For this UFC 189 preview we will focus on the welterweight co-main event rematch between defending champion Robbie Lawler (25-10, 1 NC) and number one contender Rory MacDonald (18-2).
Nearly two years ago, Lawler defeated MacDonald by unanimous decision to get his first shot at Johny Hendricks. Lawler lost that fight, but then defeated Hendricks in their second outing and he’s now back in the Octagon for the first time since that fight, which happened in December of last year.
MacDonald looks for redemption in this rematch with Lawler and wants to take the place once held by his friend and training partner GSP, as king of the welterweight division. Since losing to Lawler, MacDonald is on a three fight win streak, and most recently defeated Tarec Saffiedine by TKO in the third round in October of last year.
The betting lines favor the challenger, and MacDonald is the favorite at -190 while the champion is the underdog at +165. This is another fight that I wouldn’t recommend spending money on, but like with Means vs. Brown, if you like betting on underdogs, this could be a fun fight to spend a little money on.
This is an interesting matchup, even as a rematch, as Lawler is one of the old guard of MMA fighters while MacDonald is one of the new breed. Lawler has improved immensely in his time at American Top Team, and MacDonald has always been a strong competitor out of the Tri Star gym.
MacDonald is likely the favorite due to his youth as much as his solid skillset. But Lawler’s experience cannot be overlooked. Both fighters will benefit from the experience and knowledge gained in their first fight, but Lawler has improved more in the time since that fight while MacDonald’s skills have largely remained the same, though still impressive.
A successful game plan from MacDonald would include volume punching and kicking from the outside while utilizing his reach, mixing in repeated takedown attempts, and a general attempt to outwork Lawler to prevent him from establishing any rhythm or pace in the fight.
Lawler, on the other hand, needs to close the distance and fight inside the pocket – he knocked MacDonald down late in their first fight, but couldn’t finish, and although Lawler’s skills have improved, it’s likely that the longer the fight goes on, the more it will favor MacDonald. If Lawler hasn’t finished MacDonald by the end of the third round or early in the fourth, that could spell doom for the champ in his first title defense.
Anything is possible in a fight, but watch the first round to see whether MacDonald still lacks the motivation he claimed to have not had in their first fight. I’m going with the experience factor in this fight and favor Lawler to win by T/KO in the third round.