After over two years, the UFC returns to Atlanta – and this time, a UFC Welterweight Title fight between Champion Robbie Lawler and challenger Tyron Woodley are top billing. It’s an intriguing matchup, as it features two of the more explosive athletes in the UFC. For Lawler, this fight will mark his third title defense, which is borderline baffling given where Lawler stood in career four years ago. His combatant Woodley, a former Strikeforce standout, has won four of his last five five fights – beating the likes of Josh Koscheck, Carlos Condit, Dong Hyun Kim and Kelvin Gastelum. Woodley was expected to face former UFC Welterweight Champion Johny Hendricks at UFC 192, but Hendricks dropped out on the eve of the fight. After the cancellation of the fight, Dana White promised Woodley a title shot. One in which he waited for, finally getting it now at UFC 201.
Co-Headlining the card, is an all important fight in the Women’s Strawweight division, as contenders Rose Namajunas and Karolina Kowalkiewicz vye for a title shot. Namajunas comes into this bout on the heels of a three fight win streak, most recently avenging an early career defeat over Tecia Torres. The undefeated Kowalkiewicz is 2-0 in the UFC, edging out TUF 20 alumni Randa Markos and Heather Jo Clark via decision.
Also on the card, a barnburner on paper at 170 lbs., as Jake Ellenberger looks avoid a potential pink slip and opponent Matt Brown looks to erase his last defeat to Demian Maia. Some names like Wilson Reis, Nikita Krylov, Jorge Masvidal, Ed Herman, Ross Pearson and Francisco Rivera populate the card. Enough build up, let’s get to the Predictions!
UFC 201 PPV Main Card (10 p.m. ET):
170 lbs.: UFC Welterweight Champion Robbie Lawler vs. Tyron Woodley – O Baby! We got ourselves an awesome title fight and I think people are really sleeping on this one. Woodley is a legit threat and he’s most certainly worthy of a title shot. He’s a great athlete, with explosiveness out the Wazoo! He’s got superior wrestling abilities and he can hold himself on the feet, just ask Jay Hieron, Josh Koscheck and Dong Hyun Kim. The Champ, Robbie Lawler is one of the most exciting fighters on the planet. And to think four years ago, Lawler was with Strikeforce, holding a 3-5 record with them. Fast Forward to today and not only is he the UFC Welterweight Champion, but he’s already defended his belt twice. It’s absolutely ludicrous and when his career is over, don’t be surprised to see a movie about his journey (Dan Henderson’s too). Anyways, “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler is well, a ruthless striker. When he gets hit, he seemingly gets enraged and comes on stronger. The same could be said when the fight gets into the later rounds, it’s like he takes Red Bull or 5-Hour energy – or maybe it’s just that his cardio is on another level. And to keep on the topic of cardio, that’s the only real knock on Tyron Woodley. After the first two rounds, he starts to fade as it takes a lot of energy to feed his muscle. I mean, it’s a true hole in his game and the only one I see that could spell trouble for him. Lawler is king cardio and if Woodley doesn’t implement some type of heavy wrestling attack or just blitz him early, I can’t foresee him winning. Lawler is just too technical and powerful on the feet and his takedown defense has vastly improved. And if this fight goes into the later rounds, it immediately favors Lawler – so there is no reason for me to side with Woodley unless I think he’s going to knock out the Champ. So with that, I have Robbie Lawler retaining and winning via late TKO!
115 lbs.: Rose Namajunas vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz – I’m not sure why the UFC hasn’t come out and said it, but this is clearly a number one contenders fight in the Women’s Strawweight division. Since losing the TUF 20 finale against Carla Esparza for the inagural Women’s Strawweight Championship, Namajunas has laid waste to all her opponents. She handily defeated Angela Hill via submission, then headlined a Fight Night against Paige Van Zant and dominated her and most recently avenged an early defeat in her career against Tecia Torres. Her combatant Kowalkiewicz enters this contest undefeated and has already two UFC victories to her name. She’s well rounded with pretty decent striking, but not as unorthodox as Namajunas. She can hold herself on the ground, which I think is going to be a factor in making this a close fight. In the past, Namajunas has overwhelmed her opponents not only on the feet, but with her top control. Expect Kowalkiewicz to get up from underneath and have her moments on the feet. However, I need to make a prediction here and I’m going to side with “Thug” Rose to extend her win streak to four via a close decision victory.
170 lbs.: Matt Brown vs. Jake Ellenberger – How the mighty have fallen, as on one hand, Brown at one point had won seven fights in a row and was on the brink of a title shot. He has since lost three of his last four fights, but in all due respect, he lost to the current UFC Welterweight Champion Robbie Lawler, Former UFC Welterweight Champion Johny Hendricks and Top Welterweight contender Demian Maia. So maybe he didn’t quite fall as far as his combatant Jake Ellenberger did, who at one point was one of the more feared Welterweights in the division. Once 8-2 in the UFC, Ellenberger was a top contender. However, he’s since won only one fight in his last six and is a potential candidate to receive the pink slip. And a fight against Matt Brown isn’t remotely an easy fight, especially with your back against the wall. But, in interviews I’ve heard the old Ellenberger is back and if it’s true, Matt Brown is in some trouble. He’s always struggled with grapplers, which could be a problem here if Ellenberger goes back to his wrestling roots. I guess what I’m trying to say is, that I’m siding with Ellenberger here in an upset victory. He might looked washed up, but he’s only 31 and in his last fight against Saffiedine he didn’t fare that bad. All I can say is, the old Ellenberger is coming back here – so expect a reckless slugfest with some timely takedowns by Ellenberger. And hell, I got him via TKO!
135 lbs.: Erik Perez vs. Francisco Rivera – I never got the hype around Erik Perez, as everyone was touting him as a future contender in the Bantamweight division. Was it because he started 3-0 in the UFC and finished all three opponents? Sure, but he faced three guys who were probably cut immediately after. Anyways, this is not to hate on warrior like Perez, so let’s just get to the fight. Perez, will hold the grappling advantage here and has shown flashes of being a formidable striker. Against a brawler like Rivera, he’ll need to avoid slugging it out and go with his bread and butter, that’s taking you down and suffocating you while on top. Rivera has had issues with fighters with that style, so I could very well see Perez grabbing a big win here. However, I’m banking on the calculated and technical Rivera to fight here, like the one we saw against Urijah Faber before the eyepoke. The only reason I’m thinking he might come out technical is that he’s on a two fight skid, so a pink slip could be on his mind. I like fighters with their backs against the wall, so with that I got Rivera via TKO.
125 lbs.: Ryan Benoit vs. Fredy Serrano – Despite being relatively unknown, Benoit is actually a very exciting Flyweight. He’s a strong wrestler, who happens to have legit power in his hands (Think Jamie Varner). His combatant Serrano is also a wrestler, but he’s often too reliant on it. He’s also faced the bottom tier of the division, meanwhile Benoit hasn’t. And when Serrano get’s denied of the grappling exchanges, he’s going to be a sitting duck on the feet for Benoit. So with that, Benoit via TKO!
UFC 201 Prelims On FOX Sports 2 (8 p.m. ET):
185 lbs.: Ed Herman vs. Nikita Krylov – I’m actually surprised Ed Herman is still around, I mean he’s been in the UFC for a decade. He’s never been a contender, but he’s supplied the UFC with tons of fun back-and-forth battles, such as his last one against Tim Boetsch. However and unfortunately for him, he’s facing Nikita “Al Capone” Krylov, who has won four straight fights. It’s remarkable that Krylov, a former Heavyweight, is actually a legit potential contender at 205 lbs. And if you saw his debut against Soa Palelei, you’d of thought that he was a joke – but I guess the jokes on us. Anyways, Krylov is a stud and he’s finished every opponent he’s faced thus far. I expect no different here, as he’s going to use his reach and length to pick apart Herman, eventually dropping him and finishing him via submission.
170 lbs.: Jorge Masvidal vs. Ross Pearson – Awesome scrap, as Ross Pearson makes a quick turnaround (22 days) from his close defeat to Will Brooks. Fortunately and most likely the reason for the quick turnaround, but this will be contested at 170 lbs., so no drastic weight cut for Pearson. His combatant is in the form of the most unlucky fighter in the world, as Masvidal has lost three of his last four fights, all by split decision. Arguably, Masvidal could be on a seven fight win streak, but he’s not, he’s on a two fight skid. As for the fight, I have Masvidal here, as despite the losses, he’s one of the more well rounded fighters in the UFC. Pearson on the other hand is primarily a striker who looks to avoid any grappling, which I guarantee Masvidal will oblige. However, I expect with his back against the wall, he’s going to throw in some timely takedowns and thoroughly beat down Ross Pearson. So with that, I have Masvidal via UNANIMOUS decision.
265 lbs.: Damian Grabowski vs. Anthony Hamilton – Grabowski got an unfair UFC debut, as faced off against rising contender Derrick Lewis, who also happened to be making his seventh walk to the Octagon. Anyways, Grabowski gets second life against Anthony Hamilton, who also needs a victory here to avoid a two fight skid. Hamilton is probably best known as the opponent who was scheduled to face the legendary Mirko Cro Crop at UFC Fight Night 79. Unfortunately Cro Cop pulled out of the fight, admitted to taking a banned substance and retired (He’s since come out of retirement). As for the fight, I have Grabowski here, as I’ve always thought he was a perennial top twenty five heavyweight. He may not have the striking to compete with the top ten, but his grappling abilities are very good and his top game has led to many submissions. Hamilton is a decent striker, but that’s about it. So with that, I have Grabowski via submission.
125 lbs.: Wilson Reis vs. Hector Sandoval – Originally Wilson Reis was scheduled to face Demetrious Johnson in the co-headliner – instead, he’s now buried in the prelims against a foe that does nothing to help prove that he’s a worthy challenger for the title. Expect Reis to win dominantly, extending his winning streak to a mere two. Reis via submission.
UFC 201 Prelims On Fight Pass (7 p.m. ET):
170 lbs.: Michael Graves vs. Bojan Velickovic – Not sure who Velickovic is, but I know Graves is a TUF 21 alum. I also know that he’s a grinder and a relentless grappler, which will aid him here in his third UFC victory. Graves via decision.
155 lbs.: Cesar Arzamendia vs. Damien Brown – The problem with the UFC is that they have so many fighters on the roster, that I have no idea who these guys are. Brown’s record is not that impressive, as he had a four fight losing streak and then a five winning streak, which aided him in debuting with the UFC in March. At this point I’m just spit balling, but Arzamendia’s nickname is “Goku” and Brown’s is “Beatdown” – Arzamendia wins the nickname exchange here and the fight via decision.