Analysis, Picks and Betting Tip – UFC 201: Lawler vs. Woodley


With the dust of UFC 200 still settling, it’s back to pay-per-view cards for the WME-IMG owned UFC this weekend as a somewhat underwhelming UFC 201 takes place at the Phillips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.

Headlining the event will be the much maligned scrap for the welterweight title of the world as champion Robbie Lawler defends against former teammate Tyron Woodley.

Born in San Diego, California in 1982, Robbie Lawler is today one of the most decorated and long-serving fighters in mixed martial arts. After debuting in 2001, the man aptly nicknamed “Ruthless” fought seven times for the UFC in his first eleven fights but was released after consecutive losses to Nick Diaz and the late Evan Tanner.

Fights in King Of The Cage, PRIDE and Elite XC kept him active before he signed with Strikeforce in 2009. That promotion gave him eight fights over the next three years – only three of which he won. But when the UFC purchased Strikeforce and brought Lawler over, it seemed to revitalize his career. Wins over Josh Koscheck, Bobby Voelker and Rory MacDonald earned him a title shot, while beating Jake Ellenberger and Matt Brown earned him another one after losing the first to Johny Hendricks.

In the rematch, Lawler turned the tables and won the title (which he still holds) on a tight decision. A humdinger of a rematch with Rory MacDonald followed that before Carlos Condit ran him close in January.

For Woodley, it hasn’t been nearly as long a road to where he is today. Having gone ten in a row to start his career, Woodley’s first loss came against Nate Marquardt for the Strikeforce title in 2012 – just three years after his debut.

Like Lawler, the UFC takeover saw him move to the eight-sided cage where he initially had a mixed time. In his first five UFC fights Woodley beat Jay Hieron as well as the aforementioned Koscheck and Condit but gave up decision losses to both Jake Shields and Rory MacDonald.

Wins over Dong Hyun Kim and Kelvin Gastelum followed that as Woodley, who was subsequently due to fight Johny Hendricks until “Bigg Rigg” missed weight, was promised a title shot. That last fight, though, was in January of 2015 and with the UFC’s often flaky past in that area it’s kind of amazing he’s getting this title shot with two of three people arguably more deserving.

Whether he’s deserving or not, though, makes absolutely no difference to Woodley’s skill set and this fight on Saturday night.

What Woodley brings is a limited, but often dangerous, gameplan. On attack he is a very strong wrestler with a thunderous double leg, good fence control and a smashing top game. To that, he adds an extremely powerful right hand which is usually used on the counter but also hits home when approaching as an overhand. All of these things usually come from well outside of arm’s length and are predicated on good movement early, something which usually goes quick because of Woodley’s questionable cardio.

Lawler, conversely, is a little more complicated. For one, cardio isn’t an issue for him. He will go and go and go and then go again. That is a huge part of how well his pressure game works. Unlike others, Lawler can throw low kicks, high kicks, body shots, jabs, crosses and more without worrying about getting tired. As a southpaw, he often switches stances and adds another layer of toughness to his game. Add to that serious power and a vastly improved takedown defence and you’re onto a real winner.

As a match-up of styles this one is very interesting.

Whenever Tyron Woodley fights the “he’ll be dangerous early but weather the storm and you’ll win” line is brought out. And, you know why? Because it’s true.

Here, Lawler will probably be weary of that. Expect him to get closer when throwing strikes, and maybe even push Woodley against the fence, so as not to give him the room to counter. That, though, is easier said that done early against Woodley.

As mentioned above, the lateral movement of Woodley is very good lately and that will help him land those counters against Lawler who will be trying to get close. And although Lawler has shown a titanium chin lately, that won’t last forever – especially when you’re taking damage like he does. Could that happen on Saturday? Maybe.

If it doesn’t, then it’s very unlikely that he will lose. Lawler is the more varied striker and if he can get Woodley tired and with his back against the fence it should be easy pickings. Expect a gradual volume increase from Lawler as the fight progresses with a lot of hand fighting, plenty of stalking and maybe even a late finish. However this one goes, it’s unlikely to be boring.

After that, this card has some interesting fights but nothing really to write home about apart from the co-main event. In that spot, the next challenger for Joanna Jedrzejczyk’s UFC flyweight title will likely be decided as former title challenger Rose Namajunas takes on another impressive Polish product, Karolina Kowalkiewicz.

In a division where exciting fighters are in abundance, these two are among the best.

Undefeated Kowalkiewicz is a largely muay thai based practitioner with excellent footwork, quick striking and a fierce ability to defend or escape in the grappling realm.

Namajunas, on the other hand, was once a submission artist but has developed an outstanding technical kickboxing game which looks like becoming as effective as anyone in the division.

That makes for a stunning battle on the feet here. Kowalkiewicz will be looking to pot shot and counter while Namajunas tries to walk her down and impose her will however she can.


In her last few fights, Namajunas has arguably been too striking-heavy but if she can add in some grappling here too I think that might be the X-factor that decides this one.

Outside of that Matt Brown vs. Jake Ellenberger, Ian McCall vs. Justin Scoggins and Ross Pearson vs. Jorge Masvidal should all be hot fire while Wilson Reis, who was due to fight Demetrious Johnson for the flyweight title on Saturday, will be looking to regain his title shot with a win over Team Alpha Male newcomer Hector Sandoval.


Robbie Lawler vs. Tyron Woodley – Woodley comes out hard, Lawler wins late
Rose Namajunas vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz – I’m taking ThugRose via submission
Matt Brown vs. Jake Ellenberger – I think Brown wins via durability
Francisco Rivera vs. Érik Pérez – Good fight, fancy Francy.
Ian McCall vs. Justin Scoggins – This is a career graph interception. Scoggins keeps climbing

Ed Herman vs. Nikita Krylov – Krylov
Ross Pearson vs. Jorge Masvidal – Masvidal
Anthony Hamilton vs. Damian Grabowski – Hamilton
Wilson Reis vs. Hector Sandoval – Reis

Michael Graves vs. Bojan Veličković –  Veličković
Ryan Benoit vs. Freddy Serrano – Serrano
César Arzamendia vs. Damien Brown – Brown


Krylov, Reis, Matt Brown at approx 2/1


Early Prelims – Fight Pass at 12am
Prelims – BT SPORT 2 at 1am
Main Card – BT SPORT 2 at 3am

For more analysis you can to listen to this week’s episode of the Severe MMA Podcast where Sean Sheehan and Andrew McGahon preview UFC 201:

Podcaster, lead MMA writer and analyst for SevereMMA. Host of the SevereMMA podcast, out every Sunday. Economics and Mathematics graduate from UCC. Also write for Sherdog. Previously of hov-mma and fightbooth. As heard on 2FM, Red FM, Today FM and more. Follow me on twitter for updates @SeanSheehanBA and on Facebook

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