Got plans for the long weekend? You do now. On Saturday night, UFC 201 hits Atlanta’s Philips Arena. It’s going to be an absolute doozy, with a card chockfull of must-see bouts between some of the promotion’s toughest, most technical fighters. Whether you’ve never seen a mixed martial arts (MMA) fight or have a replica championship belt hanging in your office, you can’t afford to miss any of the action in the Octagon. Here, we break down the backstories behind three of the night’s biggest match-ups.
Robbie Lawler vs Tyron Woodley
It took “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler 13 years of professional fighting to become the UFC welterweight champion. He has no plans of giving it up anytime soon. After beating Johny Hendricks for the title at UFC 181 in December 2014, Lawler has defended it twice in spectacular fashion: first with a fifth-round TKO in his rematch with Canadian Rory MacDonald at UFC 189, and then with a fiercely-contested split decision over Carlos Condit at UFC 195 — both efforts earned Fight of the Night honours. This Saturday, however, he’s up against what might be his toughest challenge yet: a hungry and focused Tyron Woodley, who hasn’t fought since last January due to injury complications and the cancellation of his bout at last fall’s UFC 192 (when opponent Johny Hendricks failed to make weight). Woodley’s impressive grappling and takedown skills, combined with Lawler’s dominant, powerful striking are sure to make this a title fight for the ages. Expect fireworks.
Rose Namajunas vs Karolina Kowalkiewicz
Poland’s Karolina Kowalkiewicz will face off against the USA’s Rose Namajunas, a strawweight that’s quickly risen through the ranks to become No.3 in the world. Kowalkiewicz describes herself as the “underdog” in her fight against Namajunas, yet remains undefeated in her professional MMA record. When she fights, she brings everything she has to the Octagon, an approach that’s served her well. Namajunas, on the other hand, recently retooled her entire training strategy thanks to an upsetting loss to Carla Esparza in 2014. The two women are about to meet in the Octagon for the first time, but the way it’s shaping up, this could very well be the kind of instant classic that demands a rematch (or two).
Matt Brown vs Jake Ellenberger
It may not seem like it, but this is probably going to be the fight of the night. Hear us out. Matt Brown, known for his exciting stand-up and relentless pressure, is coming off a lopsided submission loss to Demian Maia at UFC 198. He’ll need to reassert himself here to keep moving up the stacked welterweight division. Likewise for Jake Ellenberger, who has struggled mightily in recent years. He’s won only one of his last six fights, a second round submission of Josh Koschek. Not good, but it also means he has nothing to lose. He could very well be fighting for his job. Training has been a problem in the past for Ellenberger, but he should benefit from a full training camp at Kings MMA, one of the top gyms in the U.S.