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Ben’s Breakdowns: Matt Brown vs. Robbie Lawler

Contributor: Ben Kohn

Guys, seriously, HOLY SHIT!!!!! This fight is really fucking happening this Saturday night!!! UFC on Fox 12, the headlining fight of Brown and Lawler is going to be scheduled for five rounds of absolutely glorious violence! Can you feel the excitement? No? Well fuck you then because this fight is the best thing ever since sliced bread, the moon landing, and the invention of the Roomba. Seriously though, I really am beyond excited for this fight because both of these men are whirlwinds of violent striking who will continue blasting their opponents with various striking points of their bodies until there is nothing left but a bloody husk of a former man, forever altered by their meeting with Matt or Robbie. But which of these two violent individuals has what it takes to hurt and *gasp* finish the other? Let’s examine these two fighters and see what’s in store for us. Hint, it’s going to be fucking awesome.

Ok, I’m calm now so we can talk a bit about the fight and the fighters instead of my excessive fangirling right now. Matt Brown, someone who I’ve already had the pleasure of writing a breakdown about, is currently on a seven fight winning streak, with his most recent win being an epic beatdown of another violent whirlwind named Eric Silva. Six of those seven wins have come by way of KO or TKO and throw in two fight of the night performances to boot. He’s exciting, violent, and has made substantial improvements in his striking and, more importantly, has apparently shored up his defensive liabilities on the ground. This was most apparent in his successful RNC and back defense against Silva, who is slick as oil on the ground. The only real knock against Brown is his apparent weakness in the body, literally. He has a tendency to be dropped by body shots, something suspected before the Silva fight and definitely confirmed after as it was Silva’s most successful attack on the feet, hurting Brown multiple times. Aside from that, his aggression and phenomenal clinch striking game overwhelm opponents and his pressuring style has proven to be too much for his victims to handle. In fact, only two men in 19 victories have survived to see the final bell, Stephen Thompson and John Howard. Howard was before his current run and Thompson has won three in a row since then and looked great as well so no shame there. Brown’s tough-as-nails approach to fighting can really throw a wrench in the plans of the UFC and Lawler’s title rematch plans with an upset win here but Lawler has a plan to continue his resurgence at the top of the welterweight ladder by being the first to finish Brown by strikes.

How about that Robbie Lawler guy huh? Coming over from the Strikeforce merger with a 3-5 record overall and looking like a seriously declined fighter making a last ditch effort in dropping back to welterweight again. Fast forward one year later or so and he’s 4-1 in the UFC, lost a close decision for a title shot, and has wins over former title contender Josh Koscheck and top five contenders Rory Macdonald and Jake Ellenberger. Robbie has looked like a fighter reborn since returning to the UFC. His striking, always his most dangerous asset, has looked better than ever technically and combined with his power and immensely improved defensive grappling, he’s gone from a former busted prospect to a real threat to the UFC welterweight champion….in 2014! Who the hell saw that coming??? His improved kicking game, technical brawling style, ability to bust out a flying knee from nowhere, and murderous power really make him one of, if not the most, dangerous striker in the whole division. While not a massive threat on the ground, Lawler is definitely competent from on top and his takedown game is solid as well. Off his back, he’s definitely a survivalist, looking to prevent damage from being done and getting up as quickly as possible but he’s rarely put on his back, especially since his return to welterweight. Lawler is more complete as fighter now than ever before and he has the power and abilities to actually finish Brown.

The reality is, we are seeing two fighters who were essentially irrelevant just a few years ago and are now fighting for a shot at the welterweight title. Both have excellent career revival stories and combined with the fact that they are both exciting fighters who go ball-to-the-walls every time, this fight is one I really am excited for. Let’s look at what they need to do to win this fight.

I’m going to have to level with you guys right off the bat, especially those who have seen the podcast. Lawler has a serious advantage over Brown. Both are really good strikers in different ways and both are incredibly durable but…..Brown, despite his toughness and cast iron chin, has a….tendency to get hurt to the body is the best way to put it I supposed. Don’t believe me you say? Hmmmm, ring any bells?

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While I can easily point out other examples of Brown being open to body attacks, pretty much all Erick Silva did right was attack the body with kicks, I think this really covers it. Brown is super tough but he’s not the athlete many fighters are. He’s not flabby or soft in that way but when you back off of every single kick Silva lands, and have been dropped by these body shots before, there’s a clear pattern developing. If we know anything about Lawler, he’s powerful and can hurt someone badly with punches and kicks. And the biggest problem here is that he’s a southpaw, just like Silva (and Mein switched stances a lot though he landed the punch from an orthodox stance). This means that Lawler has the whole open space to land a brutal body kick to Brown during the fight. Look at the similarities between Lawler and Silva’s kicks to the body, and note how both are in the open stance (southpaw vs. orthodox fighters).

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To make this fight competitive for more than a round, Brown needed to have figured out some way to address this issue and here’s where I think he can do it. Brown is not strong enough on the ground to try and ride it out in top control and despite his excellent trip takedowns, Robbie should be able to avoid the takedown. Also, let’s be real here, no way this fight becomes a grappling match. Both of these men have supreme confidence in their abilities on the feet and Brown is one of the more adaptable and versatile fighters in the division. He’s crafty and his path to victory lies in two things. Mixing up his attack (something he’s excellent at) and pressuring Lawler back against the cage with either his strikes or clinching (again something he’s excellent at).

Matt Brown is excellent at pressuring and in his most recent fight, showed off some excellent punching and kicking combinations that completely overwhelmed the Brazilian, wearing him down with unrelenting pressure and volume until getting the finish in the third round. What makes Brown so successful in these combinations is his ability to force his opponents to be where he wants them to be. For example, he consistently would fire off punches at Silva, despite being covered up, in order to land crushing body punches to get him to drop his hands opening him up for more head shots. Brown’s almost never going to throw single shots unless it’s to back his opponent up. Lawler, while definitely no slouch in using his footwork, can be pressured back against the cage. Hendricks was able to get him moving backwards on multiple occasions and Ellenberger, despite being completely outclassed for two rounds, was able to back Lawler up against the cage with winging hooks in the third. Lawler’s placing his back against the cage is virtually suicidal against Brown and could lead to some serious trouble should he allow it to happen.

The second tool Brown must utilize are his leg kicks, which Lawler tends to get hit with due to his preferred method of head movement. Hendricks was able to consistently land them against him and while Brown prefers to kick his opponents in the head and body, he demonstrated great leg kicking as well in an opportunistic fashion. While Robbie was seemingly unaffected and Brown is anything but a point fighter, those kicks add up damage wise and score points. While it’s highly unlikely this fight goes to a decision, they could be a key factor should it get there. Brown is not known as a game planner but I sincerely hope he looks at the footage and see this opening for him.

Lawler’s striking is among the most effective at welterweight. It’s not necessarily flashy (although he throws some flying knees in there occasionally) but it’s incredibly effective. He can potshot, throw in combinations, and mix in kicks very smoothly. His preferred method of destruction is through the use of his hands though and it’s absolutely glorious to watch it happen. His power is incredible and his knockouts of Voelker and Koscheck, beat downs on Rory Mac and Ellenberger, and badly hurting Hendricks show he can land efficiently with that power as well. His defensive abilities, while not perfect by any means, are far better than most fighters’ period. He uses excellent head movement in his avoidance of punches by ducking, dipping, slipping, and sliding out of the way of incoming shots. He also makes excellent usage of his parries to pick off incoming strikes and counter with hard left hands and various punching combinations. As I’ve already pointed out, Robbie has the exact abilities and skill-set to make Brown’s life hell in the cage but he also has holes in his game that Brown can exploit.

Brown’s combinations are fantastic as he mixes in knees, elbows, kicks and punches ruthlessly and fluidly to hit his opponents from any and every angle possible making it impossible for his opponent to block them all. Lawler, specifically in his fight with Hendricks, was caught multiple times through his guard when Hendricks landed multiple combinations by simply throwing with less power and picking his shots. Brown’s volume striking approach of hitting anything he can is a perfect foil for Lawler’s head movement because by moving his head so much, he will obviously open up the body himself. Lawler’s cardio gave out on him in the title fight and should it go to deep waters, having Brown tee off on his body would not help him at all. Furthermore, by constantly ducking his head down, Brown can land knees at will to the head and body, like Hendricks did, and Brown is way better a striker in the clinch range than Hendricks is.

Final thought on how they match up on the feet, Brown tends to reset after getting tagged by backing up a few paces. This is an indicator that he got tagged (for the most part) and it’s a big no-no against Lawler. Brown giving him space is about the worst thing he can do as it opens up the body kick and allows Robbie to have a free range of motion on the feet. In other words, he won’t be backed against the cage. Brown needs to keep Lawler on the cage at all costs and fighting backing up or in the middle of the cage will spell doom for him. Edge in striking goes to Lawler.

While I doubt the grappling will come into play, I definitely need to point out some things. Lawler is at a massive disadvantage on the ground if it somehow becomes a grappling match. Lawler’s is no threat in the submission department so Brown’s clear there. He can land some hard ground and pound but it’s safer for Brown’s tummy so it’s not worse than being on the feet. However, Brown’s submission game is absolutely lethal and very sneaky as well. He will throw any submission he can think of at his opponent and his lanky frame generally allows him to do it really well. He’s constantly moving off his back and on top is no different, except he’s punching really fucking hard. While I doubt Brown will be able to pull off a takedown, trip or otherwise, against a conscious Lawler, if he gets dominant position against him, Lawler will need to escape ASAP as he doesn’t have the grappling skills to contend with Brown on the ground. Edge in grappling goes to Brown.

Brown and Lawler both have had fantastic comeback stories but it all must come to an end for one them Saturday night and that man will likely be Matt Brown. I cannot imagine he will change his style of moving forward at all times enough and become a tactical striker from the Silva fight to this one. Lawler’s fight IQ and camp will have him ready to attack the weakness we have seen to be the body of Brown and honestly, I see this being fun as fuck for the first round but ending with a brutal TKO from body shots and follow up punches in the second.

Final Prediction: Robbie Lawler by TKO Round 2. 

-Ben can be reached at steroidben57@yahoo.com or @agentbenten.

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