At the beginning of his second UFC run, Robbie Lawler was a dangerous journeyman with something to prove.
He eviscerated favored veterans like Josh Koscheck, and halted bright contenders like Rory MacDonald. Lawler’s inspirational career resurgence resulted in a championship belt and two epic defenses.
More than two years removed from his title reign, Lawler is being counted out once again at UFC 235.
Ben Askren: Betting Favorite
It has been months since the fateful “trade” between ONE Championship welterweight champion Ben Askren and the greatest UFC flyweight of all time, Demetrious Johnson.
A large segment of fans are thrilled to have Askren in the UFC. As a collegiate wrestler, he was a two-time recipient of the Dan Hodge Trophy, essentially the Heisman of college wrestling. His domestic domination continued, Askren made the 2008 Olympic team in freestyle, but had little success internationally.
Askren was most dominant as a mat wrestler, and his style has translated well to MMA. The Missouri alum is 13-0 in MMA, with wins over “name” fighters earlier in his career when he was Bellator champion. Otherwise, his competition has been questionable, for some.
His UFC debut comes against a proven champion in Lawler. Why is it that Askren is the favorite, according to the latest betting odds?
Is Robbie Lawler ‘shot?’
The perception may be that Robbie Lawler is a shell of himself and that Askren is at the top of his game.
Lawler has been a professional MMA fighter for nearly two decades. In that time he’s only been knocked out twice. The first was in 2004, and the most recent being to current champion Tyron Woodley.
But finishes aren’t the only indicator of damage. Lawler went through absolutely hellish wars with Johny Hendricks, Carlos Condit and Rory MacDonald. In fact, Lawler as been scrapping and taking shots his entire career.
In his last fight, Lawler was absolutely battered by Rafael Dos Anjos. He looked a bit flat, and had a difficult time stopping the offensive wrestling of the former lightweight champion.
Many took the performance as an indicator that Lawler is fading away, after all these years.
Does it matter?
Ben Askren has not developed as a striker. No one would argue that he has anything to offer on his feet. So as far as Lawler taking damage standing is concerned, there’s no issue.
Perhaps Dos Anjos’s success in wrestling with Lawler gives Askren fans confidence. Lawler was a notoriously effective anti-wrestling at the top of his run, stopping Johny Hendricks from getting his attacks going and punishing him for all attempts.
But consider this. One, Robbie Lawler completely destroyed his knee in that fight and was on one leg. Two, defending wrestling from someone who is challenging (beating) you on the feet is worlds apart from sprawling on someone who is exclusively wrestling.
Ben Askren’s early “name” wins were over Douglas Lima and Andrey Koreshkov. Koreshkov was three years into his pro career, and explicitly stated he was not training wrestling for that fight.
Lima was a veteran and much closer to a finished prospect. It’s an impressive win, but there was a massive skill gap when it came to Lima’s wrestling. Three years after Askren fought Lima, and two years after he fought Koreshkov, Andrey Koreshkov dominated Douglas Lima by wrestling him.
Other than that, Askren’s best win is over a small lightweight (excellent) grappler in Shinya Aoki.
His No Contest against Luis Santos should be eye-opening for anyone with a decent grasp on the art of fighting. Askren is a grinding wrestler, who likes to work through positions to finally get the takedown. Against a more sturdy and explosive athlete with a decent defensive grappling skill set, Askren was tossed around and beaten up on the feet. The fight ended as Askren pushed forward with his fingers out, poking Santos deep in the eyeball.
This author does not see Robbie Lawler as being truly “shot” just yet. Given an honest assessment of the 34-year-old Askren, things are looking bright for the underdog.
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