The main event of UFC 181 is a five-round title fight between UFC welterweight champion Johny Hendricks and No. 1 contender Robbie Lawler. According to the current betting lines available at 5Dimes Sportsbook, Hendricks is a -220 favorite (bet $-220 to win $100) while Lawler is a +180 underdog (bet $100 to win $180). MMA oddsmaker Nick Kalikas opened up Hendricks at -270 and Lawler at +210, and overall action since the opener has come in on the dog Lawler. I agree that Hendricks, as the reigning champion, deserves to be a solid favorite heading into this fight. Here’s why. Hendricks (16-2) is the UFC welterweight champion. The 31-year-old American is 11-2 in the UFC with wins over Lawler, Josh Koscheck, Jon Fitch, Carlos Condit, Martin Kampmann, Mike Pierce, TJ Grant, TJ Waldburger, Charlie Brenneman, Ricardo Funch, Amir Sadollah with his two losses to Rick Story and Georges St-Pierre, which in particular was a very controversial decision. Hendricks was a national wrestling champion before he came into MMA and he’s transferred those wrestling skills well into MMA, as he’s been able to outwrestle almost all of his opponents. But what has really won him his fights in the cage has been his striking, as he has one of the most powerful left hands in the sport. He was able to land one punch on tough guys like Fitch and Kampmann and put them out cold, and he nearly knocked out GSP as well. He proved in his first fight against Lawler how good he really is, and the crazy thing about that fight was that he fought it with a torn biceps muscle. He has been on the sidelines since March with the injury but now that he’s recovered he’s ready to return and defend his belt. He proved in the first Lawler fight that he has a great chin, and if he can withstand Lawler’s bombs in the rematch he should have the edges in cardio and wrestling and win the fight once again, and that’s why he enters the bout as a solid favorite. Lawler (24-10, 1 NC) is the No. 1 welterweight contender in the UFC. The 32-year-old American is 5-1 since returning to the UFC in 2013 with wins over Josh Koscheck, Rory MacDonald, Bobby Voelker, Jake Ellenberger and Matt Brown and a narrow loss to Hendricks for the title earlier this year at UFC 171 in what was one of the best fights of the year so far. Lawler was struggling as a middleweight in Strikeforce before returning to the UFC last year, but since coming back and dropping down to welterweight he’s been nothing but a beast. Lawler has shown excellent takedown defence in all of his fights and he’s demonstrated in every single one of his fights that he’s evolved his striking to the next level. While he was once just a power puncher, Lawler is now a guy capable of knocking opponents out with not just his hands, but also his shins, his knees, and his elbows. He is extremely dangerous on the feet, and anyone standing with him is at risk of being knocked out — and he has 19 career T/KO wins to back that up. Lawler is a tremendous talent and since training at American Top Team he’s taken his game to the next level, but judging from the first fight, Hendricks seems to be a bad matchup for him. Don’t get me wrong, he can beat him in the rematch if he makes the right adjustments — namely, stopping the takedown at the crucial times in the rounds — and if he keeps it standing he can win by knockout. But since he lost the first one, it’s fair that he enters the rematch as the dog, although it should be an amazing fight once again. In the pair’s first fight, Hendricks was content to stand and trade with Lawler and while he ultimately survived the storm and got the victory, standing and trading with him could have cost him, and I think he fights smarter this time around. Although Lawler has very good takedown defence, we saw Hendricks have success when he did choose to wrestle, and that’s what I see him doing in this fight. I think Hendricks is going to show why he was a two-time national wrestling champion in this fight and use his takedowns to take Lawler down, hold him down and beat him up on the ground, and retain his title. Having said that, it’s hard to lay so much juice against a guy with as much knockout power like Lawler, so I don’t necessarily love Hendricks at -220. But more times than not, I think he wins this fight, and I can’t blame anyone who plays him.
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