be an amazing fight on a strong card. Expect a war.
Robbie Lawler and Jake Ellenberger will collide in a welterweight proving ground at UFC 173. Who will emerge victorious to fight on towards a possible title shot?