PREVIEW & PREDICTIONS
Written by @NickRiznerMMA
Robbie Lawler vs. Tyron Woodley
Ruthless Robbie Lawler has quickly become the most exciting champion on the roster. From his pair of wars with Johny Hendricks to his Fight of the Year candidate title defenses against Rory MacDonald and Carlos Condit, Lawler is as close as you can get to guaranteed excitement in MMA. Even a jab-happy Rory was forced into an exciting fight during their first encounter, as Robbie not only brings his best into every fight, but also forces the best out of his opponents.
Enter Tyron Woodley, the next hungry challenger to take a stab at the welterweight title. His explosive power is unparalleled in the division. It’s also proven to be on a time limit. While he can certainly get the best of any opponent with an early combination or takedown, he also tends to tucker out as the fight goes on. Plus, he hasn’t fought since January of 2015, which traditionally has a negative effect on endurance. Ring rust and all that…
To put it in perspective, we don’t know what Woodley is going to show up until the night of the fight. It’s entirely possible that he has used this time off to work on his endurance. While there’s an element of god-given ability at hand, cardio is most certainly something that can be improved upon with proper training. The real question comes down to wrestling in my opinion. Can Woodley put Lawler on his back, or will Lawler keep the fight standing. Because if Lawler can stuff the takedown, I don’t see how he loses on the feet, especially once we move past that first round.
The embedded videos have shown a mentally strong Woodley, but there’s little that can prepare you for a shot at a UFC Championship. If Woodley pours everything he’s got into the first couple of exchanges and comes up short, he’s in for a long night of getting picked apart by Robbie’s striking. But alas, it’s prediction time. I believe that Robbie will survive the early onslaught, outpace Woodley for the rest of the fight, and win by decision. He may even put him away in the later rounds. Either way, the UFC Welterweight Championship will remain exactly where it’s been since December of 2014. Around Robbie Lawler’s waist.
Nick’s Pick: Robbie Lawler
Rose Namajunas vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz
Thug Rose! That’s still one of my favorite nicknames in all of MMA. I got a little worried when she began distancing herself from the alias, but it seems that she has fully embraced it once again, and I couldn’t be happier. Rose has had an interesting journey through the UFC. She’s most certainly still a fan favorite, but not to the extent she once was. Remember when she was pitched as the next Ronda Rousey? A loss to Carla Esparza put a halt to this, but the next three seemed to help bring it right back, particularly the total domination of rising star Paige VanZant. With both Angela Hill and Tecia Torres having some notoriety from TUF, all of Rose’s opponents have been fairly high profile so far.
Karolina Kowalkiewicz is not a big name. But she may be the most dangerous opponent Rose has faced so far. Undefeated at 9-0, with back-to-back wins in the UFC, Karolina is very much a mystery still. A mystery that is yet to be solved. As a Polish Muay Thai specialist, the comparisons to Joanna Champion are inevitable, and despite the obvious difference in resume, it’s at least an interesting stylistic matchup. If Rose loses to Karolina or looks to be struggling against the volume striking of a Polish striker, how is she expected to win the belt away from the best Polish striker in the division? I’m not saying the comparison is a fair one, but since when has that stopped fans from viewing it as fact.
Whether you like it or not, this fight will be viewed as a precursor to Rose vs. Joanna. It’ll also be used as a promotional tool, should that fight ever come to fruition. I do believe Rose gets her hand raised at UFC 201. While I think there’s a gigantic gap between the skill levels of Karolina and Joanna, I feel as if Rose is capable of winning that belt as well. For my money, she’s the most talented strawweight in the world today, and at just 24 years old, the sky is the limit. But let’s be patient; one step at a time. It all starts with Karolina on Saturday night.
Nick’s Pick: Rose Namajunas
Matt Brown vs. Jake Ellenberger
Ah, the rising stars of yesteryear. Try to remember back. Back to a time where Matt Brown and Jake Ellenberger were two of the most promising prospects in the welterweight division. From Brown, the year was 2014. The month was March. Matt Brown’s six fight win streak had earned him a headlining spot in front of his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. Erick Silva had brought a fight to Brown early, but the Immortal did what he did best, fighting through adversity and knocking his opponent’s lights out. The knockout marked his sixth of the now seven-fight wins streak. Then he met Robbie Lawler. Then Johny Hendricks. Then Demian Maia. He managed to secure a guillotine win over Tim Means in the intermediate, but this was still a strange position to find Matt Brown, having lost three out of his last four fights.
For Jake, we need to go back to March of 2013. After losing a split decision to Carlos Condit in his UFC debut, Ellenberger won eight of his next nine, with more than half of those wins coming by knockout or TKO. He was a fan favorite. He was headlining cards. Ellenberger was a man on a mission and it looked inevitable that he would eventually fight for that UFC belt. Then he met Rory MacDonald. Then Robbie Lawler. Then Kelvin Gastelum. He managed to secure a Performance of the Night worthy submission of Josh Koscheck in February of 2015, but went on to earn losses from Stephen Thompson and Tarec Saffiedine. Now, the once surging contender has lost five out of his last six and is in desperate need of a win.
While both Brown and Ellenberger are fully capable of turning things around, it’s going to be extremely difficult to do so against one another. The rules of the game say that one man must get his hand raised. Well, most of the time. And with that, comes the realization that one man must lose. Brown is probably safe with a loss, but if Ellenberger losses, that’s six out of his last seven. I’m not saying the UFC will cut him, but there’s most certainly a possibility of such. He needs to fight with desperation and aggression, if for no other reason than the fact that Brown will be doing the same.
I believe the ground game is a trap. Brown has too much skill off his back to make wrestling a great idea. But he’s not safe on his feet either. The elbows of Matt Brown are relentless and come from all angles. For me, this is a classic case of one fighter having more tools to win than the other. And for that reason, I can’t – in good conscience – vote for Ellenberger. It should be a hell of a fight though.
Nick’s Pick: Matt Brown
Francisco Rivera vs. Erik Perez
Yet another tale of redemption. Make no mistake about it; Francisco Rivera and Erik Perez are dangerous bantamweights. Historically speaking, they’ve been a lock over middling opponents. But for both men, when it comes to the upper-tier guys, it’s been a bit of a disaster.
Starting with Rivera, a four fight win streak (3-0-1 if you factor in the failed drug test and overturned result) served as the start to a promising UFC career. It seemed that he was ready for a step up in competition, and he got one in the form of Takeya Mizugaki. Things didn’t go so well. Next, it was perennial top contender Urijah Faber. Again, Rivera came up short. A flash knockout of Alex Caceres temporarily stopped the bleeding, but back-to-back losses to John Lineker and Brad Pickett put Rivera back into a sport of desperation. Now, with an uncertain future, he faces off against a man in a similar predicament.
Like Rivera, Erik Perez began his UFC career in impressive fashion, winning his first three bouts with first round stoppages. He, too, earned a step up in the form of Takeya Mizugaki, and he, too, came up short. He bounced back with a decision win over Edwin Figueroa, but again tasted defeat immediately after, this time at the hands of Bryan Caraway. Unlike Rivera, Perez is coming off a win – he defeated Taylor Lapilus back in November – but he is far from where he’d like to be in the bantamweight division.
Ironically, Rivera vs. Perez is a step up for both guys. Both fighters are presented, again, with the challenge of an upper-tier opponent, but this time, one is sure to get their hand raised. This feels very much like a turning point for both the winner and the loser. While there is always an opportunity to change the path you’re on, I have a feeling that this fight will send the winner up the rankings while the loser spirals off the roster. It may not be immediate, but this is the first step.
To be honest, it’s difficult to predict how this matchup will play out. A former featherweight, Rivera will be the bigger man in there, but not by much. He’s likely the most aggressive striker as well, although Perez has proven to be durable and can certainly hang in the pocket during an exchange. In the end, I believe this one comes down to heart and perseverance. And despite the overwhelming age difference, the younger Perez is actually more battle-tested. I believe he will take this one, but only if he limits his mistakes. Francisco Rivera has his back against the wall and I expect him to fight accordingly. Perez will have to be focused to get his hand raised in this one. I believe he gets the job done.
Nick’s Pick: Erik Perez
ENJOY THE FIGHTS!