It’s safe to say that, one year ago, nobody had any idea how a few of the UFC divisions were going to be drastically reshaped over the next 365 days.

Nobody expected that Anderson Silva was going to be knocked out twice, stripped of his middleweight title, and suffer back-to-back losses to Chris Weidman. Nobody expected that Anthony Pettis was going to strip Benson Henderson of a second title, only to be sidelined with injury, creating another stalemate in the lightweight division. And nobody expected Johny “Bigg Rigg” Hendricks to take a decision from Carlos Condit and lose a controversial split decision to welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, only to have GSP subsequently retire.

Well, the unexpected has happened on all those levels, and, with the six-year undisputed welterweight champ on the bench, Hendricks and surging veteran “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler are set to face off this Saturday night in the UFC 171 headliner, live from the American Airlines Center in Dallas.

From 2009 to 2012, Lawler had a bit of a rocky road, going 3-5 in Strikeforce competition. Granted, his three wins were all knockouts, but he seemed to slip against top competitors, including submission losses to Jake Shields and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. However, 2013 was a huge year for Lawler. After he went 3-0 in his return to the UFC, most associations voted him the “Comeback Fighter of the Year.” After knockouts of Josh Koscheck and Bobby Voelker, Lawler moved to the top of the heap with a split decision win over Rory MacDonald in November. Hendricks will, by far, be one of the toughest tests of his career.

Many felt that Hendricks beat GSP in his last outing, so it was a sort of poetic justice for those people to see GSP go into retirement, setting Hendricks up with another chance at the strap. Prior to his last outing, the Oklahoma native was on a six-fight winning streak with notable knockouts of TJ Waldburger, Jon Fitch and Martin Kampmann. With St-Pierre off the grid, Hendricks is now the top-ranked welterweight in the world, but Lawler will be looking to change that on Saturday night.

MMA fans are in for a big treat as these two hard-hitting knockout artists headline an amazing card for the UFC’s second return to the Big D. Let’s take a deeper look at the match-up. And as a reminder, this is a side-by-side comparison of how the fighters’ skills match up against one another using similar scoring to the unified rules.

Striking: Hendricks – 10, Lawler – 10

Hendricks and Lawler are known for their relentless striking and their knockout power. Lawler holds an impressive 18 knockout wins in his 32-fight career, and Hendricks has handed out eight in his 17 pro fights. Both men are very aggressive southpaws, and when they see an opening, the bombs fly. The biggest mismatch in the striking game lies in their respective sizes.

Lawler spent the greater part of his career as a middleweight before dropping back down to 170 pounds in his return to the UFC. That means that all of those knockouts he was racking up throughout his career were against guys who were at least 15 pounds heavier than Hendricks. The former Miletich and current American Top Team standout has a two-inch height advantage and a three-inch reach advantage. This could pose problems for Hendricks, because some of his larger opponents in the past weren’t as hard-hitting as Lawler.

If the fight stays standing, it could really be either man’s game. Their striking statistics are nearly identical. Hendricks throws a slightly higher volume of strikes, but Lawler has a slightly better striking defense.

Submission Grappling: Hendricks – 10, Lawler – 9

If one of these guys has a weakness in his armor, it would lie in Lawler’s grappling game. Granted, Lawler’s last two submission losses were against Shields and Jacare, two of the best submission grapplers in all of MMA, but he has five total submission defeats on his record. In 32 fights, he has only submitted one opponent, and that was a long time ago.

To be fair, Hendricks isn’t really known as a submission artist, and he also holds only one submission win, but he has never been stopped on the ground or anywhere else.

The reason Hendricks gets the nod here is that he is less likely to put himself in precarious positions on the ground. Lawler’s confidence and aggressiveness can get him caught, but his opponent is more likely to get the fight back to standing to avoid ground fighting. It’s not a matter of who’s the better offensive grappler. This one is all about protection, and Hendricks’ defense is seemingly better.

Wrestling: Hendricks – 10, Lawler – 10

While submission grappling may not display a huge gap in skills between Hendricks and Lawler, wrestling carries a much bigger gap, at least on paper.

As a wrestler, Hendricks is one of the most successful guys to ever transition into MMA. At Oklahoma State University, he was a four-time NCAA Division I All-American, a two-time NCAA Division I national champion and a three-time Big 12 conference champion. He is currently one of the best wrestlers in the sport. However, Lawler is no slouch in this department.

Lawler was an All-State wrestler at Bettendorf High School, but transitioned into MMA before he even graduated. His wrestling is quite impressive, featuring a great takedown defense, a high takedown accuracy and a nasty clinch. In fact, his MMA-centric wrestling stats, outside of takedowns per fight, are actually better than those of the former national champion.

It is easy to look at resumes and hand the wrestling to Hendricks, but Lawler is a bigger guy who’s been fighting bigger guys. Hendricks may have the skills, but he will also have his hands full with the Miletich-trained fighter.

Stamina: Hendricks – 10, Lawler – 9

Lawler and Hendricks may be around the same age, but Lawler has a lot more miles on his chassis, with 32 fights to Hendricks’ 17. There’s a lot to be said there. When Lawler was younger, he won decisions, but in Strikeforce, he lost all of his distance battles. Lawler’s last win, over MacDonald, was a split decision that could’ve gone either way, and MacDonald was fighting a very tame fight. This will not be the case with Hendricks.

Wrestlers are known to have deep gas tanks, and Hendricks is no different. Against St-Pierre, the Oklahoman went all five rounds and definitely looked the fresher fighter after 25 minutes. In his fight against Condit, he went three rounds and again looked the fresher fighter at the end of the final minute.

If this one goes the distance, Lawler could be in trouble. He has a bigger weight drop, and Hendricks’ relentless attack will wear down just about anyone.

Aggressiveness: Hendricks – 9, Lawler – 10

What Lawler loses in the stamina department, he greatly makes up for in aggressiveness. This is not to say that Hendricks lacks aggressiveness, but in a side-by-side comparison, Lawler has been looking especially beastly lately. Hendricks is going to be facing the polar opposite of GSP when it comes to Lawler’s hard-pressing style, and Hendricks had better be ready for an all-out war from the first minute of the first round.

X-factor

The x-factor in this fight is momentum. Hendricks was on a big streak before losing to GSP last fall. He is in a position where he needs to pick himself up, dust off and try to prove why he’s really the one deserving the belt.

Lawler is in a much better position. Fans had practically written him off after a very lackluster Strikeforce middleweight career. Then, he drops 15 pounds, enters the UFC and goes on an undefeated run with nothing to lose. Hendricks was expected to be at the top, whereas Lawler is just riding the wave of career resurgence. Nobody expected Lawler to get where he is, and that makes him the more dangerous opponent. He has everything to gain and very little to lose. Therefore, he has the ability to leave it all in the cage.

Total: Hendricks – 49, Lawler – 48

Verdict: Chances are, the battle that will headline UFC 171 is not going to make it the distance. With mixed results coming from decisions for both of these fighters, they will seek to wear down the other and finish the fight early in an attempt to avoid the judges. Hendricks and Lawler are both grinders with heavy hands, amazing wrestling skills and average submission attacks, so fans should not have to worry about a boring grappling battle. This fight is going to be hard-hitting excitement and a war of attrition.

Although the rankings tend to side with Hendricks, nobody can doubt Lawler’s recent resurgence and nothing-to-lose attitude. Hendricks and his fans will most likely come out expecting a win, but it would be no surprise to see Lawler miraculously capturing UFC gold after the best year of his fighting life. Lawler by second-round TKO to become the unexpected UFC welterweight champion.

About The Author

Dan Kuhl
Interview Coordinator
  • It was a split decision win over Rory not unanimous as you state. good stuff otherwise!