UFC 167 Preview: Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald

In what could easily be the main event of another card, top welterweight contenders Rory MacDonald and Robbie Lawler will vie for what will almost certainly be the next shot at the welterweight crown. MacDonald vs. Lawler isn’t even the co-main event, as Rashad Evans and Chael Sonnen have that honor. This is unbelievably the third fight on the main card, and a stacked card it is at UFC 167, headlined of course by welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre and Johny Hendricks.

Fighter Summary

Robbie Lawler (21-9 overall, 2-0 UFC – most recent stint)

Strengths: KO power, ruthless brawler mentality

Weaknesses: Submission defense

Rory MacDonald (15-1 overall, 6-1 UFC)

Strengths: Cerebral poise, tactical, well-rounded

Weaknesses: Cyborgs don’t have weaknesses

Fight Breakdown – This fight may play out similarly to the main event between MacDonald’s training partner and Welterweight kingpin Georges St. Pierre and Johny Hendricks. Much like Hendricks, Lawler has demonstrated his dangerous KO power time and time agian, but the difference is Lawler has it in all of his limbs, not just his punches.

Lawler’s strategy isn’t exactly a secret, he’s going to come out and try to tag MacDonald, try to hurt him, stun him and finish the fight. He’s very good at that and when guys aren’t skilled enough to avoid his shots or are too willing to play his game, he usually gets the best of them. But MacDonald has learned his lesson from his loss to Condit and is both very wary of getting into trouble spots and very capable and smart enough to not play into his opponent’s strengths. The guy fights with a methodical approach that is well beyond his years. Look at what he did against Jake Ellenberger. It was a horribly disappointing fight from both guys, but MacDonald was clearly winning and didn’t really take a lot of damage to do it. Not the best fan-pleaser that fight, but a huge testament to MacDonald’s iron will to stick to his guns and stay with what’s working.

So he’s not going to let himself get caught up in a flurry of strikes from Lawler, and he’s going to accomplish that by either staying active and peppering Lawler with jabs and kicks, constantly moving laterally and away from the cage, or by taking Lawler down at opportune moments. And he will take Lawler down if it comes to it. Lawler has the skills to defend and stay on his feet, as well as get back up if he gets put on his back, but MacDonald has excellent top control and ground and pound. He was scary accurate against Che Mills and he could easily do the same to Lawler.

What “Ruthless” really needs to watch out for is a submission. He’s lost to elite grapplers by getting subbed and MacDonald is certainly no slouch when it comes to that department. That’s the issue here, MacDonald really has to worry about Lawler’s stand up, all of those punches, knees and kicks, but Lawler has to worry about MacDonald’s stand up, takedowns and submissions. MacDonald is an excellent grappler and if he gets Lawler hurt or in a bad spot, he’s going to take full advantage and either soften him up with GNP or look for a submission. He’s also smart enough to not gas himself out going for broke, but also well conditioned enough to maintain a strong and punishing pace. Brawler Lawler (he must have thought it was corny) wins a lot of his fights in the early rounds, so it will be interesting to see what kind of pace they both set.

Key to Victory: Can MacDonald avoid the big KO from Lawler?

That’s really what it’s going to come down to. MacDonald is an extremely technical fighter and rarely does an opponent have a clear advantage over him in any area. He really is a younger version of GSP. He is more than good enough to avoid most of the big shots from Lawler and is going to pick him apart with good footwork and positioning and an array of punches and kicks. It’s going to be up to Lawler to have a solid plan B in place because MacDonald isn’t going to walk into huge shots and he’ll have the advantage in almost every area. If Lawler pulls a Roy Nelson out there, it’s going to be a one sided affair in favor of “Ares”.

Why It Matters – What the hell is going to happen if Rory Mac wins here and GSP defends against Johny Hendricks? If Hendricks is the one to finally beat GSP, the situation becomes a little clearer, although we may see an immediate rematch. But at least it delays all of the GSP vs. MacDonald talk for a while longer.

But if both Tri-Star camp guys win, then the UFC and the welterweight division are going to be in a pickle. We’ve heard all of the talk plenty of times before, from everyone between GSP, Rory, Firas Zahabi and Dana White as well. Bottom line is if both guys win at 167, from a rankings point of view, it makes the most sense to give Rory the next shot. But they don’t want to fight each other so we have to consider other implications.

Assuming they both win, then GSP may stay and defend against someone besides Rory MacDonald (Ben Askren?). It’s possible, but it would be a strange fight to sell for anyone besides Askren, unless something crazy happens in other fights (Condit vs. Brown).

GSP may move up or down in weight and leave the division, as well as the belt up for grabs. That would create a ton of possibilities and would set up a title fight with whoever the UFC brass chooses. Another possible avenue.

Assuming Lawler wins, then he probably gets dibs on GSP (if he defends) or Hendricks (if he wins and beats GSP in a rematch). That fight would make a ton of sense and would sell like hotcakes.

If Rory wins and Hendricks does too, then Rory would have to take another fight to wait for the possible and probable rematch dust to settle. The winner of Condit vs. Matt Brown would be a definitive title eliminator.

This one isn’t exactly about legacies or moving up the ladder or staying relevant or keeping their jobs. Both of these guys are looking at potential title shots with a win here and with that chip in sight, it’s hard to consider much else.  A lot is hinging on what happens Saturday night, and you can bet all of the guys are thinking about it, but none of them will be distracted from doing the most important thing: beating the opponent come fight night. With both guys fighting at their best, Rory MacDonald gets his hand raised.

Prediction – MacDonald

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