The UFC heads back to Atlanta this weekend at UFC 201, which takes place this Saturday night at Philips Arena. The card features a title fight in the main event as well as a number of other exciting bouts, and below are five things to watch for during the event.
1) Lawler Defends Welterweight Title Against Woodley
The UFC welterweight champion returns to the Octagon in the main event of UFC 201 as Robbie Lawler aims for another title defense with a win over challenger Tyron Woodley. Lawler was floundering as a mid-tier middleweight in Strikeforce for a few years, even losing to Lorenz Larkin at one point, but after dropping down to welterweight and focusing on his diet and training, Lawler has turned into one of the best fighters in the entire sport. “Ruthless” is 8-1 in the UFC since returning to the promotion and is currently riding a five-fight win streak with wins over the likes of Carlos Condit, Rory MacDonald, Johny Hendricks, Matt Brown and Jake Ellenberger. Lawler is an absolute beast of a fighter and if he continues this pace, he could be considered one of the best MMA fighters of all time once it’s all said and done.
Standing in his way is Woodley, who is finally getting his UFC title shot after sitting out over a year waiting for this day to come. “The Chosen One” is 5-2 overall in the UFC and has the explosive knockout power that can finish anyone in the division, but he’s also a heavily-muscled fighter who tends to tire as the fight goes on. That’s in comparison to Lawler, who is a tank for 25 minutes and whose fifth-round comebacks are legendary. This fight is going to be exciting for as long as it lasts, and it’s likely to end in a devastating knockout finish for one of these competitors.
2) Namajunas, Kowalkiewicz in Potential No. 1 Contender Fight
Two of the top female strawweights in the sport meet in the co-main event as Rose Namajunas takes on Karolina Kowalkiewicz. Since losing her chance to become the first-ever champion with a loss to Carla Esparza in the TUF 20 Finale, Namajunas has really upped her game and has gone 3-0 since then, looking better and better every time out. She is close to getting another title shot, but first she will have to beat Kowalkiewicz, and that’s going to be no easy task.
The undefeated Pole, who was previously the women’s flyweight champion in KSW, is 2-0 so far in the UFC and appears to have all the skills necessary to contend for the belt. This is a very competitive matchup between two of the best 115lbers in the world and the winner is liking going to fight UFC women’s strawweight Joanna Jedrzejczyk for the title next.
3) Scoggins Looks to Become Contender with Win Over McCall
Justin Scoggins is arguably the top prospect in the flyweight division right now and the UFC has given him a big step up in competition in the form of Ian McCall, a long-time top contender at 125lbs. Scoggins is like a mini version of Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson as far as his striking style goes, but he also has a really solid grappling game that is constantly improving every time he fights. Scoggins is 4-2 in the UFC and a win over McCall will push him into title contention. McCall, though, is no pushover.
At 2-3, 1 NC in the Octagon, it’s fair to say he’s underachieved since joining the UFC, but even at this point of his career he’s still a very well-rounded fighter who is extremely tough to finish. This is an intriguing fight between a prospect and a veteran and the UFC made the right call putting it as the opener of the pay-per-view because it’s likely to be a high-paced fight like most flyweight fights are.
4) Herman Aims to Derail Krylov’s Hype Train
Ed Herman is one of the longest-tenured veterans of the Octagon, having fought in the UFC since 2006, going 10-7, 1 NC during that time. A contestant on TUF season two, Herman spent the majority of his UFC career in the middleweight division before moving up to light heavyweight in his last bout. Fans weren’t sure how Herman would fare at 205lbs, but he picked up a devastating knockout win over Tim Boetsch and looked great overall.
Now the UFC is using Herman in a gatekeeper role and in his second fight at light heavyweight he’ll take on Nikita Krylov, who has won four-straight fights via stoppage. The Ukrainian is one of the fastest-rising prospects at 205 and another win over Herman, especially a finish, would catapult him into the top-10. Both Herman and Krylov finish fights and this bout should be very exciting for the fans.
5) Pearson Makes Welterweight Debut Against Masvidal
Ross Pearson just fought a few weeks ago against Will Brooks in a lightweight contest, losing a close unanimous decision, but on super-short notice the Brit will move up to welterweight for the first time in his career as he takes on Jorge Masvidal. Pearson has previously competed as low at 145lbs in the UFC but with new weight-cutting regulations, even making 155lbs has become increasingly difficult for him and he’s decided for a fresh start in his career at 170lbs.
His first opponent in the welterweight division, Masvidal, is a former lightweight himself, but Masvidal has proven in his last few bouts at 170 that he’s capable of being a contender in the welterweight division, while Pearson on the other hand is a pure wild card. Masvidal isn’t a huge welterweight, but it will be interesting to see how Pearson matches up with him as far as size goes in what should be an action-packed fight between two strikers.
I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is MMAdamMartin) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above.