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UFC 201 Picks

UFC 201 Picks to Win
When: Saturday, July 30, 2016
Where: Phillips Arena, Atlanta, Georgia
by Scott of

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Fight Analysis:

UFC 201 features UFC Welterweight Champion Robbie Lawler defending his title against challenger Tyron Woodley. Lawler has distinguished himself as one of the sport’s top blood-and-guts warriors. Like all warriors, however, the wheels could always come off and that’s where Tyron Woodley comes in—a capable and formidable 170-pounder who figures to give Lawler a really good scrap. Who comes out ahead in the UFC 201 main event?

Robbie Lawler, 27-10 (20 KOs, 1 Submission), (-230) vs. Tyron Woodley, 15-3 (5 KOs, 5 KOs), (+190)
Robbie Lawler defends his UFC welterweight title against top contender Tyron Woodley on July 30 in Atlanta in the main event of UFC 201. This will be Lawler’s third defense of a belt he won in 2014 with a decision over Johny Hendricks. Woodley, on the strength of some big wins recently, gets his first title shot and looks to make the most of it against one of MMA’s most resilient champions.

After an uneven run in the Strikeforce organization, Lawler came to the UFC. It wasn’t because of merit, but because the UFC bought Strikeforce. At this point in 2013, Lawler was in a mode of winning some and losing some. With a record of 3-5 in his last 8 and 1-3 in his last 4, he took on Josh Koscheck in a bout that might have been for his UFC future. Not many people at that point would have guessed he would win 8 of his next 9 (his only loss later avenged) and escalate all the way to the UFC welterweight championship.

Lawler has been around for a long time. The 34-year old made his UFC debut in the dark days of the organization back in 2002. He could always hit like a ton of bricks and take a punch, but he fell into a prolonged funk where guys like Jason Miller were submitting him. To go from where he was to this spot, the frontrunner in a loaded 170-pound division, is quite a feat.

The purpose of discussing his MMA bio isn’t just to merely describe his career. His unique career trajectory suggests something more. We often see guys get to the top on the basis of talent, as they’re simply better than everybody in that window of time. Talent certainly played a role in Lawler becoming a champion, but it’s almost like he willed himself into the championship spot. What he has done in terms of turning his career around and his ability to win absolute wars in order to do it says a lot of his inner-resource and determination. He’s willing to go to places that few are able to touch. We can talk about different MMA tactics all we want, but this element in Lawler’s game might actually be his biggest weapon. He just wants it more than everyone else.

Again, we’ve seen Woodley play it pretty tight and close to the vest, sometimes letting hairline fights go to the scorecards. At the end of the day, Woodley has beaten some pretty good fighters since joining Strikeforce in just his third fight. He has beaten Tarec Saffiedine, Paul Daley, Josh Koscheck, Carlos Condit, Dong-Hyun Kim, and Kelvin Gastelum. The only thing is while Woodley hits hard enough to make him a dangerous challenger for anyone at this weight, Lawler has been impervious to strong striking, only stopped once in his whole career—by Nick Diaz back in 2004. While Nate Marquardt is the only one to stop Woodley, the stand-up advantage looks to go to Lawler.

With Lawler, you have a guy who clearly wants it. His zest for combat is unparalleled. In contrast, Woodley likes to sometimes water down the action and try to win, albeit in a more negative fashion—by stifling, nullifying and clinging to advantages by killing clock. You have to wonder if that contrast in their overall warrior spirits will resonate in this fight. A guy wanting it more can be worth a lot. And that’s not to impugn Woodley’s ambition. He is just going to need to match a very high level of intensity that Lawler brings to the table every time he steps into the octagon.

Woodley, 34, is the same age as Lawler, but their actual ring-ages ages are very different, with Woodley having less than half the fights of Lawler and about one-eighth the overall damage. It wasn’t easy for either man to get to this fight, but for Lawler to become a champion making his third defense, he had to survive wars against Hendricks, Rory MacDonald, Carlos Condit and the best at 170 pounds. Woodley would greatly benefit if we saw a depreciated version of Lawler begin to manifest. But Woodley will be fighting a born gladiator and better count on facing that version of Lawler. Backers of Lawler, however, need to acknowledge that at the very least, Lawler’s tires are a bit threadbare after all the wars.

Woodley is a very capable wrestler, a skill he will be looking to put into affect for this fight. Whereas Lawler has shown himself to be nearly invulnerable when standing up, he has been submitted 5 times and is a diminished force once on the ground. Just looking at Woodley, he an ungodly physical package for a 170-pound specimen. He has a reach of 74 inches, just three inches shorter than former heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum.

Woodley is similar in style to Johny Hendricks—both being good wrestlers and able to strike well. Lawler fought Hendricks twice, with little to separate them in their two matches. Hendricks hasn’t performed well since, though it may be as a result of two wars with Lawler. While the champion has shown he can succeed against this style, he didn’t exactly thrive against Hendricks, either, with a lot of people thinking Hendricks deserved the decision in their second fight. Maybe a fresher Woodley can do Hendricks one better and get over the hump.

The odds tell an interesting story. You have a high-profile fighter in Lawler barely a 2-to-1 favorite against a fighter not well-known outside the realm of the hardcore fan. It’s almost as if the oddsmakers are tempting you to bet on Lawler. And there isn’t a ton of value on Lawler in all actuality. He’s been through some wars, has ten losses on his record, and is facing a very good and versatile fighter in Woodley. We can’t confuse entertainment value with actual merit. In that area, Lawler shines so much brighter, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to success at this level.

At the end of the day, I see Lawler as being the better fighter, with Woodley being just short of world champion material. It’s a simplistic notion, but one that is hard to shake for the purposes of making this bet. Taking a favored champion can make one uneasy with so much title-turnover in the UFC recently, but I’ll take Lawler.

My Pick to Win: I’m betting on Robbie Lawler to win at -230. His will, determination, punching power, and ability to thrive in a 5-round war will help him against Woodley, who hasn’t experienced this level before. Not that Woodley doesn’t have a good chance against a well-weathered champion, but I see Lawler’s savagery, brutality, and ability to find another gear getting him over the hump. Bet this bout for free by taking advantage of a MASSIVE 100% bonus at GTBets!

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