I know it's difficult to think about anything in MMA these days other than Conor McGregor's record-breaking knockout or Nate Diaz's epic post-fight interview on Fox, but there is a major championship bout coming up in few days and it deserves some attention.
UFC 195 has a promising headliner that will tell us much about welterweight champ Robbie Lawler. Once just a brash, face-first heavy-handed brawler, Lawler has improved every aspect of his game. Long forgotten are the bygone days when he fought and lost to the likes of Nick Diaz (2004) and Jason Miller (2006).
Some might say that Lawler proved everything, anything, a fighter can prove in his last performance against a smart indomitably-willed Rory McDonald. Those people would be half right. Against McDonald, Lawler showed that even with all his technical improvements, he's maintained his iron resolve and that he's learned how to pull witty fighters like McDonald into a war. He also displayed a quick sleek jab and counter-right that demonstrated the new finesse he learned at American Top Team. But can he replicate that against the most technical version of Carlos Condit?
Throughout his career, Condit has lived up to his moniker, "The Natural Born Killer," by pummeling his competition in vicious fashion. The savage destruction of Martin Kampmann comes to mind. Performances like that have pundits and UFC brass expecting a war on Saturday. They might be in for a rude awakening.
Everyone had similar expectations at UFC 143, when Condit faced off against Stockton bad boy, the aforementioned Nick Diaz. In that fight, Condit fought the most tactical fight of his life, moving in and out, avoiding the pocket as much as possible. The strategy was a vintage game plan from Greg Jackson, and secured Condit a piece of the UFC gold he's coveted since joining the UFC roster. Was that simply an anomaly? I highly doubt it.
Condit respected (albeit likely begrudgingly) Diaz's punching skill and tough chin. Mixing it up fed directly into Diaz's strength while failing to take advantage of his shortcomings. Jumping into the fray with Lawler would be much the same. After watching Lawler fight through a hellacious war with McDonald, does Condit, or anyone really, think they're going to "break" Lawler's will? Will Greg Jack and Mike Winklejohn, the best coaching duo in MMA, want to play into Lawler's skill set when another title is close to coming back to their stable?
Expect to see Condit opting for a tactical and methodical approach against Lawler. One that takes advantage of his quick feet, agile movement, and high cage IQ. And if Condit takes that route, we'll see just how thoroughly Lawler's team has been able to transform him.
A former college wrestler, Taekwondo black-belt, and wannabe boxer, Paul Navarro (aka Fight Like Sugar) is now a full-time lawyer, part-time fight scribe, and high school wrestling coach.