Robbie Lawler and Tyron Woodley are similar in many ways. They're both 34 years old, both train at American Top Team in Florida, both were Strikeforce title contenders and both are looking to hoist Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) gold later tonight (Sat., July 30, 2016) at UFC 201 live on pay-per-view (PPV) from Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.
But there are two major differences between the elite Welterweights. One being that Lawler has the 170-pound title and the other being that Woodley wants the 170-pound title.
In order to individually capitalize at UFC 201, Lawler and Woodley will adopt differing gameplans. While they have trained alongside one another at ATT, they understand that the more mystery they bring to the Octagon tonight in Atlanta, the better chance they have of winning in fashion.
Before "Ruthless" and "Chosen One" lock horns in a very interesting Welterweight title fight, we take a deeper look under the hood and discuss the keys to victory for both fighters.
1. Stay on the feet ...
It's no secret that Lawler is a striker by trade. He has certainly trained the various disciplines of mixed martial arts (MMA) throughout his career, but his bread and butter most certainly resides in his hands. After all, the guy has finished 20 of his 27 professional wins via knockout or technical knockout.
Because Lawler is so powerful on the feet and has utilized his standup skills to earn the title and defend it, there' no reason to abandon that portion of his game when he meets Woodley at UFC 201. However, Woodley will be one of the best wrestlers "Ruthless" has ever faced and will consistently threaten to take the champ down along the way.
While Lawler has avoided all takedowns over his past two Octagon appearances, he has been known to give in along the cage. Guys like Johny Hendricks, Rory MacDonald and Jake Ellenberger have all found success opposite Lawler in the wrestling department. In order to give himself the best chance to win, force Woodley to make mistakes with his hands and lean on a striking arsenal complete with an iron chin, Lawler must do everything in his power to stay off his back.
2. Get ahead early ...
There's no arguing that Lawler is dangerous at every turn of a fight. In many ways, he's better when he's fighting from behind. But when he finds himself needing to make up for loss time that's when he begins to take on unnecessary punishment.
In order to dodge the do-or-die fifth-round outburst that has made Lawler such a warrior over the past few years, "Ruthless" must get ahead on the judges' scorecards early. His ability to pour it on in the fourth and fifth frames is certainly hypnotic, but it isn't a gameplan that's going to last forever.
Considering Woodley is going to be more restless on the feet than Lawler in the beginning of the contest, the champ should have windows of opportunity to steal two of the first three rounds. If he's able to do that, Lawler may be able to fight from ahead for the first time in a long time.
1. Set the pace early ...
One way to throw a gamed striker for a loop is to press the action early, make him question his movements and control the pace of the fight. While Woodley might find it tough to lean on his striking without getting hit in return, he does have the power to take Lawler down, sap his energy and maintain momentum for as long as he's in top control.
This will give Woodley the chance to dictate the pace of the action. Lawler is used to chasing down his opponents, exchanging in close quarters and waiting for his opportunity to pounce. In order to take all of that away, Woodley will have to drag the champion to the ground, soften him up with strikes, score points in bunches and force Lawler to fight his game.
Anything else will result in Woodley playing a dangerous game on the feet with Lawler, who is at his absolute best when he's forcing opponents to strike, defend and react to his every move. Woodley must limit Lawler's Octagon presence by taking command.
2. Understand his limits ...
Even as a strong wrestler who is more known for his athleticism than his finesse and precision, Woodley is capable of out-pointing many Welterweights on the feet. Heck, four out of his five UFC victories have come by way of knockout or TKO (although his win over Carlos Condit at UFC 171 was a result of a blown ACL).
But even though "Chosen One" has monstrous power in each one of his hands, he must understand his limits on the feet when matched up against someone like Lawler. For all intents and purposes, "Ruthless" is the scariest striker in the history of the UFC's Welterweight division. It doesn't matter who he faces off with, Lawler is going to get the best of them on the feet.
So even though Woodley could hypothetically end the fight with his hands if he catches Lawler off guard, odds are he's going to get himself in serious trouble if he reaches beyond his striking limits. Woodley must proceed with caution on the feet, keep expectations in check and wait for his opportunity to capitalize on any potential mistakes made by the champ.
Prediction: Lawler via third-round knockout
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 201 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, and then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 2 at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.