The UFC returns to New Jersey this weekend for its 5th show on the ‘big’ ESPN network, and at the top of the card is a major Welterweight showdown that could well decide the next title challenger.
Elsewhere on the card, we’ve got a clash of two real veterans in the semi-main event, and, well, the rest of the card is quite weak, to be honest. Still, with a main event like Robbie Lawler vs. Colby Covington, it honestly shouldn’t matter.
Here are the predicted outcomes for UFC on ESPN: Covington vs. Lawler.
#1 Colby Covington vs. Robbie Lawler
This is a huge fight at 170lbs, and despite Jorge Masvidal’s huge knockout of Ben Askren a couple of weeks ago, there’s every chance that the winner of this one could get the next shot at current Welterweight champ Kamaru Usman. That applies in particular to Colby Covington, who has a ready-made rivalry with Usman and obviously held the Interim title last year before injuries and some other, largely unknown issues put paid to a unification fight.
But can ‘Chaos’ get past Robbie Lawler? It’s a hell of a question and one that we should find an answer to at the weekend. This isn’t really a tricky fight to break down, either; if Lawler can stop Covington’s takedown, then he should win this fight, it’s as simple as that. Colby has improved his striking but he’s not close to Lawler’s level yet and while he was happy to trade with Demian Maia and Rafael Dos Anjos, to do the same with Lawler would be a huge mistake.
The issue ‘Ruthless’ will have is that Covington – while not as technically good a wrestler as Askren or Usman – pushes an insane pace and has essentially been able to impose his will on every opponent he’s ever faced with his takedowns. And it’s not like Lawler is infallible as a wrestler; Askren eventually took him down despite being badly hurt early in the fight, even if his eventual submission finish was somewhat bogus, and prior to his title reign from 2014 to 2016, Johny Hendricks essentially beat him for the vacant title by outwrestling him.
Since then Lawler has gotten older and been in far more wars, too. Quite how he’s still ticking at age 37 after going through his fights with Carlos Condit, Rory MacDonald and Hendricks is anyone’s guess. Admittedly, he looked far past his prime when he lost to Dos Anjos in 2017, but then he also tore his ACL in that fight and then looked far better when he fought Askren in March.
There’s no denying that Covington is much more in his prime than Lawler, then. At 31 he’s probably at his athletic peak, and – depending on how much you believe his outrageous public persona – he’s a fighter who carries a kind of confidence that can almost pull him through sticky situations inside the cage. If he’s able to get Lawler down early and work him over, then there’s every chance he repeats that gameplan throughout the fight to take a decision.
With that said though, I think I’m leaning towards Lawler here. Firstly, while Askren and Hendricks had some success wrestling him down, it must be said that Askren has a rare ability to stick to an opponent almost like glue – something Covington doesn’t really have. And Hendricks only had success wrestling Lawler in their first fight – the second one saw Lawler largely stop his takedowns.
More to the point, in his prime Hendricks was also a fantastic technical kickboxer, and it was his striking that allowed him to set up his takedowns on Lawler. Covington, on the other hand, is a willing striker, but he’s nowhere near as technical as Hendricks was and I simply can’t get the image of him being tagged over and over by Demian Maia in their fight before finally forcing Maia to wilt due to his pace. And Robbie Lawler is not Maia on the feet.
This is a winnable fight for Covington if he can somehow force a pace that Lawler can’t keep up with, but even then, when he’s healthy Lawler has never been one to falter due to pace. In fact, he’s probably underrated in terms of the way he can lull an opponent into a false sense of security by slowing his pace before suddenly exploding into incredible levels of violence.
In the end, I don’t trust that Covington can pull off his usual gameplan of brawling into the clinch before spamming takedowns without getting badly hurt at some point. He might get some early success, but eventually, Lawler will lull him in and catch him with something nasty, and from there I think he’ll finish him off – in ‘Ruthless’ fashion.
The Pick: Lawler via third-round TKO