MMA Review: #556: UFC 201: Lawler vs. Woodley

-Sandwiched between two of the year’s biggest PPV shows in UFC 200 and UFC 202, this one didn’t have nearly the hype of the other two and so it was flying largely under the radar, namely because it had lost its co-main event (Demetrious Johnson vs. Wilson Reis for the Flyweight title) and while the main event featured one of the most exciting fighters in MMA history in Robbie Lawler, he just doesn’t seem to sell as well as other fighters and his opponent – Tyron Woodley – didn’t seem to inspire many either. Personally though, I was looking forward to it purely for the main event as I’m a big fan of both men.

UFC 201: Lawler vs. Woodley

Atlanta, Georgia

-Your hosts are Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan.

Flyweight Fight: Fredy Serrano vs Ryan Benoit

This one was moved onto the main card when the show lost another Flyweight fight – Ian McCall vs. Justin Scoggins. Admittedly a step down from that fight, I was still looking forward to it as while I’ve never been too high on Benoit, I thought Serrano had a lot of potential to develop into a tiny version of Yoel Romero – an Olympic wrestler with tremendous athleticism and nasty knockout power in his strikes. Despite a massive gap in experience (this was Serrano’s fourth fight compared to Benoit’s thirteenth) I was taking El Profe to find a way to win.

Round One and they circle before Serrano glances on a body kick. Clash of kicks sees Serrano go down for a second, but he pops back up and glances on a right haymaker. Lot of pressure so far from Benoit, but Serrano fires off an axe kick that misses. Good body kick connects hard for Serrano and he catches a kick and follows with a BIG SLAM down into side mount. They squirm around on the ground before Benoit gets back to half-guard and then scrambles to his feet. Spin kick misses for Serrano. Hard combo lands for Benoit and Serrano goes down for a second, but he pops back up and hits another slam to side mount. Von Flue choke is open for Serrano as Benoit’s holding onto his neck, but he doesn’t go for it. Couple of short punches land for Serrano before Benoit scrambles up again and forces him into the fence. Takedown is blocked by El Profe though before Benoit lands a solid right hand. Another one connects as Serrano goes for a takedown, but the Colombian is okay. Couple of haymakers miss for Serrano. Good leg kick from Benoit. Takedown attempt from Serrano – pretty much crawling – but Benoit manages to block, only to eat a right on his way out. Axe kick glances for Serrano. Dude throws some wild stuff. Leg kick answers for Benoit. Seconds to go and a Benoit flurry puts Serrano on the back foot, but he decides to throw a right hand clearly after the buzzer which disgusts both Serrano and the fans. 10-10 round for me as neither man really established dominance, and Serrano’s takedowns were probably equalled by Benoit’s strikes.

Round Two and Benoit pushes forward and avoids an early takedown attempt. Big right hand glances for Serrano. Spinning backfist misses, however. Short left hand lands for Serrano and then he drops for the takedown and forces Benoit into the fence. Benoit holds onto a front headlock to attempt to block it, and the action slows up a bit with the crowd booing. Serrano decides to let go and separates, then glances on another axe kick before hitting another slam to guard. His takedowns are pretty awesome when he can get them. Short ground-and-pound lands for Serrano before he passes into half-guard. Beautiful reversal from Benoit allows him to explode to his feet though. Left head kick misses for Fredy. Left hook lands for Benoit and he sprawls well to avoid a takedown. Very low single leg is avoided initially, but Serrano keeps hold of the leg and keeps trying. Excellent job from Benoit though and he manages to escape. Leg kick connects for Benoit and he narrowly avoids a wheel kick. Serrano keeps on winging haymakers but Benoit avoids them. Another takedown is more successful though and he dumps Benoit into side mount again. This time he sets up a mounted crucifix and winds up in north/south, and in a super-weird moment he hits Benoit with some HIP THRUSTS. Really! Punches connect as well as the crowd are just confused by the hip thrusts. Benoit tries to spin free, but Serrano keeps him down and then takes what looked like an illegal upkick. Benoit springs up, but takes a couple of hooks as the round ends. Another close round but I’d go 10-9 Serrano for his ground work as Benoit didn’t do as much standing.

Round Three and Serrano goes for the takedown instantly and after a big drive, he gets it, putting Benoit down in guard. Short punches and hammer fists follow but they’re not doing much damage. Crowd aren’t too enamoured with this as Serrano’s not doing much from the top. Ref calls a stand-up and Benoit looks tired to me. Serrano decides to get WEIRD again though, hitting a forward roll out of a takedown attempt and of course it winds him up on his back. No idea what he was trying there! Benoit settles into his guard this time and looks to pass, but the Colombian manages to keep guard. Another attempt at a pass allows Serrano onto his side, but he gives his back and Benoit tries to hop on. Serrano swings his way free though and he’s up to his feet. Another forward roll goes wrong for Serrano, but he glances on a wild right haymaker. Both guys look tired actually. Leg kick from Benoit is caught, but he manages to avoid a takedown and land a spinning backfist on his way out too. INSANELY low takedown attempt misses for Serrano. Benoit pretty much jumped over him in fact. Hard head kick from Benoit and he manages to avoid a takedown attempt too. One minute to go and Serrano lands with a decent low kick. Benoit answers with one of his own and almost takes Serrano off his feet. Takedown attempt from Benoit now but Serrano defends it and they wind up clinched. Nice clinch shots from Benoit and he stuns Serrano with a right on his way out. Seconds to go and the round ends with Benoit avoiding a takedown. 10-9 Benoit and I’d call it a draw; 29-29. Super-close fight.

And we’ve got a split decision; 29-28 Serrano, 29-28 Benoit and 29-28 for Ryan Benoit to pick up the win. No real problem with the decision as the first round was very close and the judges don’t like 10-10 rounds, and it could’ve gone either way really. The fight was a bit weird if I’m honest largely because Serrano was trying stuff that you don’t usually see – probably due to his inexperience – but it was decent enough to watch. I still think, assuming his body doesn’t break down as he approaches 40, that Serrano probably has the brighter future, but he could do with going to a big camp like American Top Team I think to get his basics in striking and BJJ down pat to go with that insane wrestling game.

Bantamweight Fight: Erik Perez vs Francisco Rivera

Interesting fight here as Rivera – one of the more exciting fighters in the Bantamweight division – really had his back to the wall as he’d gone 1-4 in his last five, with the lone win being a KO of Bruce Leeroy, while Perez was making his first appearance since a November win over Taylor Lapilus, and that had followed a wild layoff of well over a year. Despite Perez’s sporadic Octagon appearances recently I thought he could take advantage of the holes in Rivera’s grappling game, and use his superior wrestling to grind out a win.

Fight begins and they circle pretty tentatively before Rivera wings a heavy one-two that narrowly misses the head of Perez. Hard left hook lands for Rivera but Perez takes it well. Low kick answers back for Perez but another left hook lands for Rivera. Another one-two glances for Cisco. Head kick is blocked by Rivera. Action slows down a bit as they trade off some glancing strikes before Rivera lands with a chopping leg kick. He’s getting the better of these exchanges thus far for sure. They trade kicks to the body and now Rivera’s really pushing forward. Kick is caught by Perez though and he lands a couple of right hands before Rivera escapes. Brief exchange sees both men miss before Perez hits an excellent takedown. Rivera immediately reverses to his feet using the fence, but he takes a couple of punches en route. One minute to go and Perez opens up with a nice combo before exiting, then lands with a knee to the body and a left hook. Perez also does well to dodge some punches and he drops Rivera for a split-second with an inside leg kick. Left hook fires back though for Rivera. Round ends on the feet. Probably 10-9 Rivera due to his early work, but Perez was beginning to take over towards the end.

Into the 2nd and Perez seems totally relaxed now, moving around with some interesting footwork before landing with a strong leg kick. He’s avoiding Rivera’s punches much more effectively now too. Bunch of kicks glance for both men but the crowd sound a little restless as this isn’t exactly fireworks. Spinning backfist misses for Perez. More decent shots land for Perez but Rivera stuffs a takedown well. Looks like Rivera’s cut on the right temple. Spinning elbow glances for Perez. Combo follows as Rivera looks flat-footed. Kick is caught by Perez and he trips Rivera down for a second, but Cisco pops back up. Jumping attack misses for Perez but Rivera can’t make him pay. Solid counter right lands for Perez. Rivera’s really swinging now but he can’t catch Perez. Brief trade allows Rivera to land a short left hook, but Perez gets out of range and hits an inside leg kick before getting a takedown with seconds to go. This time he ties up the legs to keep Rivera down and works the body with some punches until the round ends. 10-9 Perez for sure.

Third and final round and they TRADE WILDLY FROM THE OFF with both men landing big combinations! Rivera’s really trying to goad Perez here. Wild trade continues, holy shit, and both guys are hurt! They’re SWINGING here and Rivera manages to throw a punch so wildly that it causes him to fall down face-first, wow. Perez manages to slow things down with an easy takedown to guard and it looks like Rivera may be out of steam. Lot of punches to the body land for Perez and Rivera is badly busted open, bleeding like crazy from lord knows where. Into half-guard for Perez and he continues to work him over, and the crowd are booing I guess because they want more of that opening minute which was so crazy. Guillotine from Perez allows him to keep Rivera grounded, and he’s constantly landing punches too. Rivera is GASSED. Thirty seconds to go and he manages to use the fence to stand, but it doesn’t look like he can shake Perez off him. Right elbow breaks for Perez and Rivera comes forward looking to swing, and of course Perez obliges him for a moment before circling out to land a leg kick. Round ends there, got to be 29-28 Perez I’d say.

Official scores are 30-26, 30-26 and 29-28 for Erik Perez. Not sure about those 30-26 scores but it was clearly Perez’s fight in the end. Well, the start of the third round almost made up for a pair of dull-ish rounds before it, but thankfully for Perez he didn’t let Rivera suck him into a total shootout which might’ve ended badly for him and instead stuck to a smarter gameplan, grounding the exhausted Rivera after the trade to pick up a clear win. Would it have been a more entertaining fight if they’d just repeated the beginning of the third until one guy dropped? Of course, but MMA doesn’t work like that I guess. But hey, I doubt they cut Rivera even after another loss, so that’s all good, and it was a strong win for Perez too.

Welterweight Fight: Matt Brown vs Jake Ellenberger

After his loss in January to Tarec Saffiedine, Ellenberger had actually been cut by the UFC, but ended up begging Dana White for one more opportunity and (maybe after accepting a lower contract or something?) surprisingly enough he was given it, being matched with another former contender who’d fallen on hard times in Brown. Jake also made an interesting move in training camps, jumping from Edmond Tarverdyan’s Glendale Fight Club back to Rafael Cordeiro and Kings MMA. Despite that I still picked Brown to win, feeling that Ellenberger was probably shot at this point after so many bad losses.

Round One begins and Ellenberger throws a pair of lefts and then comes OVER THE TOP WITH A RIGHT and DOWN GOES BROWN! Jake pounces on him and looks to finish him off, but Brown manages to survive, tying him up from the bottom in guard. He got hit hard. Knee to the body lands for Ellenberger but Brown looks to reverse back to his feet. Big shot again lands for Ellenberger and wobbles Brown, but he hits a foot sweep to create some distance and slow down the onslaught. Kick to the body lands for Ellenberger. Clinch from Brown and he lands a pair of knees before dodging a couple of haymakers. Strong right hand lands for Brown and hurts Ellenberger and now he comes forward. Ellenberger looks okay though and he circles out and then NAILS BROWN WITH A BODY KICK! Brown absolutely FOLDS and Ellenberger follows up with some big shots, spinning to the side to bomb on Brown’s head before the ref calls the fight! Wow.

Talk about an unexpected result! This was probably Ellenberger’s best win since the Diego Sanchez one back in 2012 (!) as Marquardt and Koscheck were both shot when Jake beat them and by that point he was largely on a slide. I guess the move back to Kings did him some good as he looked sharper and more aggressive than he’d done in years here, and while Brown realistically is out of title contention now, he’s still a very dangerous opponent and a handful for anyone in the division, and Ellenberger CRUSHED him. Awesome finish for the Juggernaut.

Women’s Strawweight Fight: Rose Namajunas vs Karolina Kowalkiewicz

After her big April win over Tecia Torres, I expected Rose to be given the next title shot point blank, but I guess Joanna Jedrzejczyk wanted a break following her war with Claudia Gadelha, and so they matched Namajunas instead with Joanna’s fellow Polish fighter Kowalkiewicz, who was unbeaten and was coming off two straight wins over Randa Markos and Heather Clark. Despite an advantage in overall experience to Kowalkiewicz, I thought Rose had beaten the tougher opponents (Torres, Paige VanZant, and on TUF Joanne Calderwood) and with all her recent improvements I was taking her to pick up the win somehow.

Round One begins and Karolina presses forward as Rose circles on the outside. Good leg kick lands for Rose. Karolina fires back with one of her own, and they continue to circle around with Namajunas landing with a glancing combination. Body kick lands for Kowalkiewicz but Rose clips her with a counter right hand. Leg kick from Karolina but Rose makes her pay again with a crisp right hand. Leg kick connects for Rose as does a left hand. Rose is doing well striking from the outside here. Nice overhand right lands for Namajunas. Kowalkiewicz hasn’t really found her range yet. Quick exchange sees both girls land punches. Leg kick from Rose but she slips to her back and that allows Karolina to land on her with a right as she springs back up. Kowalkiewicz is really pushing the action now. Beautiful counter left from Namajunas as Karolina comes forward. The Polish fighter comes back with a flurry but it doesn’t land cleanly. Less than a minute to go and Rose connects on a pair of leg kicks. Spin kick glances for Karolina. Clinch from Rose and they exchange knees, with Karolina really landing some hard ones to the body. Rose backs out but Karolina clinches again, only for Rose to hit a hip throw. It goes a bit wrong as Karolina almost takes the back, but Rose stands and trips her down, landing on top as the round ends. 10-9 for Rose Namajunas as she landed the better strikes throughout really.

Round Two and Kowalkiewicz looks to close Rose down swiftly, but she eats a right hand over the top. Clinch from Karolina though and she lands some vicious knees to the body as well as some elbows. Awesome clinch work. Rose manages to force her into the fence, but she takes another heavy knee to the body. Elbow follows and Rose tries to fire back with her own knees, but she looks outgunned in the clinch. Takedown attempt from Rose but Kowalkiewicz blocks it and smacks her with another elbow and a couple more knees to the midsection. Elbow has Rose stunned and she drops for the takedown but still can’t get it. Slick move from Rose sees her look for a standing arm triangle, but Kowalkiewicz looks really calm and she avoids it. Big knee and a slashing elbow separate for Karolina and Rose might be hurt. She doesn’t show it though and she fires back with a one-two! Pair of leg kicks answer for Karolina but another right connects for Rose in an exchange. Front kick to the body puts Karolina down but she pops up and takes another right. Takedown attempt from Rose is stuffed and right away Karolina works her over with an elbow to the side of the head and a pair of knees to the body. Rose needs to get out of the clinch. Indeed they separate and this time Karolina lands with an overhand right. Exchange continues before Karolina grabs another plum clinch to hit more knees to the body. Rose is slowing up dramatically. Couple more knees land for Karolina in another brief clinch. Rose is getting hurt in the clinch literally every time, and the body work’s slowing her down to reduce the range she used in the first round. More of the same follows and that’s the round. 10-9 Kowalkiewicz and between rounds Rose’s corner are adamant that she can’t do any more clinching.

Round Three and you can see Karolina immediately looking to close distance and get hold of her again. Spinning back kick misses for her. Clinch follows and another pair of knees smash into Rose’s midsection. Rose separates quickly though. Exchange continues with a slight advantage to Kowalkiewicz now. Pretty wild exchange sees Karolina land a knee to the body and a push kick to the chest. Leg kick answers for Namajunas and a right hand follows. Good counter right from Kowalkiewicz. Takedown attempt from Rose is stuffed, but she at least avoids the takedown. Kick from Rose causes her to slip and as she pops up, Karolina capitalises with another clinch and more vicious knees. Big uppercut buckles Rose’s knees and she goes down face-first, desperate for the takedown, but Karolina winds up on top and she drops a hard right elbow. Full guard for Rose but she looks tired. Armbar attempt is avoided by Karolina who makes her pay with some punches. Leglock attempt follows but Karolina avoids that too and moves into half-guard briefly with some punches. Good job by Rose to bring it back to full guard, but she’s running out of time as there’s only a minute or so to go. Kowalkiewicz stacks her up to drop some punches, avoiding an upkick in the process. Triangle is avoided too and an oma plata attempt only leads to Kowalkiewicz punching the side of the head from top position. Into side mount now for Karolina and she continues to control and beat on Namajunas. Round ends as they come to their feet and wildly exchange. Great fight, 10-9 Kowalkiewicz for a 29-28 win in my book.

Judges somehow have it as a split decision, 29-28 Namajunas, 29-28 Kowalkiewicz and then 29-28 for Karolina to pick up the win. No idea how anyone could score that fight for Rose as she clearly lost the last two rounds, but whatever, right girl won in the end. This was a great fight with a ton of action from start to finish really, and it was interesting too to see the shift in momentum, as Rose took the first round by striking from range, but she did get hurt in a brief clinch and once she realised that weakness, Karolina used the position throughout the rest of the fight to hurt Rose and win the second and third rounds. She’s just an excellent, well-rounded fighter although I don’t think she’ll beat Jedrzejczyk – they should really look to do a big Poland show for that one as they have a ton more Polish talent now (Blachowicz, Tybura, Held, etc) and MMA is huge in that country. As for Namajunas, back to the drawing board but she’s young enough and talented enough for it to not matter hugely. Best fight of the show thus far.

UFC World Welterweight Title: Robbie Lawler vs Tyron Woodley

Well, let me get it out of the way that I was actually looking forward to this fight a lot – I’ve been a big fan of Woodley’s since his StrikeForce days and I’ve often thought he had the potential to be the best Welterweight in the world – but it felt like I was pretty much the only person who did feel like that. Due to the fact that he’d been out since January 2015 and was largely awarded the title shot because Johny Hendricks missed weight and pulled out of their planned fight, most fans felt Woodley was an undeserving challenger, especially since Stephen Thompson and Demian Maia had been on incredible runs during the time Woodley was out. For me, it’s nice to see the UFC actually follow through on a promised title shot for once, especially with the amount they’ve been reneged in the past. Despite Woodley shitting the bed somewhat in big fights before (vs. Rory MacDonald, Jake Shields and Nate Marquardt), something told me Tyron would win this one – namely because of the insane damage Lawler had taken in his recent wars with Hendricks, MacDonald and Condit, and also because of his ability to cover distance at an incredible speed, the threat of the takedown and his own heavy punching power.

Fight begins and Woodley circles on the outside as Lawler stalks forward and looks to close him down. Lawler begins to circle as Woodley takes the center of the cage, and finally a wild swing from Woodley misses and they clinch up. Looks like Woodley’s looking for the takedown, but Lawler blocks it and referee Dan Miragliotta calls a quick break. They circle out and Lawler glances on a front kick to the body. Both guys look super patient. Mild chant from the crowd for Lawler begins as he continues to dance around in front of Woodley, before Tyron times a CRUSHING RIGHT HAND PERFECTLY AND DOWN GOES THE CHAMP! Three shots on the ground follow and it’s ALL OVER.

Jesus Christ that was a hard shot. Replay shows that Woodley feinted with a left, Lawler bought it and dropped his hands slightly and that was all Woodley needed to come over the top and destroy him with the right, and from there Lawler wasn’t given the chance to recover. Just as vicious a knockout as any Lawler himself has dished out over the years in fact. I know I picked Woodley, but I certainly expected the fight to last longer than that. Lawler didn’t even land a strike! Unbelievable really.

So, since the show things have gotten a bit weird with Woodley as he’s garnered a lot of hate for apparently shrugging off the idea of Stephen Thompson as a challenger, calling out Nick Diaz and GSP instead for so-called “money fights”, which part of me gets – obviously he knows those fights will draw more and make more cash – but at the end of the day that’s the sort of stuff that got boxing into so much trouble, and so I’m hoping UFC ignores his pleas – unless it’s for a GSP fight as he at least never lost the title – and just gives the most deserving contender in Thompson the fight. Either way I actually think Woodley is as marketable as any of those guys anyway – he looks like a cartoon character and hits like a ton of bricks, and surely there’s some way to get him over with the masses. I say do his fight with Thompson in St. Louis in his hometown, in fact. Regardless of the future, this was a knockout for the ages, insane way to cap off the main event.

Lightweight Fight: Cezar Arzamendia vs Damien Brown

And it’s prelim time, surprising as they haven’t stuck a prelim on the end of a PPV in a while I’m guessing because they’re all televised in some way these days anyway. Both of these guys had lost their previous UFC fight so it was practically a loser-leaves-town deal, and I was behind Arzamendia as I’m biased to the TUF Latin America cast, ha.

Round One begins and Arzamendia opens with a jumping switch kick of all things, doesn’t land cleanly though. These guys are swinging right away. Couple of good shots from Arzamendia and he lands a flying knee and follows with a couple of knees from the clinch. Brown breaks off, but walks right into an overhand right. He responds with a hard uppercut and then DECKS ARZAMENDIA WITH A RIGHT! Big shots follow for Brown as he looks to finish, but the Paraguayan manages to cling onto half-guard to survive. Brown drops some elbows, but Arzamendia rolls for a leglock and it looks like he’s got a heel hook sunk! Brown rolls to avoid and seems to be just about safe, then he escapes to his feet. Arzamendia goes for a single leg but Brown defends and breaks off. Combo lands for Arzamendia and then he follows with a hard left hand, but Brown keeps pushing forward. Stiff jab from Brown and Arzamendia still looks wobbly. He walks right into another heavy right and goes down again, and this time Brown doesn’t let up and smashes him on the ground for the TKO.

Well, that was a bit of a sloppy outing but you can’t fault them for sheer action! These two guys came to FIGHT and it looked to be honest like the difference was Brown’s superior chin, as he took some nasty shots but walked through them while Arzamendia just wilted twice under his power.

-Show ends with some plugs for UFC 202, some discussion about the possible Woodley/Thompson and Jedrzejczyk/Kowalkiewicz fights, and finally a highlight reel.

Final Thoughts….

Well, it was better than UFC 200! In all seriousness, this show is definitely a thumbs up as we got six fights (including the prelim) with three ending in vicious knockouts and one being a really excellent, high-level contest (Kowalkiewicz/Namajunas). The other two weren’t so good as Perez/Rivera took a long time to heat up while Serrano/Benoit was odd, but neither was what you’d call a bad fight. Not as good a PPV as some of the earlier ones in 2016 but it’s definitely worth checking out, especially for that Woodley knockout.

Best Fight: Kowalkiewicz vs. Namajunas
Worst Fight: Serrano vs. Benoit

Overall Rating: ***3/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman: