UFC 233 Picks: Lawler vs. Askren

by | Jan 17, 2019 | mma

UFC 233 Main Card Picks
When: Saturday, January 26, 2019
Where: Honda Center, Anaheim, California
TV: PPV

Fight Analysis:

On the UFC 233 main card, a former UFC Welterweight Champion takes on an organizational newcomer who is unbeaten and highly-hyped. Robbie Lawler vs. Ben Askren is a perfect matchup in many ways, a true crossroads bout where the stakes are high. The styles contrast wonderfully, and this almost has to be a compelling fight. For Lawler, this is a chance to get back to the top of the talent-rich waters of the 170-pound division. Askren, meanwhile, may be unbeaten, but the UFC is a different ball-of-wax, and Lawler is an awfully-tough entrance exam. Let’s see what we can come up with in this one!

Robbie Lawler, 28-12 (20 KOs, 1 Submission), (+255) vs. Ben Askren, 18-0 (6 KOs, 5 Submissions), (-310)

Ex-UFC Welterweight Champ Robbie Lawler takes on unbeaten Ben Askren at UFC 233 in Anaheim. It’s a fascinating pairing of styles, with one of the organization’s all-time best strikers in Lawler taking on an unbeaten Askren who many people have long felt belongs in the discussion of who the top 170-pounder is. The problem is that until now, he has not fought in the UFC with all his wins coming in lesser organizations. Without getting into why that was the case, suffice to say it had nothing to do with skill and after some hard-headedness on both sides, Askren is finally where he belongs.

Though just two years younger than Lawler at 34, the notion is that Askren is the much younger fighter. It’s easy to see why when looking at Lawler, who first came into the UFC at the tender age of 20. Lawler’s career has undergone so many different manifestations, with a ton of accrued mileage along the way. Some feel his best days are behind him, but if Lawler’s career has taught us anything, it’s not to count him out. Written off by nearly everyone, he came back to win the UFC title. But with two losses in his last three fights, he needs a big win, and this would certainly qualify. Lawler’s last fight was in December of 2017 when he lost a decision to former lightweight champ Rafael dos Anjos.

While Lawler hasn’t been getting the results enjoyed by the unbeaten Askren, let’s also remember the context. While Lawler has been going to war with the best in the world, Askren has been beating guys that are beneath anyone Lawler has fought even in his lesser fights, with the exception of Douglas Lima and maybe a few others. That’s not to imply that Askren hasn’t fought good fighters because he has, but in the Bellator and One organization, the pickings are far slimmer than what is in the UFC—the guys Lawler has been fighting. Yes, the notion is that Askren has been denied the opportunity to show what he can do. Still, at age 34, to be facing his first real top opponent is in many ways unusual.

Still, one can see the thought process behind those backing Askren in this fight. I wouldn’t be so quick to write off Lawler, but the fact is that his fighting odometer has flipped. It’s been an up-and-down career with a lot of punishment absorbed. He was still good enough to beat Donald Cerrone two fights ago, and only championship-quality opposition has been able to beat him. But at 36 and with a recent sporadic fighting schedule, saying his best fighting is in his past might not be such a reach.

But what happens if the real Robbie Lawler shows up, the one who is hard as heck to take down and punches like a tank? That would make this awfully-hard on Askren. And while Lawler has braved through some of the more memorable fights in UFC history, Askren has seen most of his fights go his way, where he just manhandles opponents en route to dominant wins. But now he is fighting a guy with the equalizer—fight-ending power. Lawler is also a guy who grew up wrestling and has good takedown defense. At the end of the day, Lawler brings a lot with him into the octagon—ferocious striking, wrestling, and the experience of a full career on which to call on.

While he hasn’t thrived at the level of his opponent, it’s hard to not plainly see the massive talent of Askren. His wrestling is on another level, vaguely reminiscent of a bigger Khabib Nurmagomedov. He latches onto guys and doesn’t let go—dragging them into an abyss from which they cannot recover. Still, he hasn’t done it to a guy who can turn your lights off as readily as Lawler can. Askren hasn’t even taken a punch in his last few outings.

In a fight like this where there is so much contrasting data, one has to go to another realm in which to evaluate the fight. When looking at the odds, one could think that maybe Askren is being a tad overrated, while Lawler is being overlooked. Sure, Lawler has fallen on some hard times, but if Askren had been fighting the roster of talent that Lawler has, is it possible he would have also hit the rocks at some point in his career?

Another consideration, which may or not hold water, is that UFC president Dana White seemed to harbor a real dislike for Askren. Throwing Lawler at him for his UFC debut seems to be a way to stick it to him a little bit. How this could resonate in reality is dubious perhaps, but when the UFC machine is against you, it’s not a good thing. When fighters thrive in other organizations, White seems to delight in having them fall on their face in the UFC, as to create a perceptually even bigger gap between his company and the other MMA promotions.

Let’s say Askren is the “goods” and Lawler has seen his best days. Askren could dominate this fight and render all analysis moot. That seems almost too easy. I don’t think Lawler is done. With the package of skills he brings into the octagon, I see him representing a style-matchup issue for Askren that is beyond what the odds are suggesting. At +255, I see some decent value on Lawler.

My Pick to Win: I’m betting on Robbie Lawler at +255 at Bovada. Askren is unquestionably a difficult fighter to bet into, and maybe he’s catching Lawler at the right time. With Lawler’s striking, wrestling-acumen, career-desperation, and experience, he still represents a very legitimate threat in this fight.

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