The UFC heads to Atlanta and the Philips Arena for the third time on Saturday, for UFC 201. It's the first time the UFC has traveled to Atlanta since 2012 and previous events hosted were UFC 88: Breakthrough and UFC 145: Jones vs. Evans. The main event of UFC 201 is a welterweight title bout between champion Robbie Lawler and challenger Tyron Woodley.
Robbie Lawler's MMA career has been a tremendous and tumultuous journey leading up to the incredible run he has been on of late. Over 14 years ago, Lawler made his debut with the promotion at UFC 37, in just his fifth professional fight.
He fought seven times in just over two years, with a 1-3 run in the UFC during 2003 and 2004 combined, sealing his fate with the promotion. Lawler than moved on to other promotions, like Pride, EliteXC and Strikeforce, winning middleweight titles in the two latter companies. Almost nine years after leaving, he returned to the UFC and to welterweight.
Since then it has been nothing but success for Lawler, who defeated Josh Koscheck in his return and won two more fights before getting slotted for a fight with Johny Hendricks at UFC 171 for the vacant welterweight title after Georges St-Pierre retired. Lawler's hand wasn't raised after a five-round war with Hendricks in Dallas, but two more wins over the next few months got Lawler a rematch with Hendricks and another shot at the elusive UFC title at UFC 181.
Lawler didn't let the opportunity slip away, defeating Hendricks by decision, and bringing home UFC gold after making his debut over 12 years earlier. Lawler has since successfully defended his title twice, both times in brutal wars—against Rory MacDonald at UFC 189 and Carlos Condit at UFC 195. Perhaps shockingly, Lawler is the second-most tenured champion in the UFC in terms of days, behind only Demetrious Johnson.
His third title defense comes against a tough challenger in Tyron Woodley. It was an interesting journey to booking this match, with many fighters to be considered as possible opponents. There were rumors of Georges St-Pierre returning, or Conor McGregor if he could defeat Nate Diaz at UFC 196, or even Diaz after defeating McGregor.
"I really did not think about any of them," Lawler told Sports Illustrated. "It was just one of those things were I just concentrate on myself and there are lots of names that pop up and most of the time they don't pan out."
Ultimately, Woodley got the call and title shot He is 5-2 since making his UFC debut in 2013 and is on a two-fight win streak dating to August 2014, when he defeated Dong Hyun Kim. Woodley hasn't fought since a split decision win over Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 183 in January 2013.
His absence was due partly to holding out for a title shot, and party the result of opponents struggling to make weight. Gastelum missed weight at UFC 183, making it a catchweight bout at 180 pounds, and Woodley's opponent at UFC 192, Johny Hendricks, had to go to the hospital for complications while cutting weight, which ultimately cancelled the bout.
At that point Woodley demanded the title shot next.
And even after UFC 196, Woodley was still campaigning for a title shot. He heard the names being thrown around as potential opponents, St-Pierre, McGregor, a rematch with Carlos Condit.
"After the fight in January, I was told that I was fighting. I was supposed to keep it quiet, it wasn't official, it wasn't public, but I was told directly after his fight with Carlos that I was going to fight Robbie," Woodley told Sports Illustrated. "Then after that all the other options started happening, and I was just so used to it that I was able to take a deep breath. I'm not going to act like I didn't have my moments where I was wanting to freakin' go nuts, but I just took a deep breath and I realized I have been at this a long time. I have to be patient.
"You can delay but you can't deny. I am the best in the world."
Ultimately, Woodley got the shot and steps into the cage with a chance to grab his first world title.
Tale of the Tape
That match up is even pretty much all around. Both fighters are 34, but Lawler is a couple of inches taller. Both fighters have 74" reach, but Woodley's leg reach of 42" is a three-inch advantage. The fighters still have to formally weigh-in, but the welterweight title matchup requires fighters to weigh in at 170 pounds on the dot or lighter. (Official weights announced at the weigh-in, which airs on Friday at 6 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 2)
Lawler has a higher finish rate in his career, 20 of his 27 wins coming by knockout with an additional submission win. Woodley's 15 wins are an even split between knockouts, submissions and decision.
Experience and time in the cage is an interesting difference between Lawler and Woodley, and can be seen as an advantage or disadvantage for either fighter. Lawler has fought more and has more experience in five-round championship bouts. Woodley has had just one fight go past the third round, a knockout loss in the fourth-round of a welterweight title bout against Nate Marquardt in Strikeforce.
But the other part of that equation, if you choose to see it that way, is mileage or wear and tear. Lawler has been in some brutal wars that have gone five rounds. His decision win against Carlos Condit was an exhausting affair. His fifth-round knockout of Rory MacDonald at UFC 189 saw both men take incredible damage. Woodley has less wear and tear.
The UFC has had an incredible run of events as of late, stacked cards with intriguing matchups from top to bottom. UFC 201, while presenting some intriguing matchups, isn't quite as stacked. It also has the unfortunate task of being sandwiched by UFC 200, a huge anniversary event that saw the promotion pull out all the stops, and UFC 202, which is anchored by the promotion's biggest star in Conor McGregor.
Main Card (PPV, 10 PM ET)
Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs. Rose Namajunas
Matt Brown vs. Jake Ellenberger
Erik Perez vs. Francisco Rivera
Ian McCall vs. Justin Scoggins
Preliminary Card (FS2, 8 PM ET)
Ed Herman vs. Nikita Krylov
Jorge Masvidal vs. Ross Pearson
Wilson Reis vs. Hector Sandoval
Ryan Benoit vs. Fredy Serrano
Preliminary Card (Fight Pass, 6:30 PM ET)
Michael Graves vs. Bojan Velickovic
Damian Grabowski vs. Anthony Hamilton
Cezar Arzamendia vs. Damien Brown
Fighters To Watch
1. Rose Namajunas
In December, the UFC strawweight fghter got a signature win over Paige VanZant in perhaps the greatest war the division has seen in its young history. She followed that with a win over Tecia Torres in April. And now she sees herself on the cusp of a title shot against the champion in Joanna Jedrzejczyk, but standing in her way is another Polish fighter, Karolina Kowalkiewicz.
2. Wilson Reis
There were originally two title fights at UFC 201. Flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson was set to defend his title against Wilson Reis in the co-main event, but Johnson was forced out due to injury. Reis was given another opponent in Sean Santella just weeks before UFC 201. Days later, Santella pulled out and Hector Sandoval was inserted into the bout. Three opponents in a stretch of days, weeks before Reis was slated to be in a world title fight, and now he fights on the prelims. It will be interesting to see how he handles the adversity.
3. Matt Brown
Heading into UFC 201, Matt Brown is on a 1-3 skid, starting with a unanimous decision loss to Robbie Lawler in a title eliminator bout at UFC on FOX in July 2014. It's a disappointing run after a seven-fight win streak, and it will be interesting to see if Brown can bounce back against Jake Ellenberger, who has lost five of his last six fights. If Brown loses, it could be disastrous.
3 Things You Need To Know
1. Lawler and Woodley are teammates, sort of
Robbie Lawler and Tyron Woodley are members of American Top Team, making them teammates, kind of, but not really. Woodley trained at ATT in his early days and owns an ATT gym, but Lawler trains more regularly at ATT. So while they both represent ATT when they compete, they're not really teammates who train together on a regular basis, or at all really. But it's a storyline that will dominate the discussion of the bout.
2. Conor McGregor was almost on this card
The UFC pulled Conor McGregor from UFC 200 after he refused to do certain media events, and his spot was ultimately replaced by a light heavyweight title unification bout between Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones, which ultimately never came to fruition either. After pulling McGregor, UFC president Dana White listed events in which McGregor's rematch against Nate Diaz could be rescheduled, and UFC 201 was one of them.
3. Originally two titles were on the line
This was mentioned earlier, but UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson was scheduled to defend his belt against Wilson Reis in the co-main event, but an injury forced him off the card.
The odds for the main card doesn't show a huge favorite. Robbie Lawler and Rose Namajunas are clearly favorites in their bouts. The big surprise might be how big of a favorite that Matt Brown is over Jake Ellenberger.
Robbie Lawler (-200) vs. Tyron Woodley (+170)
Rose Namajunas (-230) vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz (+190)
Matt Brown (-325) vs. Jake Ellenberger (+265)
Erik Perez (-125) vs. Francisco Rivera (+105)
How To Watch
UFC 201 is simply must watch for MMA fans, but following along with the event can be tricky at times. The first preliminary card airs at 6 p.m. ET, exclusively on UFC Fight Pass. It's an online streaming service that requires a monthly subscription, similar to Netflix or WWE Network, but also includes a library of fights, including every UFC event and live events from other organizations. This portion of the card features three fights.
At 8 p.m. ET the card moves over to Fox Sports 2, and will have four fights, including Wilson Reis, who was originally scheduled to fight Demetrious Johnson for the UFC flyweight title.
The main card begins at 10 p.m. ET exclusively on pay-per-view. Viewers can order the pay-per-view through their television provider, or it is available for purchase to stream on UFC Fight Pass and YouTube.