Here’s some earth shattering news for you: it’s not easy being a champion.
Aside from the countless hours dumped the gym, once you reach the peak of that metaphorical mountain, maintaining that place atop the perch becomes quite precarious. You look back on the road that got you there, gazing upon the path of destruction in your wake, when you make out a figure in the distance. And then another. And another. Before you know it, a small army is rapidly ascending toward the summit, and now you’ve learned the real challenge: defending your throne.
The old adage goes that you aren’t truly a champion until you’ve defended your title. Hey, sure, you won that title, that’s great. But you can still end up on lists with others who failed to defend their gold, or you could be remembered as one of the worst champions in history. It’s a popular debate among mixed martial arts fans, one you’ll certainly be able to find in any major forum discussing the sport.
The welterweight division, long considered to be one of, if not the most competitive divisions inside the UFC. Incidentally, the division has also been home to some of the longest reigning champions in UFC history. Pat Miletich, back in the halcyon days of our pre-9/11 society, racked up a 4-fight streak of defences (including a win over Nova Uniao coach Andre Pederneiras).
Matt Hughes strung together a 5-fight streak of defences that cemented his status as a legend in the sport. Georges St-Pierre usurped the throne from Hughes and racked up an incredible 9 defences in a row before relinquishing the strap for retirement.
Most champions defend their title once, maybe twice with some luck. A 4-fight streak like that of the aforementioned Miletich ranks among the elite of all time. This Saturday, at UFC 201, Robbie Lawler looks to continue his remarkable resurrection, as he begins to etch out a place for himself on the pantheon of MMA’s greatest champions.
Lawler enters the bout against the #4 ranked welterweight Tyron Woodley as a marginal favourite according to the bookies. We’ve seen titles change hands 5 times already this year, compared to just 4 defences. I say “just” 4 defences because the defences include:
- Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson who is basically unbeatable,
- Dominick Cruz beating Urijah Faber in an entirely predictable bout
- Joanna “Champion” making an epic comeback against arch-nemesis Claudia Gadelha
- Robbie Lawler’s split decision over Carlos Condit (a hotly contested decision, we scored it for Condit too)
Known for his rugged brawling style, Lawler has stated that he’s sick of the “fight of the year” scraps, and would rather just conduct his business more promptly this weekend. That doesn’t mean he’s not ready to go 5-rounds (hey Ty, heads up if it makes it there, I hear he’s pretty good in those later rounds), but as he tells UFC.com, “I’m always looking to finish and get it done early if possible. I want to knock people out.”
Woodley, who I personally have derided for being somewhat of a less deserving challenger (hello Demian Maia, hello Stephen Thompson) is looking to provide fans with another shocking upset.
The biggest opening for Woodley – aside from being the first guy to hold Lawler down in a long time, goodluck – seems to be from the damage Lawler has accrued through his past several fights. Lawler has gone past the 3rd round in 7-straight fights, dating back 3 years.
Included with that streak are some absolute wars with Rory MacDonald, Carlos Condit, Johny Hendricks. The doubters are left to hope for “Ruthless” Robbie’s granite chin to have eroded, but I’ll play it safe and say:
Prediction: Robbie Lawler takes out Woodley to retain his crown, via 3-round TKO.
Feature image credit: Getty Images/Zuffa LLC/Brandon Magnus